Sunday: Thankful For–Thankful Anyway

Life is difficult. Very few people would claim that life is without difficulties and challenges, disappointments and regrets. We would like to change some things about the past. We wish there were “do overs.” Things have not come out as we planned, hoped, dreamed. People, even in our own family and among those closest to us, disappoint us. Our hearts hurt for souls outside of Christ. Our hearts are scarred by decisions others have made.

Thanksgiving week is concluded! A common question, “What are you thankful for?” Many sermons have focused on thanksgiving — what we are “thankful for.” Lists have been made and shared. I applaud every effort to encourage an attitude of gratitude. My life is filled with blessings. God and those around me have overflowed into my life blessing after blessing. I am humbly grateful.

In the midst of multiplied blessings, I know also that life has its negatives — disappointments and frustrations. Can I be thankful when I look at life’s difficulties? Can I be thankful for the faith challenges in the lives of those I love the most? Can I be “thankful anyway?”

Paul wrote, “In everything give thanks.” Everything? Positives AND negatives? Blessings and bummers? In the midst of life’s positives, my challenge is to be “thankful for.” In the midst of life’s negatives, my challenge is to be “thankful anyway.”

“Dear God of love, mercy, and compassion, help me today and this week, in an attitude of trusting worship and dependent faith, to be thankful for the many blessings of life. Help me also to be thankful anyway when my eyes are focused on life’s bummers. Teach me to give thanks in everything, depending on you for that which is beyond my ability to change. I pray in the name of Jesus who can make everything new, Amen.”


Thank you! Many of you (especially the diligent social networkers) have noticed the passing of another year in my life. Birthday #75. I begin my 76th journey around the sun. I especially liked the greeting:  Happy “Bob Young” Day. I love little sayings and quotations. They give flavor and spice to life. They provide instant orientation and motivation. Today seems to be a good day to share one of my “most favorites.”

Birthdays are good for you.  Statistics show that those who have the most live the longest.

Just thinking….Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving Day! Can we talk briefly? Will you think with me?

On Thanksgiving, we are often thankful for those things that separate us from others — things that identify us as special or extra blessed in comparison to the rest of humanity. When we are thankful for health, freedom, our nation, or abundant physical blessings, we stand separated from most of the world where such blessings are often lacking. Such a limited perspective can make our gratitude quite selfish.

On this Thanksgiving Day, can we be thankful through the eyes of the world? Can we learn spiritual gratitude? Can we find thankfulness, not in abundance but in the simplicity of the life we share in common with the rest of the people of earth? One opposite of gratitude is pride–let this be a day for seeing God, seeing ourselves, and seeing our world!

Sunday: “Letters from an Old Man”

Reading Paul’s latter letters, he was probably 60+ years old, perhaps nearing 70. This week I will celebrate birthday #75. What does an old man see when he looks back on life? I share only a sampling, drawn from the letters Paul wrote toward the end of his life! What God’s Word says is important–it leads to health and wholeness. God gives instructions, principles, and values–do not get hung up on the what and ignore the why and how. Many Christians do not look much like pilgrims focused on a heavenly homeland–they have bought the lands, houses, and stuff of this world. The contemporary church is too infrequently counter-cultural, too many are guided by the world’s expectations and seek to attract with human words and ideas. Spiritual comes in many forms–God’s spirituality is a rare commodity.

Sunday: Knowing the Jesus who gives life [John’s Gospel]

John paints a wonderful and amazing portrait of Jesus. Jesus comes to make possible “life.” John’s theme song is not salvation. (In fact salvation is not among the most common New Testament words. Salvation is little and infrequently used in the New Testament–rather interesting given the vocabulary of popular preachers today. Especially for John, Jesus is much more than mere Savior.)

Jesus is the cosmic Lord! (1:1-4) As the Word, the revelation of God, he is what makes sense of life (logic).

Jesus is the incarnation of God, the incarnate Lord, becoming flesh, the very embodiment of the God of grace and truth (1:14ff).

This cosmic leader in the battle of conflicting worlds focuses the genuine nature of life (or the nature of genuine life), a life that continues through his presence through the Comforter. Thus he is our leader in conflict.

Jesus is the Lord of comfort, in his presence and words, and in the Holy Spirit comforter.

Jesus is the coming Lord. That which ties the story together is the fact that Jesus is the going and coming Lord. The gospel of John is ultimately a story of descent and ascent, coming down and lifting up. This process leads to the real goal of life: not glory which calls attention to self and is based on our accomplishments, but glory to God and glory given to us by God.

Sunday: Knowing the Jesus who came for everyone [Luke’s Gospel]

Do You Know My Jesus? Do you know the Jesus who came for everyone?  Good questions, and foundation for understanding the Gospels of Jesus.

  • Matthew’s portrait of Jesus is of royalty–the Jewish Messiah (Christ, Anointed One) who comes as King in the Kingdom of God, but a different kind of King, benevolent and persuasive rather than coercive, a king who is also servant of all.

  • Mark’s picture is of a suffering servant who bridges the divide between God and humanity–Son of God and Son of Man.

  • John paints a cosmic picture, bigger than this world, bigger than life, pointing to genuine life
  • Against the other gospels, Luke’s picture of Jesus often seems plodding and deliberate. Long chapters, long verses, the longest Gospel, packed with unique stories despite being identified as one of the Synoptic Gospels with obvious parallels to Matthew and Mark. All of that plays into the picture Luke provides:  Jesus is for Everyone! He is Messiah, Lord, Savior. He is “for” us. He seeks to save all who are lost. He comes for everyone–rich and poor, the “ins” and the “outs”. He cares for the outcasts of first-century Jewish and Roman society–women, children, tax-collectors, half-breeds (Samaritans), beggars, people who have made mistakes.  He comes teaching and demonstrating prayer, the gift of God’s Spirit, the spirit of universal care and concern and compassion and salvation.

    The Gospel of Luke is not always easy reading–but it’s worth it! Especially if you need a reminder that the story of Jesus applies to YOU! It is both eye-opening and heart-opening (but that’s another theme that I encourage you to discover for yourself).

    Sunday: Knowing the Jesus who touches people [Gospel of Mark]

    When I present seminars on Mark’s Gospel, I like to include a series of lessons I call, “People Jesus Touched.”  Many of these lessons come from Mark 5-8.  [Outline Note: Mark 1-4 answers the question, “Who is Jesus?”  Mark 5:1-8:21 asks, “Who can be a follower of Jesus?”  Mark 8:22-10:52, deals with the question, “What does following Jesus look like?”]

    Jesus came touching people.  He came helping and healing the hurting and hungry.  He confronted the powers of demons, was compassionate when doctors had taken advantage, and bold in the face of ridicule.  He gently guided his disciples to new understandings.  He understood fear, admitted its reality, and used it as a beginning point to generate faith.  He called the Pharisees on the carpet when tradition got in the way of caring for people.  He touched the untouchable, he reached out to the unreachable. He rescued, healed, saved.
    As people thronged about him, he saw the results of sin’s entry into the world–illness and infirmity, sickness and sorrow, hopelessness and hunger.  He sighed.  He hurt when others hurt.  That his heart was touched may explain his reason for touching others with healing and salvation.

    Two thoughts echo in my mind during this week:  I am grateful that Jesus has touched me and continually touches me; I wonder whom Jesus wants me to touch.

    Sunday: Seeking Kingdom Things [Matthew’s Discourses]

    What does the Gospel of Matthew reveal about the Kingdom? How does one seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness?

    Matthew’s Gospel has five major discourses or teaching sections. These are clearly marked in the text by parallel concluding phrases (Mt. 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). One can easily identify the teaching sections by looking at what immediately precedes these verses (and the red letters in some Bibles). For example, the first of the discourses is the Sermon on the Mount (5-7), the middle discourse includes several “kingdom of heaven” parables (13:1-52), and the last discourse includes the parables of the virgins and talents, and the judgment scene (25).

    In good oration and teaching, discourses include a conclusion. (An exception is those sermons that ramble and eventually just stop rambling!) Good speeches end by answering the question, what is the point? What should one remember? So it is in the teachings of Jesus. Each of the discourses has a point. The final words indicate to us the point of the teaching. What conclusions does Jesus want his listeners to reach?

    When I present seminars on the Gospel of of Matthew, one of my favorite approaches is to examine these teaching discourses, based on the concluding words.  (Outlines and notes are posted on my website.)  This week would be an excellent time to read or re-read the discourses. The following may help you identify and remember the content.

    • Kingdom Blessings: Who is blessed in the Kingdom? Those who develop “kingdom hearts” (5-7, Sermon on the Mount)
    • Kingdom Commitment: Authentic Kingdom Discipleship (10, instructions when sending out the Twelve)
    • Kingdom Thinking: Understanding the Surprising Hiddenness of the Kingdom (13, parables)
    • Kingdom Principles: Life in the Kingdom (18, settling controversies in the kingdom of heaven)
    • Kingdom Priorities: Will Be Clearly Seen When the King Comes! (25, parables and judgment)

    Casinos and 1 Thessalonians 5:17

    I couldn’t help but notice–the car entered the interstate next to the Firelake Casino at a very high rate of speed. First thought–I wondered if the driver was mad because he had just lost a lot of money.  On second thought, “Probably just a coincidence.  Perhaps the driver lives nearby.”

    He sped up enough to squeeze in ahead of us and we saw the bumper sticker on his car: “Follow me to Firelake!” Oh, wait! There’s a license plate frame as well: “1 Thessalonians 5:17.” I knew without looking it up what the Bible text says: “Pray without ceasing!”

    Jan and I got a good laugh. I guess if you’re going to try your luck at the casino, a little “prayer without ceasing” can’t hurt.

    Sunday: Life in Christ’s kingdom

    For many in churches of Christ, historically evangelism has been primarily a cognitive process focused on the acceptance of certain truths or propositions by an individual. The goal and primary emphasis has been simple–salvation. More recently some of us have been asking about transformed lives and genuine discipleship, seeking to be and help others become learners who follow Jesus (Savior) Christ (King). Do not miss the difference. Jesus never asked, “Do you accept me as your personal Savior?” He did said, “Follow me.” The purpose of a disciple must be the same as that of the Teacher.

    How could a follower of Jesus, a disciple of Jesus, have a mission other than the mission of Jesus? If Jesus is our Lord, if he is our Teacher, if he is our King, does it not follow that his task is our task? That what matters to him matters to us? Jesus began his ministry and defined his own mission in the world by reading an Old Testament text in a Nazareth synagogue. He did not take up the prophecies of Isaiah 7, 9 or 53. He took up the words of Isaiah 61 (Luke 4:14-21).

    Jesus declares to us the meaning of life under the kingdom rule of God. He alone can save. In Jesus Christ, salvation signifies deliverance from one kingdom (of darkness) to another kingdom (of light). Without doubt, we who are genuinely his disciples imitate his concern for the poor, persons in prison, the blind, and the burdened. We follow his example of righteousness, compassion, and love. These are part of the renewed kingdom. But until these are coupled with preaching the Good News and helping people experience the transformation from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Jesus, the kingdom renewal of our own lives is incomplete.

    For whose soul are you praying today? Whose soul are you seeking for the kingdom? “If the souls all around you are living in sin…will you not tell them the good news today?”