Wednesday, November 26, 2014

An Enduring Thanksgiving

"Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His love endures forever." (Psalm 136:1)

It is that time of year again when we are encouraged to give thanks. In fact the very word "Thanksgiving" doesn't leave much room not to be grateful. But every year there is that nagging question, "Why should I be thankful?" For some folks Thanksgiving evokes feelings of ingratitude because of a difficult situation. Some are unemployed, others have lost loved ones, many are homeless and there is chaos going on all over the world. Yes, these situations are real and a reminder of the sadness that came into the world because of the Fall. (Genesis 3) In spite of the pain and discord, we can always give thanks to God and who He is. The Scripture verse from Psalm 136, exhorts us from the outset to "give thanks." There are no words proceeding this command. The psalmist then goes on to point to the object of our thanks, which is the Lord. There is no mention of any other material goods. There is nothing about giving thanks for what we own, what we do, or what others think about us. The only one worthy of all our praise is God. The psalmist then focuses on the reasons to give thanks to God. He first points to the fact that God is good. Many continue to question how God can be so good given the suffering in the world? God is not oblivious to our pain and suffering nor does He delight in the consequences that are a result of a fallen world. Others might say that Jesus never had cancer, so how can He understand the suffering my friend or loved one experienced? My understanding is that in the end stages of cancer the pain is intense and the person is kept comfortable with medication, typically morphine. God in His goodness has equipped doctors/scientists with the knowledge to develop pain killers to ease suffering. Jesus had none of these medications as He hung on the cross. He felt everything with each painful breath as He struggled to ease His physical suffering. In Christ, God knows what agonizing pain feels like. Moreover, God's goodness is not measured by worldly definitions. We tend to judge "goodness" by what we perceive people have done and how it fits into our measure of what is good. God is not good because of what He does but rather because of who He is. John tells us, "God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5b) God is the only one who is good all the time. Can we honestly say we, our friends, or family members are good all the time? Many of us can look good from the outside but what happens behind closed doors when no one is looking? If God's goodness is not enough to celebrate, the psalmist gives us an even bigger incentive, God's love endures forever! His love is not limited to a few days or years or even a 24 hour period. It is limitless! In these days when few are inclined to demonstrate love consistently whether that be in marriage, friendship, or any other relationship we can rest assured that God's love endures forever. John tells us very simply and directly, "God is love." (1 John 4:16b) Furthermore, "This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1 John 4:9-10) So, this Thanksgiving as you sit around the table with family and friends and someone asks, "What are you thankful for?" I encourage you to take the psalmist's words to heart. "I give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His love endures forever."
Have a blessed Thanksgiving!
Pastor Sheree

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Where Is God?

How many times have we asked the question, "Where is God?" We typically tend to ask this question during times of difficulty. We will say things like, "Where is God now that I've lost my job?" "Where was God when I had that car accident and broke my arm?" "Where is God when tragedy is happening some where in the world?" There will be times when there won't be an easy answer for the situations that take place in our lives or in the world. However, the answer to the question, "Where is God?" is the same, He is right here with us. I recently saw God at work in a most difficult situation in my life. My mother had sustained a significant fall in September which fractured her hip and collarbone. It was just the latest in a series of falls which occurred this summer. Following hip surgery she was discharged to a rehabilitation center. We were hopeful she could overcome this latest fall and return home in time for the holidays. However, after a month and a half of physical and occupational therapy, the treatment team recommended transition to a long term care facility. It was not the outcome we desired and my brother and I researched every possible alternative for in-home care. However, due to the fact my mother required 24/7 care, there were no in-home agencies that provided overnight coverage. So we had to make the hard decision to transition our mother to a long term care facility. It would have been easy as we were walking this difficult road to ask, "Where is God?" He could have easily made it possible to find an in-home caregiver that provided overnight coverage. What I came to experience was watching God provide exactly what my mother needed for her safety and well-being. The facility where she is currently residing also has a long term care section. This means she will not have to leave the current facility. God had also provided my mother with roommate that was instrumental in watching over her when she initially arrived at the facility for rehabilitation. I saw this woman as one of God's "guardian angels." I also met a women who had been a resident in the long term care section for over a year. She was able to tell me what it was like to live there and overall she was very content. This woman also happened to be a retired nurse, so she could speak intelligently about the adequacy of the level of care. (another "angel?")  The reality is when we ask the question "Where is God?" what we are really saying is, "God why didn't you do things my way?" "I had the better plan, God. All you had to do was cooperate." However, the pastor of my church recently reminded us that we serve God, He doesn't serve us. The Bible repeatedly tells us that God is with us. In the Old Testament, God told Moses that He would go with him as Moses was sent to free the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. (Exodus 3:12) After Moses' death, God told Joshua to go in and take the land that was promised to the people. God told him, Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9) In the New Testament Jesus' birth was an up close and personal encounter with the living God. In fact Joseph was told that Jesus would be called "Immanuel" which means God with us. (Matthew 2:23) After His resurrection, Jesus commissioned his disciples to take the gospel message into the world, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20) In the gospel of John, Jesus promises His Holy Spirit to be with us until Jesus returns. (John 14) In a very familiar often quoted verse in Hebrews God promises, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5) And if these verses weren't enough, God has given us an entire Psalm that describes just how close God is to us at all times. (Psalm 139) I cannot say that some of what we experience is not painful, sad, and even depressing but I can say that I have a new appreciation of God's presence. If in the midst of struggles we are willing to look for the movement of God even in the smallest ways, we will see Him right there with us. 
To God be the glory!
Pastor Sheree