Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Thank You

I have spent a lot of time in the past few years assisting people in realizing one of the most important things a person can have in their life, their goals. I firmly believe that without goals no one can move ahead in their lives. We are unable to prosper. For without goals you will meet one of the criteria for living in that situation we refer to as "lost".

Lost is one of three things; not knowing where you have been, not knowing where you are or not knowing where you are going. Without goals firmly planted in your mind, you cannot possibly know where you are going. You will be relegated to that group that will believe "every wind of doctrine". Goals are shaped by your beliefs and then executed by your heart. That's why it is said regarding some, "they had great heart." Those who have great heart are able to accomplish great goals. But if someone has no goals, no matter how great their heart, nothing would be done, nothing accomplished. I have set many goals over the years and some I have accomplished and all of the ones that have been accomplished, were accomplished only through the power of God. I do not believe that anyone is able to accomplish anything unless God either allows it or assists it. Therefore God is present in all situations, and yes, even the bad ones. One of my goals, and I am sure the loftiest goal, as a pastor is to assist people in their search either to find Christ or to draw nearer to Him. There really is no other reason for my existence in the role in which God has placed me. I sincerely hope that in everything I do that God is glorified and thereby people see Him a bit more clearly. My greatest goal is to point to Him in everything I do. I think I discovered something this week that I have been unable in all my time on earth, to be able to describe in any sermon, or message or conversation or letter. I think this is a true revelation of something very important. It is the secret to a happy life. I want to share this with everyone, for I believe that we all have a desire to be happy. Some people would fool you on that account for they look always as though they just walked away from a train wreck. They look always dazed and confused. Their countenance is down continually and every attempt to cheer them or make them smile is met with a look that screams, "Just leave me alone".

Folks, happiness is a choice. And although it may not be a conscious choice, it is a choice nonetheless. Whenever an unconscious choice is made, it is accomplished because of an attitude that is owned or is at least prevalent in the very psyche of the one making that choice. In those who would own an attitude of extreme happiness, it is first necessary to own an attitude of gratitude. We must learn to be thankful. Now many will say that I am over simplifying the key to happiness, but I struggled with this quite a bit and I am absolutely convinced that being grateful for everything that happens to you is the most important key to any and all happiness in your life. I read a quote while researching this subject by a man named Emmet Fox. Mr. Fox stated, "Bless a thing and it will bless you, curse it and it will curse you... if you bless a situation, it has no power to hurt you, and even if it is troublesome for a time, it will gradually fade out, if you sincerely bless it." I would add to this that it doesn't matter if something is permanently troublesome or painful, blessing it, being grateful for it will remove forever its power over you to make you feel its pain. Now are there things in my own life I wish hadn't happened? Are there things I wish I hadn't done? Of course there are. We all have pain and we all have regrets. But understanding that we must each take possession of our own lives will help us to understand that we must learn to be grateful for what happens in that span of years we call a lifetime. All of it, without exception.

For example, I lost everything I had in one day back in 1994. I found myself without a family, a home, a car or even clothes other than what I had packed in a suitcase I owned. No books, no computer, no phone. At that moment I wasn't very grateful for my situation and I grew angry at not only the situation, but at God, those who were trying to comfort me, those who had caused the situation, and anyone who came close to me. But as some time passed, I learned to be grateful for the events of that day because it turned out that God had plans for my life of which I knew nothing. That day was a turning point in my life. And although it seemed as though it was a turning point toward hell, it was most certainly a turning towards heaven. I am now able to be grateful for that day and the events that happened then, because if they had not happened exactly as they did, I can safely say that I wouldn't be where I am today being blessed abundantly in so many ways by the same God I thought had abandoned me that day. The thing that I missed then, but know now is that had I blessed that day immediately and begun to seek all the ways in which God was leading me, I wouldn't have wasted so much time wallowing in self pity. Paul wrote this to the church in Thessolonika:
1 Thess 5:18 "In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you"
Really? God wills that I might be tortured and even killed for believing in Him? That's what the church there was facing. Paul was saying that if it happens, then God allowed it and so then, be grateful for it. If we believe in God, then we should understand that all things come from God, directly or indirectly, ordained or allowed. Jesus said that the two commandments were love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. We all get that, we all understand that these are the things we need to do and that by doing these two things we keep all the law and acknowledge all the things in all prophecy. So how do we love God with all our hearts if we fail to show gratitude to Him when we are experiencing difficulties in our lives? How can we truly love our neighbor as ourselves if we fail to thank them for the pain that might be caused by them? Even when it is great pain. For example, if someone breaks into your house and steals your television set, a brand new 42" flatscreen that you just got a few weeks before in order to watch the upcoming football season. Then they catch the guy. The tv is gone, but they have evidence that this is the guy. The police are going to allow you to speak to the man who did this, So what are you going to say to him? You have choice. You can either get in his face and scream about what a horrible person he is and how all thieves will burn in hell and on and on and on........or you could simply tell him that you forgive him and thank him because since he stole your television you've had more time to get into the word of God and draw near to Him. And then you could tell him about the love of God for him as well. Which of these scenarios would be loving God and loving your neighbor? Which would be more likely to bring someone who obviously doesn't know the Lord to at least a place where he might be made aware of God's love? Anger never shows God's love, nor does it ever put us in a place where God's light is shone on a dark situation. Is being grateful for a tough situation even logical? Not in man's or the world's economy, but in God's economy it makes perfect sense. Dietrich Bohhoeffer wrote, while imprisoned in a Nazi prison, "Gratitude changes the pangs of memory to a tranquil joy." He was hanged while incarcerated in prison. Bonhoeffer was a protestant pastor who stood up against Hitler. He lived in God's economy. The doctor who witnessed his death and attested to it, wrote, “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer... kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.” The Pilgrims escaped religious persecution in England, fleeing to America in 1620. In that first winter they dug 7 times as many graves than built places in which to live. They were the poorest Americans who have ever lived in North America, barely eeking out enough food to keep themselves alive. Yet the one thing that everyone knows about them is that they set apart a day to thank God because they were grateful for where they were. And they shared what they had and had fellowship with the first Americans who joined them in that thanks to God. We all have trials and tribulations, but if we are to move past those things that are difficult, then we must be grateful for those trials, and bless the trials, laugh at those difficulties that seem too difficult to move past. And then carry on to what God has prepared for us. When my wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and I was told that she wouldn't be leaving the hospital in which she lay, that hospice needed to be called, I first told the doctor who spoke those words of doom to me that he wasn't in charge of life and death, but I knew who was. And because I had learned the lessons of gratitude I thanked God for giving me this woman who had given me so much joy in the last few years. I let Him know that if He chose to take her home to be with Him, I was OK with that and I would simply be grateful for the time we had together. I would rather He let me have her for a while longer, but it was up to Him, not me. I was just blessed to have her for as long as I had. As I write this I can hear her rattling some pots and pans as she does the dishes in the next room. I'm not saying that gratitude saved her life, but knowing that I would have been grateful either way, helped me get through it a bit easier just as she was grateful for more life on this earth. Gratitude doesn't make any problems or trials or tribulations disappear, but it most certainly makes them more bearable. And in fact, as Bonnoeffer wrote gratitude will change those difficult times, those pangs of memory into a tranquil joy. Gratitude brings joy, gratitude brings peace and for that you have His word on it.