Thanksgiving Greetings to our BYM! From the bottom of our hearts may we each be filled with an attitude of gratitude!
Lord's Day last Pastor John set the tone for exploring what having an attitude of gratitude really means by reading to us from the Gospel of Luke chapter 7 verses 11 through 19: “Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, 'Jesus, Master, have pity on us!' When he saw them, he said, 'Go, show yourselves to the priests.' And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, 'Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?' Then he said to him, 'Rise and go; your faith has made you well.'”
During this marked year 2020 and its Covid-19 global pandemic we all have learned about social distancing. Pastor John flashed us a poster about it. However, dreadful communicable diseases needing social distancing are hardly new; indeed, through most of mankind's existence they have been the primary category of diseases afflicting people. Only with the huge increase in the food supply starting in Europe and America in the late 19th century did diseases of overconsumption begin to exceed communicable diseases as primary human health hazards. Back in biblical times, a terrible skin-evident disease commonly called leprosy begat by the various species of Mycobacterium meant mandatory social distancing for the afflicted persons. We read about leprosy precautions including social distancing in Leviticus chapters 13 and 14 and in Deuteronomy chapter 24. By the 19th century leprosy and its horrors had even spread to Hawaii. The usual experience when getting it was that one's whole world had come to an end and the rest of one's life was more and more miserable until the release from the disease brought about by death. It is still around; Pastor John showed us a World Leprosy Eradication Day poster illustrating the signs and symptoms of leprosy.
Alright then, we get it: leprosy is really bad stuff
In our scriptural passage ten lepers met Jesus; in their misery He was their last hope. After their brief if intense encounter with Jesus they followed His admonition from Mosaic law and went to the priest to demonstrate their healed status.
Only one of the newly cleansed lepers turned back to give thanks and praise. What about thanks and praise?
Real thanksgiving begins with realizing WHY you are thankful and TO WHOM you should be thankful. Remember from the above Luke 17:15: “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.”
Alright then, just as Pastor John said, the more we see our desperate NEED for forgiveness the more we can be THANKFUL for what Jesus did for us on the cross.
Pastor John illustrated this for us first with a personal story. A while back he received the gift of medicine cabinet additions such as Pepto-Bismol that he hardly imagined that he had need of. Not long afterward he developed a terrible case of heartburn, and it soon became evident that the previous medicine-cabinet gifts were just the answer. How grateful Pastor John now felt towards his gift-giver! Somebody knew better than Pastor John what he really needed. How about us? How grateful are we commonly for the gift of divine forgiveness and salvation? Does our Father in heaven know better than we do what we really need? Might the realization of that produce a really THANKFUL attitude?
From preschool at church you all have learned to give praise to God. Why? When we praise God we are saying OUT LOUD our thankfulness, our gratitude. Praise is our “attitude of gratitude”. We are often inspired enough by our praise to not just thank God, but further, to pledge to live an attitude of gratitude day by day. Though baptized we need constantly to struggle against sin. We struggle in part through the songs of gratitude that play in our head. They can allow us to get a grip on our bondage of sin.
We read in Acts 16:25-26. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.” Well?
Well, when we praise God outwardly we are breaking the chains that bind us away from God. In his own case, Pastor John's go-to songs of praise include “God will make a way” and “My life is in your hands” (Kirk Franklin).
Above in Luke 17:16 we read “He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan” in humble thanks. We give thanks because we know that whatever the answer – yes, no, or not yet – God is in control and that He has our best interests at heart, as any true father should. We read in Daniel 3:17-18 “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” That's the right attitude. Come what may we are humbly thankful to the end because we know our God. Again:
Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” everything plus and minus TOGETHER is for good. For this we need to be supremely thankful to our Father in heaven who knows what is best and makes it ALL work together for the best.
Pastor John offered a few more simple illustrations of the differences of wisdom. An infant might delight in the taste of honey, but parents know (or should know) that honey can be very harmful to infants under twelve months of age. Dogs may like chocolate but their owners are supposed to know better. As a boy Pastor John hated Korean school because it interfered with his preferred Saturday morning activities. But because his parents knew better, Pastor John now can at least get by in Korean conversation.
Above in Luke 17:19 we read “your faith has made you well.” Now what really did this mean?Think about it: the other nine lepers were made well physically, but did they acknowledge their need for salvation? No. So, only the one, who humbly threw himself at Jesus 's feet and praised and worshipped him, was healed and saved in the ONE WAY that really matters.
Why did the leper come back? Did he have more feeling? No, the Samaritan leper saw more than the physical. He recognized he was a sinner, and he wanted to be in the presence of Jesus. By his praise at Jesus's feet he was saying “Jesus I am thankful for WHO you are.”
Growing up Pastor John asked for many things from his dad. But in his maturity the one thing that he is really thankful for is the RELATIONSHIP he has always had with his dad. Now, who better loves us than God? How about the relationship that each of us has with Him? Counting our earthly blessings, be they one or ten thousand, is all well and good. Yet the ONLY thing we have that will last forever is our salvation. Before that supremely singular gift we were headed for hell. Now let us think about it...
The only response from each of us is “Thank you Jesus for what you have done, for who you are...”
Our attitude must be one of gratitude - our lives must be lives of thanksgiving.
This last Lord's Day Pastor John completed our journey from pieces to peace. He began by reading to us from the conclusion of Paul's letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 8 and 9: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Pastor John soon challenged us to examine the way we think as a prelude to adjusting our attitudes. Do you remember the silhouette of the spinning dancer? Some of us thought she might be spinning to the left, others of us to the right. And to further amaze us, Pastor John switched the left/right tags on the ankles of the spinning dancer. In this way our perceptions could be instantly altered! So also in our life in Christ. We are challenged to examine the way we think, and so change the way we see our lives. Pastor John read to us from Philippians 4:7 “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Pastor John introduced us to the critical truth that God's sovereignty and man's responsibility go hand-in-hand. As Pastor John said, while God gives man muscles, man must faithfully work to develop them. In other words, just because God is sovereign does not mean that man is a thoughtless zombie, free from responsibility. Let us look at some ways this essential relationship is illustrated in Scripture:
In the Gospel of John chapter 15 verse 5 Jesus says “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (ESV) Apart from Christ we are indeed powerless to do good, but in him we are expected to “bear much fruit”. That means constant EFFORT, not just of a day, as any vineyard owner will tell you. It is the work of a lifetime.
In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 16 verse 24 we read “Then Jesus told his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'” (ESV) There is nothing passive here. We must actively choose to deny our natural inclinations; we must consciously choose to do what we each in his way must do, to imitate our Savior.
In Paul's letter to the Philippians chapter 2, verses 12 and 13 we read “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Certainly the indwelling of the Holy Spirit will cause us such reverence meant by “fear and trembling” but also we are told to work out our own salvation. We are told that if the Holy Spirit is within us we will “work for His good pleasure.” We, all of us, quite agree that there is nothing passive about “work”.
Pastor John evoked in our minds the picture of the powerful steam locomotive that was a marvel of transportation technology in its day, IF it had sturdy metal rails to run on. So also, the powerful locomotive of spiritual faith must have the sturdy rails of reason, as we find in studying the Bible, to run on. The locomotive and the rails go hand-in-hand, just as the power of the Holy Spirit and the truth of the Bible go hand-in-hand.
Pastor John gave a second illustration about the attitude that we must have in basing our faith, and thus our peace of mind, in solid mental reasoning. He suggested that if we are seriously ill and in need of surgery we should seek just the right doctor who has a track record of perfectly curing the problem. Then we should commit ourselves to his care in perfect faith based on the reason that the doctor is skilled. If after such careful reasoning we then panic on the operating table, it is a sign that we have lost our ability to reason. Our faith in Jesus as our savior must be similarly grounded in biblical facts and attested historical truth, so that when we are beset by storms of turmoil and trouble we don't mindlessly lose our faith.
What is known as the first Great Awakening occurred in colonial America during the 1730s and 1740s. At that time wonderfully gifted preachers like George Whitefield and zealous missionaries like Eleazar Wheelock brought people to faith first by the power of the Holy Spirit. Having been so inspired and indwelt, the newly faithful now saw that they needed to properly gird and ground their faith in the Word. Only through solid knowledge of biblical fact could their faith survive the inevitable storms of this life. Thus what would eventually become Princeton University was founded in 1746 by local Presbyterians to train ministers according to their biblical views. Similarly, Dartmouth College was founded in 1769 to train people of various native American tribes according to the precepts of the Presbyterian Christian faith.
Practice must follow reasoned thinking. In Romans 5:1 we read “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” Think about how God sees you in His only begotten son Jesus, our ultimate intercessor. Truly that is “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding.”
Pastor John gave us the example of two people who have the same mind-deadening job. However, one of them has a ten million dollar incentive to stick with the job and do it well. Instead of dwelling on the constant bits of misery that the work brings him as it does to the other job-holder, the one with the giant incentive looks at the BIG PICTURE. He patiently endures all of the petty annoyances that the work needles him with. Our faith must be like that. By Scripture we know that we are promised a boundless glorious eternity with our Maker if we believe, keep on believing, and conduct ourselves day-in and day-out as believers, no matter what the trials and tribulations that our earthly circumstances may bring us.
Pastor John started us in this series because he foresaw that in an anxiety-causing world, we could go to pieces. So he concluded with reading from the Gospel of John 16:33 where Jesus assured his disciples, and us, that “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Amen!
Hello to all of our BYM! Hope ALL are staying warm and avoiding the maladies that suddenly cold weather can bring.
Pastor John is continuing with us in addressing the issue of worry and anxiety and how it relates to our faith. So, last Lord's Day he started out by reading from Paul's Letter to the Philippians chapter 4 verses 11 and 12. “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
Now really - how often have we heard someone say “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances”? Surely far more common is seeing and hearing all around us folks who are never satisfied, never happy no matter how extensive their material endowments. They are constantly consumed with worry.
Pastor John re-emphasized the issue by rereading Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
He then related to us recent graphic experiences he has had at his house. He showed us pictures of little creepy crawlies of various kinds he had found infesting portions of his house. As unpleasant as their appearance was, their presence pointed to a worse basic problem: in this case mold in the structure of his house. So he felt compelled to take decisive action to address the underlying problem.
Well then, how about addressing the more fundamental problem of anxiety, of lack of peace, of being in pieces?
God calls us to take action regarding the underlying problem. In this case, we know from Philippians 4:6 above that we should let our requests be known to God. This means that we should pray. The curious thing is that the need for prayer among men is so fundamental that the world over, whatever the cultural or religious circumstances, men have always had the urge to pray, even if they mostly did not know who to pray to.
Pastor John put it with beautiful simplicity. When we are thirsty, we know enough to drink. When we are hungry, we know enough to eat. When we are anxious, we should know enough to pray. As followers of the Christ we surely know who to pray to.
To teach us to understand what contentment really means, Pastor John contrasted contentment with covetousness. First he reminded us that the Apostle Paul wrote “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.” Even when he was in chains in prison!
The opposite of being content is to covet. What does it mean to covet? It can be defined two ways: (1) to earnestly wish for, and (2) to desire what somebody else has. Okay, why do we covet? Here Pastor John took us to the next step of fundamental understanding. We covet something because it will bring us a step closer to that which we covet even more, taking us from the material to the social. In short, we want to be envied, which is something very like being accepted, which is something immediately adjacent to being loved. This illustrates a basic notion that our happiness is totally bound up in our advantageous relationships with others.
But, is that really possible? Where is God in that?
Pastor John reread Philippians 4:13 “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” In context of the letter this assertion means that “I will have whatever I need to endure whatever my situation of the moment.” Jesus Son of God covets each of us so in truth none of us needs to be a coveter. This is not about a resolve to stop coveting but instead it is about finding the objects we would covet just not important as we thought when we finally internalize our grasp and understanding of the larger picture. Success is to be so content in Jesus that the rest of this existence, all of the trappings of this life, are of only secondary concern to us at most. Covetousness is then dead.
Further illustrating the point Pastor John delighted us with the adventures of his toddler son. The darling child was given the gift of a marvelous toy. But as it was being opened, a section of cardboard detached from the rest of the packaging, which of course is material far secondary to the toy. But the toddler immediately amused himself in playing with the bit of cardboard and ignoring the toy. Now, how often are God's intended children like that? How often do we become enamored of some perishable material bauble, and remain oblivious to God?
Finally Pastor John bid us to remember the story of the donkey in the well. Those who thought that the poor trapped animal's case was hopeless went about shoveling dirt down the well to smother him and put him out of his misery. But the donkey shook off all the dirt each time shovels-full of it came down the well. After many shovels-full had come down the well, the donkey had built up a ramp of dirt beneath him that enabled him to climb out. From this little story we are reminded that the need is not to fight-off anxiety with sweet platitudes that mean nothing, but to channel the anxiety in a constructive way to a successful outcome.
So, we channel our worries into humble prayer and then we have the peace of God, which truly transcends all understanding.
When we worshipped virtually at the Emmanuel Chapel on November 1st, Pastor John read to us once more from Paul's Letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 4 through 7: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Pastor John had us begin our focus on verse 5: “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. (ESV) or “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” (NIV) or “ Let your gentle spirit be known to all people. The Lord is near.” (NASB).
After three translations we get the point. “Let your gentle spirit (the fruit of the Holy Spirit) be CONTAGIOUS.
In this bold-print year 2020, for most of us our first mental reference to contagion is Covid-19 disease, and the SARS-CoV-2 virus causing it. So, Pastor John showed us an enhanced picture of the spiky-ball-like nanoscopic SARS-CoV-2 entity bedeviling all humanity this year.
In Orange County we have just been additionally exercised by a couple of raging grass fires. A momentary incendiary element, such as a downed power line, and the CONTAGION of fire on dry grass becomes terribly dramatic terribly quickly.
So Pastor John got us tuned into the dynamics of CONTAGION. Then he got to the point: our emotions can be contagious. We each are very prone to being affected by another person's emotions, be they sad or glad. He then gave us an example of contagious human emotion. A parent seems to almost accidentally hit her child on the side of the head. The worried parent immediately expresses her concern emotionally. The baby, quite attuned to its parents, is immediately affected by the parental emotion and begins to cry, even though it was not at all actually hit. Such is the contagious character of human emotions, an integral part of the human spirit.
In his letter to the Philippians the Apostle Paul implicitly contrasts the spirit of the law with the letter of the law. Pastor John illustrated this for us by using the example of Chief Judge Frank Caprio. Judge Caprio found it ridiculous that a motorist would be fined for being ten seconds out of line with a parking regulation. Obviously the motorist was complying with the spirit of the law, so in his gentleness according to his discretion he let her off from the letter of the law.
When we are gentle to the point of contagiousness it inspires the opposite of being anxious.
We read from 2 Corinthians chapter 11 verses 24-28 “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”
Obviously, fellows, the Apostle Paul wrote this to encourage each one of you young people to anticipate joy in a life of active Christian ministry? Well, like the Christ before him, he was certainly forthright about what really following Jesus means. But in this instance his primary purpose was to demonstrate that his true faith in Jesus Christ gave him the inner ballast, the fundamental calm, to get through the worst that a hostile world could throw at him. (Our Maker certainly made Paul a very rugged fellow as well that he survived it all.) Paul's abiding hope and expectation was that this example of his incredible calm no matter what would be contagious to the Philippians, and all future readers of the letter...including us!
We read from the Gospel of John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” That is the Christ speaking, both warning his disciples and reassuring them. The Christ Himself faced the supreme anxiety concerning excruciating death and separation from the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, to the point of sweating blood and yet offering humble obedience. How contagious we must find that example when facing our own (relatively trivial) crises? The more that Jesus's character rubs on us the more the fruit of the Holy Spirit grows in us, including the facet of gentleness, the calmness of spirit.
We read from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 8: 22-25 “One day Jesus said to his disciples, 'Let us go over to the other side of the lake.' So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, 'Master, Master, we’re going to drown!' He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 'Where is your faith?' he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, 'Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.'”
No denying it: a panic attack is real. But our God is infinitely more powerful. As Pastor John reminds us, we are far safer with Jesus in the storm than without Him on shore. This is summarized in the contemporary saying “No Jesus no peace; know Jesus know peace” …
….and thus not being in pieces with anxiety!
Finally, remember that Pastor John mentioned the Disney character Ho, the Kung Fu Panda bear who must find inner peace. He makes deliberate choices in reaction to calamity and so is instructive to the other characters of the Disney animation, and to the young audience.
Our pasts do not determine our futures. Jesus effectively says “through your belief in Me, I determine your future.” So, do not let any sadness from any cause become such a part of you that you cannot let go. Fellows, as you grow in years for sure you will see all around you people who are pitiful prisoners of their pasts and of all of the hurt and wrongs in the past. They can't let go!
But you – each of you - whatever life throws at you, let absolutely nothing destroy your spirit, the incomparable gift of peace that you have in your Almighty God.