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Saturday, October 24, 2020

Five Truths About Being Thankful All Year Long (by Sandi Kailey)

First, a note from Sharon: This post was written by Sandi Kailey, a young woman who came to the Lord several years ago. Sandi lives in our home and has been a breath of fresh air for Robert and me. Having been redeemed and transformed by the saving grace of God, Sandi is living in response to that grace. I asked her to write a post concerning giving thanks and I have been blessed by what the Lord put on her heart. It's now time to share it with you:

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalms 107:1)

1. God’s people should be the most thankful people on the planet 

As Christians, we should be giving thanks to God every day. The word "thanks" and related words come up 102 times in the Old Testament and 71 times in the New Testament. Seems that the Lord wants us to be thankful.

The beauty and joy of thanksgiving becomes evident when remembering our Savior, Jesus Christ, and our commitment to be under His authority regarding all aspects of our lives. 

Giving thanks is good for us, both in our trials and in our comfort (James 1:2-4). When we profess our gratefulness in all circumstances of life, we can be assured that we are living according to our heavenly Father's will. His will is for us to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18)! Obeying God not only brings joy, a fruit of the Spirit, but also strengthens our relationship with Him. And gratitdue easily allows God to continue transforming us into the image of Christ.

Christians should not only be the most thankful of all people, but will be the most thankful when we pause to remember our Triune God, not only what He's done for us but for who He is. This is why we celebrate with a grateful heart!

2. Gratefulness for God's sovereignty should be our mindset

Giving thanks is a reminder every day that God is in control. No matter how shaky the ground is beneath us, we can remember that God holds all things together and is not flustered by a world gone wrong. 

Max Lucado wrote about God’s sovereignty and control; “Is an eagle disturbed by traffic? No, he rises above it. Is the Whale perturbed by a hurricane? Of course not, he plunges beneath it. Is the lion flustered by the mouse standing directly in his way? No, he steps over it. How much more is God able to soar above, plunge beneath, and step over the troubles of the earth! What controls you does not control God. What troubles you does not trouble God. What fatigues you does not fatigue God.” 

God is at work in a suffering world, He is bigger and more powerful than your obstacles. We may ask, "Does this mean then that God isn’t moved by what troubles me? Does it imply that He has no time to be bothered by what shakes me?" Of course not! He is not like other little wanna-be-gods that cannot be sympathetic to our struggles (Hebrews 4:15-16). 

So how does God’s unshakable, sovereign character work for our good? An example that speaks volumes to me is the account of Peter walking on the lake to get to Jesus in Matthew 14:25-31. Peter says, “Lord if it’s You, tell me to come to You on the water.” Jesus said, “Come” to Peter.

Peter then got out of the boat with his eyes on Jesus and walked on the water toward Him. But when the wind distracted him, Peter began to sink. In his fear, he cried out to Jesus, "Lord, save me!". The text tells us that Jesus “immediately” reached out His hand to Peter and caught him. 

Jesus didn’t panic when He saw Peter sinking. He did not begin to sink Himself. He remained on the water, unshaken by the storm. And because He was immovable and unshakeable, He was able to save Peter from sinking to his death. 

Jesus responds “immediately” to our struggles. Yet being God and sovereign over all powers, forces, circumstances and obstacles, without being at all influenced by them, He is able to rescue us when we cry out to Him as Peter did. Though He was not disturbed by the storm, He was sympathetic to Peter’s human tendency to fear and demonstrated love and care for Him by saving him from a potential disaster. His unshakable sovereignty works in concert with His love and compassion for His children.  

"Just imagine if our Lord cowered as we do or panicked as is our tendency. He cannot for He is above and before all things. Therefore He is able to save to the uttermost both body and soul (Hebrews 7:23-24). Is this not something we can be enthusiastically thankful for?" (A quote from one of my mentors.)

3. To be real, thankfulness must happen when the rubber meets the road.

So, let me ask you, Christian, are you thankful for the control and authority God has over your life? Are you completely trusting His plan for you? I recently had to ask myself these questions.

In June of this year, I lost my job due to Covid19. It was very sudden. I wasn’t expecting it. I had to scramble to figure out what I was going to do until I could find another job. How will I deal with being home all day? Staying home and not working is not what I’m used to. 

This was a perfect time for me to put all my trust in God and know that I am exactly where He wants me. I had to thank God, even in my frustrated, confused and discouraged state. God reminded me to “take heart and have peace; Jesus has overcome the world” (John 16:33). 

Yes, we will have trials. For me, it has been a job loss. But Jesus wants His people to have peace in loss. Our God is in complete sovereign control so in our distress we can look to Him for help.

God also tells us in Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you: and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned and the flame will not consume you.” We have an assurance that the promise of God’s protection and His help is available for all who trust in His name. Can we praise Him and express our gratefulness in worship to Him for providing such comfort and aid?

4. It's helpful to look to those who are an example of giving thanks in all things. 

By way of inspiration concerning being thankful, I am including this brief story of a godly man who thanked God for what he had and even for what he didn't have.

In the late 1800s, George Mueller operated an orphanage in England that at one time housed 1,000 orphans. One morning there was no food to eat, but he called all the children and staff together and prayed, thanking God for the provision of food, even though no food was on the table.

A few moments later a baker knocked on the door. He told Mr. Muller that God had led him to bake bread the night before and give it to the orphanage. Before the bread was given to the children, a milkman knocked on the door. He said that his milk truck had broken down and he wanted to give the milk to the orphanage. 

George Muller gave thanks, even when it took faith to do so. We too can trust God to keep His promises and provide for our needs (Isaiah 49:13).

5. It's necessary to be intentional in thanking God

God is a God we can always trust and lean on in any trial we face. For many now in 2020, this means trusting and thanking Him during the current Covid19 lockdowns, etc. 

For me, this meant that I had to put my entitled pride aside and call out to God. I had to commit to pray with gratitude for this season He has me in. Thankfulness in prayer is an expression of our desire to work with God’s grace to face our problems, confident that He cares about us and will not stop loving us. The cross reminds us that this may involve hard work and hard times, but Jesus' resurrection assures us of ultimate victory. 

Unfortunately, giving thanks is too often demoted to a secondary place in the prayers of Christ’s people. We are quick to make our requests and slow to thank God for His answers. Because God so often answers our prayers, we come to expect it. We forget that it is only by His grace that we receive anything from Him.

We should be giving thanks to God for what His Son has done for us on the cross. His sacrifice was the ultimate gift! Let us praise God for loving His children so deeply!

With Thanksgiving around the corner, let us focus on thankfulness to our Savior. No matter how busy or hectic our schedules may be, let us pledge our obedience to start purposefully, daily, giving thanks for how He has blessed us and for who He is. Start right now where you sit! 

Let us adopt George Muller's mindset of gratitude 

by giving thanks even when there seems to be 

nothing before us to be thankful for!

To assist in being intentional in thanksgiving to the Lord, take a look at this post from Revive Our Hearts website: Growing in Gratitude: A 30 Day Challenge (this is a printable download, intended to cultivate a more grateful heart over a period of 30 days). 

Posted by Sharon Kaufman

Five Truths About Being Thankful All Year Long (by Sandi Kailey)

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Partiality - Not an Attribute of God

This is the second post on the Art and Heart of Hospitality (read the first post here). What you'll read below about partiality is crucial to truly being hospitable. As you read, ask the Lord to renew for you His heart of love and welcome to you when He drew you to Himself. 

A sad exhibition of partiality

Most of you, by now, have heard about Susan Boyle and her incredibly beautiful singing voice. She stunned the Britain's Got Talent  judges and audience on April 11, 2009.  If you haven't seen the video, please see it YouTube at the following link:  Click here to view the video on YouTube.

You may wonder what this video has to do with the topic of this post. To answer that question, I decided to post about Susan Boyle based on a text in James. That text, James 2:1-5, confronts the sin of partiality or favoritism:

"My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "You sit here in a good place," while you say to the poor man, "You stand over there," or, "Sit down at my feet," have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?"

After having seen the reaction from the judges and the audience when Susan Boyle appeared on stage for her audition for Britain's Got Talent, it became even more clear to me how fickle the human heart can be. It was only after she began to sing that everyone who had disgracefully judged her just seconds before, changed their opinion of her and instead displayed their approval. It really was a sad exhibition.

Some apologized. But what if she had croaked out her song? The following comment, from a secular blog, pretty well sums up what I am thinking also:

"The unspoken message of this whole episode is that, since Susan Boyle has a wonderful talent, we were wrong to judge her based on her looks and demeanor. Meaning what? That if she couldn't sing so well, we were correct to judge her on that basis? That demeaning someone whose looks don't match our impossible, media-reinforced standards of beauty is perfectly okay unless some mitigating circumstance makes us re-think our opinion?"

As a Christian, would you even speak to this individual, let alone eat with him as did Jesus when He dined with sinners? Or would you and I shun him as one who is not worthy of love? Think about the fact that we were in no better condition when Christ welcomed us. Apart from His compassion, we all would still be in our sins, doomed to a life apart from anything good. 

A crucial question: does this happen in our churches?

It is sad to say that we, in our churches, do this very thing. If someone does not come up to our preconceived idea of what a person should look like, talk like, dress like, etc. we have no intention of going any further to discover who that person really is. We remain in our comfort zones, excluding that individual from the grace God would display through us, were we willing. And then we are relieved and think we are vindicated if that person turns out to be what we judged them to be in the first place.

God does not look at the outward appearance

The sin of partiality is wrong no matter what. We become judges with evil motives when this happens. God is no respecter of persons, "for God sees not as man sees, for man looks and the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7b). He looks upon the heart. Since we cannot do that, we must give way to love, compassion and mercy.
And consider what it means that God looks at the heart. What a very frightening truth! He saw me for who I really was before I knew Him. I was unlovely to Him, as are we all. All of us were guilty in His sight. All of our works were like filthy rags. We were altogether unclean, haters of God, lovers of sin. This is the condition we were all in when He chose to redeem us from our vain manner of life.

Our example, a compassionate Savior

Had God been a partial being, such as we are, He would never have chosen to save any of us. We would all face His wrath. And He would have been justified, judging us rightly. But God saved us in spite of ourselves.

Knowing that, can we as followers of Christ, learn from what we saw in Susan Boyle's appearance? Can we learn to look at others with compassion and kindness as our Heavenly Father looked upon us in our forlorn and ungodly state? Can we then decide to offer mercy and Christ-like love to the ones we find unlovely?

Jesus did this very thing when He "went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." (Matthew 9:35-36)
The "crowds" Jesus saw represented every human condition. People like ourselves, sick people, demon-possessed people, beggars, wealthy people (like Zacheus), prostitutes, government officials, criminals, various races, men, women, i.e., people from all walks of life. Two things they had in common was that they were all 1) all created in the image of God and thus were to be "image-bearers" of the God that gave them life, and 2) they had all been separated and alienated from God because of their utter disregard for Him (universal and personal sin). 

This is why Jesus saw them as sheep without a shepherd. He was/is the Good Shepherd and they were without Him, though they followed Him. And He had compassion on them immediately, by healing them, by feeding them, by preaching the gospel to them and ultimately, by being crucified to pay the price that their disregard for Him cost. 

The word I am using here, "disregard", is a very mild term for how we all feel and think about God before we bow our hearts to Him. But our flagrant "disregard" for Him resulted in His condemnation and crucifixion on the cross. This is the greatest indictment of and proof for our inherent sinfulness - we brutally slaughtered the Lord of Glory, God in the flesh, when He visited us*. 
So, how can we have the same compassion that the Lord Jesus Christ had upon us?

As for me, I have been very convicted by all of this and am stunned when I think of it in terms of my acceptance before God. He has taken a poor, ragged, sinful wretch, welcomed her into His heaven and given her all the blessings in the heavenly realms. In Him, I have redemption through Christ's blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that He lavished on me with all wisdom and understanding. (Ephesians 1:7-9)

I pray like Paul for those of us making a claim to know Christ:

"For this reason, I kneel before the Father, from whom His whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Once this kind of knowing is a reality, there is no telling what would come of it in our churches, homes and neighborhoods and who we would welcome, just as our Lord has indeed welcomed us!

*Note: If you do not believe this about yourself - that you took part in Christ's violent death, let me ask you, how do you think about God, in particular, Jesus? Have you ever resisted/disbelieved the truth about Who He is? This unbelief of Who He was in the flesh is what put Him on the cross. He was crucified because He claimed to be the Son of God which meant He was equal with God (John 5:18). Jesus was crucified because He was hated and called a blasphemer - He claimed to be God - and those who killed Him did not believe Him! We are all guilty for we are born alienated from Him and in enmity to Him. We all, because of our unbelief, were guilty of putting Him to death.

Posted by Sharon Kaufman

Partiality - Not an Attribute of God

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Art and Heart of Hospitality

We have no idea how wealthy we are just to have a roof over our heads. I take so much for granted. This struck home so profoundly to me today.

And it also struck me that our homes must be shared at all times, even (or maybe especially) when they look lived in. This is how these thoughts came to me:

My neighbor had texted me to ask for ice. When she came to my door, I gladly handed the frozen cubes to her. She then told me that she needed to drive her truck to the store just down the street so she could use the restroom there.

I know you think that you read that last sentence wrong, but you didn’t. You see, this neighbor and her husband, though they live across the street from us, do not live in a house.
Instead, these friends live in their tarped, broken-down truck. It runs, but barely. They have been our neighbors for three years, parked on the curb across the street from our house (though we’ve only gotten to know them better in the past two years or so).

My husband and I love these dear people. They are good friends and good neighbors. They are part of the “homeless” population by today’s standards though they themselves consider their truck to be home. But they do long to have a real roof over their heads as soon as possible.

But back to the story. Knowing that Estelle (not her real name), needed to leave quickly to get to the store to relieve herself, I promptly invited her in to use our restroom. She was so grateful.

As we entered the front door of my house, I apologized that the house was a little messy. And this was Estelle's response, “Please don’t worry about how your house looks. I would give anything to be able to say that.”

Did you get that? Estelle was saying that she would give anything to be able to make such an apology - to have a house that was a little messy to invite guests into, apologizing as I was. I can’t tell you how her response has sobered me!
The Lord has been impressing this message on me heavily for well over a year now. So what Estelle said has been that same message personified by the Holy Spirit through my neighbor. I must not ignore this!

My home (dare I say “our homes” since we are commanded to be hospitable many times in the Bible) must be open to others. We are even commanded to be hospitable to strangers.

Our homes are not museums where a janitor is constantly cleaning to make sure that the antiquities there remain dust-free so they can be admired by the visitors. A museum is a place where non-living things - even dead things - reside and people stare at them, awestruck, in order to connect with the past. Those who visit, walk through the museum till they reach the exit, never having rested all the while because museums are not made for resting.

Instead, my home should be a place where living beings reside, a place that is not constantly being cleaned but rather where people are productive and fruitful and also where they can rest from the living that happens there. Our homes exist for those who are living, not for the dead and/or inanimate.

Our homes should be fruitful and restful, and not just for us. They should be open for others to come in, sit down and find rest from their weariness (even if that means finding rest in the most humble room in our home - our bathroom). 

Our homes should also be a place where others can partake of the home-based fruits of our labors. Perhaps this would be lived out by providing a meal. And that does not have to be hard. It could be a meal of leftover soup from the day before (don't we say that the soup is always better the next day anyway?). Or that shared fruit could be a simple cup of coffee and an encouraging truth, ie., a spiritual fruit, that the Lord impressed upon you earlier in the day as you communed with Him through His written word. 
But back to the museum analogy, do I mean to imply that it’s wrong to clean my home? Of course not! It would be wrong for me to let my house go. What is wrong, however, is to operate under the misconception that my house must be “museum-clean” in order to have “guests” in. It’s wrong to think that my home must be picture-perfect for those who enter so that they can gaze in awe at the well-dusted, cared for and cherished furnishings (exhibits?) therein

The account of Zaccheus in the gospel of Luke helps me think deeper about how available my home is and, more to the point how available I am personally to serve others. This short little man, with a name that was bigger than he was, climbed up into a tree so that he could see Jesus above the crowds that obscured Him as He passed by.

We read in Luke 19:5, "When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, 'Zaccheus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.'"

Oh my! In reading this, I can't help but wonder what Zaccheus’ house looked like when Jesus invited Himself over to stay thereMy knee-jerk reaction would have been to panic, race home and try to get things in order. But what does the little tax collector do? Luke tells us, “So Zaccheus came down at once and welcomed Jesus gladly.” (Luke 19:6)

"So Zaccheus CAME DOWN..."! I would have been tempted to climb higher to get out of sight. But Zaccheus came down. In fact, the text continues to tell us, "So Zaccheus came down AT ONCE..."! He hurried down that tree. But that's not all, "So Zaccheus came down at once and WELCOMED JESUS..."! He didn't stress that Jesus was coming to stay at his home. It was quite the opposite. He welcomed Jesus and it wasn't just any halfhearted welcome. Not at all! Read his entire response to Jesus: "So Zaccheus came down at once and welcomed Jesus GLADLY"! Zaccheus was thrilled that Jesus had invited Himself to his house. Knowing that your house was a little messy, would you have responded so enthusiastically? Would I have?

At this point, I am thoroughly in awe of the dramatic, comprehensive and instantaneous heart change that the Spirit of God makes within this one who has been so enamored with and enslaved by money. Neither the Lord nor his fellow man was on Zaccheus’ radar until Jesus transformed him. Now he was all about Jesus instead, with his enthusiastic, joyful welcome to the Savior.
Should not this be my response, your response as well? If we are each a child of God, has He not transformed our hearts also? And when we welcome weary ones into our home, do we not likewise welcome the Lord Jesus in? 

At this point, there are so many challenging thoughts swirling through my mind. There is so much to explore and my heart needs a constant transforming tuneup. I want to explore this further so that I do not forget and so that I do practice the art and heart of hospitality in my place of fruitfulness and rest - in my home. 

In the next few weeks (God willing), I will be posting more about hospitality as it is practiced and commanded in the Bible. But for now, I have been so blessed to have shared with my neighbor the smallest, most humble room in my home, a room where she found rest in her weariness. Thank You, dear Savior, for this unforgettable opportunity! And thank You that when Estelle came for this short visit, You came with her and spoke to my heart.

Posted by Sharon Kaufman

The Art and Heart of Hospitality