Thanksgiving Leftovers...

Okay, I’m a snob. I don’t like leftovers. Not even Thanksgiving leftovers fire me up. I always feel a twinge of disappointment when it's time for leftovers. Just hearing the word "leftovers" sounds like a big let down, as if we are compassionately making room in our bellies for the food that didn't get picked in the first round. “Man, we asked God to bless this last week.”

But hopefully the idea of remaining thankful doesn’t ever strike you as stale.

In Romans chapter 1, Paul shows the downward spiral of sinful living with no regard to God:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Romans 1:18-23

God’s wrath isn’t just something that is coming. It is something that is here, resting on everyone who refuses the grace of their Creator. He has made Himself plain to them, but instead they chose sin, which requires them to suppress the truth. If you would rather have sin than God, you will do whatever it takes to deny, discredit, and doubt God’s very existence.

And one of the key things, highlighted above for emphasis, is a refusal to give thanks. Your capacity for faith is directly tied into your willingness to rightly acknowledge that God has provided for you. Much sincere appreciation to God for His goodness shows genuine faith (see Luke 17:11-19), refusal to acknowledge God’s goodness puts your mind on a different track, a Romans 1 track, which spirals into foolishness (v22), idolatry (v23), sensual living (v24-27), malicious evil (v29)… and the applause of sin (v32). How did it get that bad?

Well, it doesn’t happen in a person’s life overnight, any more than it happens society-wide overnight. The gas fueling the furnace of sinful, immoral, God-less living is unthankfulness, just as thankfulness fuels the furnace of faith.

Are you a thankful person? How does thankfulness show up in your life?

p.s. - made it this far without saying “it’s not just about thanksGIVING, it’s about thanksLIVING”. You knew it was coming :)

Think Fast

Last Sunday was Fasting 101. We said that fasting is “abstaining from food (and/or other things) for a measured period of time in order to heighten my hunger for the things of God.”

It’s getting off the table all of the (lesser) stuff that fills my appetites, and focusing solely on my relationship with Jesus Christ.

So what’s this “and/or other things”? For some, traditional fasting may not be physically possible (diabetics, for example). Maybe you need to fast from video games, or Facebook, or even television. The point is this: instead of feeding on the lesser things, I am devoting that time, energy, and appetite capacity to prayer and the Word - focusing on my walk with Jesus.

Try fasting once a day for a few days (skip lunch, for example, to pray instead). Or try a straight 1 day fast, or even work up to a 2-3 day fast if this is new to you. Keep it between you and the Lord. See how differently you focus on Christ during the fast, and afterwards as a result.

When is a good occasion to fast? James MacDonald points out how Isaiah mentions some great reasons and seasons to fast in Isaiah 58. I will go through just 5 of these here to hopefully encourage you to take a season of fasting:

When is a good occasion to fast?

Isaiah 58:6 "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

1) When you are stuck in a sinful pattern or feel a heavy spiritual burden. Stuck in a rut? Time to fast and let God get you on track.

Isaiah 58:7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

2) When you want to give. Are you giving the way you want to? If not, fasting can help get you on track.

Isaiah 58:8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

3) When you need encouragement. Who doesn’t need that reminder of God’s love, presence, and provision? Fasting to focus on our identity in Christ will bring great encouragement.

Isaiah 58:9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, 'Here I am.' If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,

4) When you need an answer to prayer. Fasting and prayer go together like peanut butter and chocolate, like Batman and Robin, like Hydrogen and Oxygen (I think those 3 analogies will cover every demographic). We pray, but do we buckle down and focus on intense, passionate prayer? Fasting helps us do that.

Isaiah 58:10-11 - if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

5) When you need direction. At a crossroads? Need some guidance? Fasting has a way of helping us really listen to the promptings of the Lord.

Let’s call people back to this incredible gift the Lord has given His people!

p.s. - Let's hunger for the things of God.

The Story of a Leper Who Thought It Was "Opposite Day"

And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, "If you will, you can make me clean." 
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, "I will; be clean." 
And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 
And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them." 
But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter. 

--Mark 1:40-45

In this account, Jesus Christ heals a leper. Leprosy was a common affliction, and though the Gospels record only 2 events where Jesus healed leprosy (the other being Luke 17, where He healed 10 lepers), I imagine He healed many that were not recorded for us in the Bible.

Leprosy” was a catch-all term for various skin afflictions. This man has what today would be called Hansen’s Disease. This terrible disease is caused by micro-bacteria that attack the nerves and anesthetize the skin. Without the sensation of touch, the victim would be prone to injury. The disease would go anywhere between 10-30 years, and the afflicted usually died from other diseases because they had no resistance.

The disease was also fairly communicable. Therefore in Jesus’ day, lepers were not allowed in mainstream society. The only people they could be around were… other lepers. You couldn’t be home, you couldn’t go to the Temple or synagogue, you couldn’t punch in at work; almost as terrible as the disease itself was the isolation it brought from a “normal” life. In fact, according to the Mosaic Law, lepers had to tatter their clothes so they would be easily recognized, as well as cry out “UNCLEAN” when they were in the vicinity of others. (Leviticus 13)

So this leper comes to Jesus (note: lepers were never allowed to approach people like this!). And the parallel account in Luke 5:12 says this man was full of leprosy. He wasn’t a recent diagnosis; he was advanced stages. He came with an attitude of reverence and met the Savior who had an attitude of compassion. One touch from Jesus took the man from Stage 4 to complete health!

Jesus sent the man off with 2 commands: 1) Say nothing to anyone. 2) Show yourself to the priest. What’s with the commands? Well, Jesus said why the man needed to show himself to the priest: for a proof to them. Show the priest that Jesus Christ is the anointed Messiah, verified by Divine miracles. But why keep mum about this to everyone else? Jesus didn’t say why. But He gave this command a lot, apparently (see Mark 3:12, 5:43, 7:36, 8:25).

To borrow a term from the 2nd grade, the man must have thought it was Opposite Day. He did exactly what Jesus told him not to do. And I think we see in the last verse why Jesus told him not to say anything. The news spread to the point that Jesus was getting mobbed when He went near a city. So popular was this miracle worker that He couldn’t even walk down Main Street because people were coming after Him from everywhere.

The man serves as a positive and a negative example, leaving us with 2 big lessons…

1) Where the leper had a big win: When you ask God for something, remember that HIS will for you is always more important than YOUR will for you. Because He is God and you are… not. The leper (now “ex-leper“) knew Jesus had the power to heal him, but he didn’t know if Jesus willed to do it"If you will, you can make me clean."The man didn’t lay any claims, He didn‘t tell Jesus what He had to do - he just yielded to God’s will. Yes, pray. Yes, pray specifically. Yes, pray expectantly. Don’t pray presumptuously. Your prayers should ultimately be asking God only for the things that He would want for you. God knows what is best for you; you only think you know what is best for you. So you always want to go with God’s verdict on the matter. This is praying according to God’s will. I am willing to bet 1John 5:14 became this man’s “life verse”.

2) Where the leper failed: When God tells you to do something, just do it. You don’t need to know why.Sometimes God’s instruction doesn’t make sense to us. It doesn’t have to. Even if we haven’t reasoned out the why of a command from God’s Word, we should do what He commands anyways. It’s simple obedience. God doesn’t call us to figure Him out, He calls us to trust Him.

p.s. - Wonders if Simon the Leper, deep down, wished that nickname didn‘t stick

This is the month when you are supposed to appreciate your Pastor

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith…. Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. --Hebrews 13:7, 17.

October is Pastor Appreciation month.

Do you appreciate your Pastor? I do!

What do you mean? You appreciate yourself?!

No, that would be… arrogant? Weird? A bit creepy? BUT... I do appreciate the Pastors that have been pastors to me.

So let me say thank you to two men in particular.

First is Pastor Robert Huber. Some may call him PB or Hubi, but he’s Pastor Bob to me. When I first came to Christ, I was discipled at North Street Christian Church in Butler, PA, where Pastor Bob serves as the Senior Pastor. After graduating from Bible College, I had the privilege of coming on as the Associate Pastor there, back to the very church that was so instrumental in my growth during my early years as a follower of Jesus. I was blessed to serve there for 11 years, and the lessons about being a shepherd that Pastor Bob taught me would fill volumes. The biggest lesson he taught me was grace - loving the very people who spoke and acted negatively against you. I have watched as people would harshly (and falsely) criticize Pastor Bob, and he never lashed back. Never felt it necessary to defend himself… and certainly never lash back. Yet when those same critics fell on hard times, who was the first person on the scene to minister to them…? Yeah, it was Pastor Bob. Thank you for your example of grace.

And I would also like to publicly acknowledge, honor, and appreciate another man who taught me so much about being a Pastor: Dr. James MacDonald. The months of training I had under him in 2010 was one of the most challenging and sweetest seasons of my life. He taught me so much about worship and preaching, and I strive to carry out these lessons in my ministry at Harvest Bible Chapel Pittsburgh North.

Many other men have made huge deposits in my life. However, these two men have shown me the example of the kind of pastor I want to be. By God’s grace, my I imitate their faith as I consider the outcome of their way of life.

Pastor Bob, Pastor James… consider yourselves appreciated!

p.s. - Never did get to celebrate Associate Pastor Appreciation Month