Month: November 2013

Why Do We Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Have you ever wondered why we celebrate Thanksgiving? Here is the original proclamation given by President George Washington which began the first official Thanksgiving celebration in the United States:

Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

Here are some important things to note:

1. President George Washington believed it was the duty of every nation “to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.

2. Congress requested President Washington “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

3. Thanksgiving day is “to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

4. On this day of Thanksgiving we should “unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed.

So, as you celebrate Thanksgiving, be sure to honor the wishes of our first President. Spend time thanking God for his providential care and his blessings. Also, spend time in prayer asking God for his continued protection, blessings, forgiveness, and guidance.

God, give us more men and women in positions of authority throughout our country with this type of perspective!

Free Christmas Devotional For Families

christmas-cross

The Christmas season is one of my favorite times of the year. I love the smell of Christmas trees and the sounds of Christmas music. I love, even more, the time we get to spend with family and friends. But, we celebrate Christmas primarily because of a person…and his name is Jesus. He is the reason for the season!

My fear is that often we lose sight of the true reason for our celebration in the midst of a culture that celebrates everything but our Savior. Even worse, this lack of focus on Jesus has crept into the church. This should not be the case. I have put together a 25 day Christmas devotional for you to use as a tool to help focus your family’s attention on Jesus, the baby born in Bethlehem and the Savior of our souls.

This devotional should be used every day from December 1st – 25th. Each day has a specific text of Scripture that should be read, followed by some devotional thoughts. There are also questions following the devotional thoughts that can be used to help instill the truths from the text of Scripture. Finally, at the end of each week is family action plan that will help your family do some fun, practical things to help focus attention on Jesus during this season.

I have included a link to this Christmas devotional (“The Cross & The Manger”) below. Feel free to download it and send it to your friends and family. Share it on Facebook and on Twitter. Print copies and pass them out to your coworkers. I think we could all use a little help as we seek to focus on Jesus during the Christmas season!

“The Cross and The Manger”

Four Reasons Pastors Need To Be Themselves

Have you ever wanted to preach like Adrian Rogers, write like Warren Wiersbe, and lead like John Maxwell? Often, we see various pastors speaking at conferences and publishing books and wonder what we need to do differently to be all that we can be in ministry. It seems that we, as pastors, are constantly bombarded with feelings that we don’t quite measure up. This sense of inadequacy can lead us to try and be someone we are not.

I remember preaching my first sermon at 14 (God bless those poor people!). I had listened to tapes of several of my favorite preachers and did my best to sound just like them that Sunday night. It was awkward. The people were incredibly gracious at the end of the service but I knew something was off.

My experience was a lot like David’s experience in 1 Samuel 17:38-40. After volunteering to fight Goliath, David was given Saul’s armor to protect and aid him in the battle. The Bible indicates David looked similar to a little boy who attempts to wear his dad’s clothes. The armor did not fit, Saul’s sword was too heavy, and you could have probably spun the helmet around on David’s head.

In much the same way, I had tried on other people’s armor (preaching style, tone of voice, gestures) only to walk away feeling like a second rate copycat. It was several weeks later that I had a wise mentor remind me that God had called me to be me, not Adrian Rogers or Warren Wiersbe or John Maxwell.

The reality is God has not called us to be anything more or less than who he created us to be. This is the beauty of the gospel! We were saved to fulfill God’s purposes and, as pastors, we are called to serve the body of Christ. Consider four reasons why we should be ourselves in ministry:

1. When we are ourselves, we celebrate the power of the gospel. 

Paul was a self-proclaimed poor communicator (1 Corinthians 2:1-5) but instead of attempting to be someone he was not, he embraced his identity in Christ. The power of his ministry was not in his giftedness and ability but in the gospel message he preached. When we attempt to be someone we are not, we cheapen the gospel’s work in our life instead of celebrating its transforming power.

2. When we are ourselves, we submit to God’s calling on our life.

If God had wanted Adrian Rogers to pastor your people, God would not have called you! However, he did call you and there is a reason why he did. In his providence, he knew that you needed to serve this group of people and they needed you as their pastor. In his kingdom plan, you are the man he chose to use “for such a time as this.” Embrace God’s call on your life and be you. Your people will thank you!

3. When we are ourselves, people see us as authentic and not frauds.

Have you ever met a pastor that was one man at the church picnic and someone completely different in the pulpit? Our people recognize when we attempt to be someone different than we are. An easy remedy for this is for pastors to join a Sunday School class or small group. People need to see our strengths and weaknesses. They need to know the man behind the pulpit for who he truly is and not the legend or myth he may try to personify.

4. When we are ourselves, people are able to see God’s continued work in our life and ministry.

I’m sure your first sermon, like mine, was pitiful. Thank goodness my preaching professor was not around with his checklist! The good news is that as we grow and develop as pastors, our people are able to see God’s work in our life first hand. They are able to walk this journey with us and see the sanctifying work of Christ in our life and ministry. This journey speaks louder than any sermon we could ever preach.

Conclusion

After trying on Saul’s armor, David quickly recognized that he could not be anyone other than who God created him to be. He ditched the armor and went into battle trusting God to carry him through. As we enter the daily battle of pastoral ministry, we need to trust that God has specifically called and equipped us to “fight the good fight of faith.” Pastor, be who God created you to be!

The Inward Focused Church

Our small groups have been working through Thom Rainer’s book I Am A Church Member over the past several weeks. I have been putting a teaching outline together for our teachers and thought I would share something today from chapter 3 of his book (“I will not let my church be about my preferences and desires”). Rainer noted that his research has produced a top ten list of dominant behavior patterns which demonstrate that a church is inward focused.

1. Worship Wars. One or more factions in the church want the music just the way they like it. Any deviation is met with anger and demands for change. The order of service must remain constant. Certain instrumentation is required while others are prohibited.

2. Prolonged minutia meetings. The church spends an inordinate amount of time in different meetings. Most of the meetings deal with the most inconsequential items, while the Great Commission and Great Commandment are rarely the topics of discussion.

3. Facility focus. The church facilities develop iconic status. One of the highest priorities in the church is the protection and preservation of rooms, furniture, and other visible parts of the church’s buildings and grounds.

4. Program Driven. Every church has programs even if they don’t admit it. When we start doing a ministry a certain way, it takes on programmatic status. The problem is not with programs. The problem develops when the program becomes an end instead of a means to a greater ministry.

5. Inwardly focused budget. A disproportionate share of the budget is used to meet the needs and comforts of the members instead of reaching beyond the walls of the church.

6. Inordinate demands for pastoral care. All church members deserve care and concern, especially in times of need and crisis. Problems develop, however, when church members have unreasonable expectations for even minor matters. Some members expect the pastoral staff to visit them regularly merely because they have membership status.

7. Attitudes of entitlement. This issue could be a catch-all for many of the points named here. The overarching attitude is one of demanding and having a sense of deserving special treatment.

8. Greater concern about change than the gospel. Almost any noticeable changes in the church evoke the ire of many; but those same passions are not evident about participating in the work of the gospel to change lives.

9. Anger and hostility. Members are consistently angry. They regularly express hostility toward the church staff and other members.

10. Evangelistic apathy. Very few members share their faith on a regular basis. More are concerned about their own needs rather than the greatest eternal needs of the world and community in which they live.

Do any of these describe your church? How about you – are you more interested in your preferences and desires than serving others?

Man Up!

This morning I read through John Piper’s chapter entitled “Marriage” in his book Desiring God. I thought I would reprint some of his words which focus on men stepping up in the home. If you are a husband, you need to read this! If you are married to a man, you need to put this in front of him! If you plan to be a husband one day or have a husband one day, you and he need to read this!

I address the men directly for a moment: Do not the let the rhetoric of unbiblical feminism cow you into thinking that Christlike leadership from husbands is bad. It is what our homes need more than anything. For all your meekness and all your servanthood and all you submission to your wife’s deep desires and needs, you are still the head, the leader.

What I mean is this: You should feel the greater responsibility to take the lead in the things of the Spirit: you should lead the family in a life of prayer, in the study of God’s Word, and in worship; you should lead in giving the family a vision of its meaning and mission; you should take the lead in shaping the moral fabric of the home and in governing its happy peace. I have never met a woman who chafes under such Christlike leadership. But I know of too many wives who are unhappy because their husbands have abdicated their God-ordained leadership and have no moral vision, no spiritual conception of what a family is for, and therefore no desire to lead anyone anywhere.

A famous cigarette billboard pictures a curly-headed, bronzed-faced, muscular macho with a cigarette hanging out of the side of his mouth. The sign says, “Where a man belongs.” That is a lie. Where a man belongs is at the bedside of his children, leading in devotion and prayer. Where a man belongs is leading his family to the house of God. Where a man belongs is up early and alone with God seeking vision and direction for his family.

Book Review: “David and Goliath” (Malcolm Gladwell)

After we drop Anna off for her dance class on Monday nights, we head over to the library to pick up some new books for both of our girls. This past week I noticed Malcom Gladwell’s new book David and Goliath on the “new arrivals” shelf staring at me. I interpreted this “stare” as more of a dare – the book was saying, essentially, “I dare you to pick me up and read me!” I have not read any of Gladwell’s other popular books (Outliers, Blink, and The Tipping Point) even though I have heard from numerous people that they were superb. I made a quick choice that evening and dumped the book into the pile of other books were planning to check out that evening.

About the Author

Malcolm Gladwell is a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine, where he has been under contract since 1996. He is also a popular speaker (after publishing several best-sellers), delivering speeches at various venues throughout the United States. You can find out more about him and his writing at www.gladwell.com.

My Expectations

I had high hopes as I began reading this book. Amazon reviewers have given it 4 out of 5 stars, which caused me to assume that I would get my money’s worth (yes I know it was free to check out but I sacrificed a good 3 hours of my precious time reading it). Boy, was I disappointed. Apart from the first chapter about David and Goliath, I was not at all impressed. The writing did not flow and Gladwell’s premise was not argued well. There were times I thought about putting the book down and walking away for good. But, after hearing how great his other books were I thought maybe, just maybe I had hit a rough spot. I wish this had been true!

Book Overview

The book is divided into three sections:

1. The Advantages of Disadvantages (and Disadvantages of Advantages)

The premise of this section is that our strengths are not necessarily strengths and our weaknesses are not necessarily weaknesses. Gladwell focused on different people and their strengths/weaknesses. He used their failures to demonstrate that their perceived strength actually turned out to be a weakness (Goliath’s size was likely due to a medical condition that caused him to have difficulty seeing beyond a few feet). The opposite is also true according to Gladwell; perceived weaknesses can often be strengths (numerous people with learning disabilities have succeeded precisely because of those perceived disabilities).

2. The Theory of Desirable Difficulty

In this section, Gladwell examined the lives of people who have grown up in difficult situations (abusive childhood or loss of a parent at an early age) and yet done extremely well. One interesting fact mentioned by Gladwell is that 12 out of our 44 Presidents lost their father early in their childhood. He argued that this difficulty was instrumental in preparing them for their job as President. Gladwell also claimed that the revolving door of difficult circumstances experienced by African Americans, before and during the Civil Rights Movement, actually enabled them to persevere through these difficulties.

3. The Limits of Power

In the final section of the book, Gladwell examined how power can be a weakness. He used several stories to highlight this point. The first is the story of how the British army, who were more resourced and had more weapons, soldiers and military experience, struggled against a weaker army/people in Northern Ireland. He also relayed the story of the Huguenots’ resistance against the Nazi controlled government in France. Even though they were outmanned and outgunned, they still succeeded in resisting the oppressive government.

My Review

First, let me say that I struggled with the man-centered focus surrounding the biblical story of David and Goliath. We have all heard sermons preached from this text that focus on “slaying the giants in our life.” I am convinced this is not the point of the story. If me saying this puzzles you, take some time to watch Matt Chandler’s sermon on the glory of God. I recognize that this biblical story served as as a great backdrop to discuss what Gladwell wanted to discuss but I hate to see this story ripped out of its biblical context.

As I mentioned above, I thought Gladwell’s writing style was choppy and difficult to read. Several other reviewers mentioned this same thing but noted that his other books were not like this. With my reading time as limited as it is, I doubt I will pick up another one of his books. I was just not impressed.

Ok. Being the history nerd that I am, I did enjoy the historical stories that were used throughout the book and that may be its greatest strength. I wish my first experience reading Malcolm Gladwell would have gone better!