Just One More Blessing

Someone once said, “A truly thankful person is one who feels he got more than he deserves.” If this is true, can a person be brave enough to pray, “Lord, would you give me just one more blessing?” What is this one additional blessing? First, let us think of all the gifts that God has given to us. They are far more than we deserve.

Think of our spiritual blessings. We have a Savior who grants us the forgiveness of our sins and walks with us through difficult days. He is the one who creates faith in our hearts to call on him. He wants to bring us into a personal relationship with him, which shows itself in a continuous conversation with him.

Think of the blessings we have in being a part of a family who cares for us. Last week’s newspaper told the story of a sixteen-year-old who was involved in a hit-and-run accident. The ten-year-old child he hit died instantly. The teenager was frightened, and had nowhere to turn. His mother deserted him when he was two weeks old. The grandmother who had raised him died of cancer. An alcoholic uncle had kicked him out of the house. He had no family. Finally he turned to a young lady who was his friend, since she was the closest to care for him in his time of need.

Compare that situation with the family in which you were raised. Your parental home might have left a lot to be desired, but there were always loved ones to whom you could go and find help. You knew what it was to be loved. This is a blessing from God.

Think of the physical blessings that are ours. When we are able to get up each morning and go on our way, God has blessed us. Did you ever awaken in the middle of the night and lie there for a few moments thinking about what was going to happen the next day? The next time that happens, let your mind take you to the hospitals of the world and imagine the thousands of people who are not able to sleep because of excruciating pain. Why are we so blessed, even as the body gets older and is not able to do what it once could? God has blessed us.

Why do we have all of the necessities of life, and many luxuries, while other parts of the world die of starvation? All of this is puzzling to many of us. We have the good fortune of being born in this blessed land where, most often, our stomachs are overfed, our minds are well educated, and our financial worth continues to increase. These are blessings that come from the hand of God.

With all these blessings can we pray, “Father, will you give me just one more blessing?” Yes, we need to pray for this extra blessing. God is anxious to give it to us. This is the blessing only He can grant us. Here it is, “Lord, give me a thankful heart.”

David, in Psalm 9:1, said, “I will praise you, Lord, with my whole heart.” The word heart in the Hebrew language is considered the seat of our whole being. David wants more than thankful lips where saying thank you is easy because it is a part of good etiquette. He wants a thank you that is genuine and comes from the seat of our emotions. This is when a husband says to his wife, “I love you with my whole heart.” That love is coming from his whole being. Because of this love, he will be faithful to her. He will always be concerned about her welfare.

The same is true with the words thank you. “I thank you with my whole heart,” reveals itself in our behavior. This kind of thank you calls the person to action. It is not conditioned by how life is treating us at a particular time. This Psalm was written during tough times. In verse nine, David reveals that he is oppressed in times of trouble. Yet he knows God walks with him, and thus he stops to say thank you, which shows itself in his actions.

As I was preparing this sermon, the newspaper reported that Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Senator John Edwards, had received some tough news. Not only had her husband lost the election to become the vice-president of the nation, but her physician had told her she suffered from a malignant tumor in her breast.

For this lady and her family to give thanks to God for his many blessings to her requires a thankful heart. How easy it would have been to say thank you if her husband had been victorious in the election and she was in perfect health. That could have been a very superficial thank you, the kind of thing that most people would want to do. However, now victory has been turned into defeat and health into sickness. I do not know the Edwards family, but I am sure it would have been a time when they would have prayed, “Lord, even though it has been a difficult day, please give me a thankful heart.”

A person with a thankful heart is easy to identify. He has a thankful spirit and personality. He is one who truly feels that he has received more than he deserves. He is not much of a complainer, and he does not feel that the world owes him a living. He does not believe that he has been cheated. He is one who is momentarily crushed at some shocking news, but give him a little time to adjust life and that thankful heart begins to show through his personality. He is the kind of person you want to be around.

As we end this Thanksgiving weekend, let us pray: Lord, give me one more blessing. Create in me a thankful heart that motivates me every day.

When Your World Stops

During World War II, Elsie Finney’s husband received notice he was being drafted into the Royal Air Force. Years later, Elsie Finney wrote of the day when he had to leave: “My world was shattered, and I was surprised when I heard the rattle of the milkman’s van that said nothing of change.” Elsie Finney’s personal world had stopped, but the world around her was still going.

Have you ever had moments when your personal world has stopped, yet the rest of the world keeps going as if nothing has changed?

One day, when Bill was coming home from work, he was greeted by his wife with quite a surprise. She had packed her suitcase and was moving out. Bill was stunned, and months later he was feeling very stuck at that moment in his life, not sure how to get going again.

I think of a friend of mine who, the week before her wedding, lost her fiance in a climbing accident. Months later, sitting in my office, she said, “I am still feeling like it just happened, and I can’t seem to get going again.”

I am reminded of another fellow who had been ill. He said to me, “One day the doctor told me I had severe abdominal cancer. Not long after that, my wife was diagnosed with cancer. It is just like our lives have been put on hold these days.”

Time after time we find the same thing: life is going along. Then a surprise comes that we weren’t expecting, and we find our world has stopped. The question becomes for us, how do we get it going again? How do we find our way out of this place in our lives and move on?

Turning to scripture, we find a wonderful story about David, who himself was experiencing a day when his world stopped. David and his army were returning from battle to spend time with their families. Looking out out over the horizon, they saw smoke off in the distance. As they galloped into the community, worn out from travel, they found their homes had been burned to the ground, and their loved ones had been stolen by the Amalekites. David’s followers became so angry and bitter about this, they began to take it out upon the leader, David. They talked of stoning him to death and getting rid of him as their leader.

David is truly experiencing a crisis in his life. He has lost his loved ones and his personal reputation. Now his followers, who had trusted him, were blaming him for their troubles. David’s world, you might say, has stopped on him.

However, while everyone else was busy thinking about taking out their anger upon David in their bitterness, it says that David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.

While this is a very religious sounding statement, what picture strengthening oneself in the Lord bring to mind? David teaches us today what that looks like.

1. Verse four says, “When they had discovered what had happened to their loved ones, David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep.”

They lamented. David raised his voice to the Lord in lament. He admitted to the Lord, “Lord, I’ve got a problem. I am hurting.”

2. David also leaned upon a friend. After he had done his weeping, he turned to Abiathar, who was his priest and his friend, to come along side of him and pray.

In the Lutheran tradition, we talk about the Priesthood of all Believers. That means we are all ministers to one another, gifts to one another from God. When our world gets stopped, instead of isolating ourselves as some people tend to do, we are encouraged to lean upon somebody else. Surely, if your world has stopped, there is a friend, a brother, a sister in Christ that you could call upon and say, “Come and sit with me while I pray.”

Even Jesus, when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane, had his friends along his side. Though they proved not to be all that faithful, Jesus needed someone when he was feeling like his world was in a stopped place in his existence.

3. In David, we see he inquired of himself, that is, he prayed. He went to God and said, “God, what do you want me to do? I am ready to carry out what you would have me do.”

4. David took the word from the Lord and applied it. He believed the promise God gave him when God said, “You shall surely rescue your people.” He went trusting in the promise God gave him.

That is how David strengthened himself in the Lord: He lamented; he leaned on a friend; he prayed giving it all over to God; and, when God gave him an answer, David carried it out. He stood upon the promise of God.

We can learn from David’s example today. We, too, can do these same things when our world has stopped. David experienced God’s faithfulness that day. God heard his prayer, and answered him. David tells his army, “God gave us the victory,” when later his lost people are recovered. God proved to be approachable, available, and faithful. David had learned during the wilderness months when he had been running from King Saul that his God was One who had proven himself over and over again. David had no doubt in his mind that God loved him.

Now, you might be thinking, “That’s fine and dandy for David, but what about me? I’m not the King of Israel.” Here I am reminded of another story of a young man who was sometimes referred to as the Son of David. Remember the day he went to a garden and prayed? The whole world was lost and captive. He turned to his Father and said, “Father, what do you want me to do? Not my will, but your will be done. (Do you really want me to go to that cross?)”

A little while later Jesus got up from his knees, and he carried out his Father’s orders. He went to the cross and paid the penalty for our sins. God raised him on the third day and set us free from our captivity of sin, death, and the power of the prince of darkness. This God cares so much about you and me he gave his only Son to die for us that whoever believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

And so we hear Paul the Apostle say in the book of Romans, “What are we to say then about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not also with him give us everything else?” Then he goes on to say, “I believe that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.”

He was willing to lay down his life for us. God was willing to say, “Go and rescue my people, I love them.” Surely you and I can count upon Him to hear our prayers and lift us up when our world gets stopped, just like when David’s world got stopped.

I end with a story about a father who watches his small son through the kitchen window attempt to lift a large stone out of the sandbox. The boy appeared frustrated as he wrestled with the large object because he just couldn’t get enough leverage to lift it over the side. Finally, the boy gave up and sat down dejectedly at the edge of the sandbox with his head in his hands.

When the father asks why he can’t get the rock out, the son replies that it is too heavy. So the father asks if he has used all the strength that is available to him. When the boy replies that he has, the father corrects him: “No, you haven’t. You haven’t asked me to help you.”

Has your world stopped? Have you asked the Father who loves you to help you? For He can get your world started again. That is a promise from God’s Word.

History Has an End

It is 5:30 p.m., and you have settled down to learn from Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, or Dan Rather what is going on in the world. Their first bit of news gives you an update on the latest happenings in the Department of Homeland Security.

Homeland Security! It is a relatively new department in our government. Until recently, we saw no need for such a department. We depended on two big oceans to protect us from anyone who would do our nation harm. We had customs to go through if we were out of the country, and passports were important documents for citizens and strangers to enter the country. The Coast Guard patrolled our costal waters, but some of their time was spent assisting vessels in trouble.

Then came 9/11 and America changed. We not only could be attacked; we were attacked! Thousands of people died or were seriously injured, and the World Trade Center lay in ashes. Now high-ranking officials tell us that we will be attacked again. It is not a question of if we will be attacked by the enemy, but when and where the attack will occur.

High-ranking government officials tell us that terrorism is our number one enemy and must be defeated. The CIA, which has been harshly criticized, has received increased attention, and the errors in its report on Iraq must not happen again.

So Homeland Security is a hot topic on the evening news and was a big issue in the last election.

Now let us go back two thousand years to when Jesus had a news conference. This is His announcement: “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:27-28). Jesus was announcing that he will return. The world, as we know it, will end. History is moving toward an end.

Look at our text. Jesus and his disciples had visited the Temple. As they were leaving, some of the disciples were remarking about the beauty of the Temple. It was adorned with beautiful stones. King Herod had given a decoration symbolizing clusters of grapes as tall as a man made out of stone. Ornaments were suspended in the portico of the temple so that all could see them. Listening to the disciples’ conversation about the temple’s beauty, Jesus spoke these words: “The time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

This got the attention of Jesus’ followers, and they were visible upset. “Teacher, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”

The Lord gave the disciples no date. Since hundreds of years have passed since Jesus’ announcement, the world has written off Jesus’ words about the end of the world. Many assume that history continues to repeat itself and history is not necessarily going to end. Still, those who take God’s Word seriously have not forgotten Jesus’ words: “Watch, the day is coming.” Our church fathers have penned these words into the Apostles’ Creed: “He shall come again to judge the living and the dead.” Many of us confess this each Sunday, but give it little consideration.

While our Lord did not give any date of his return, he did give signs that we should observe and address the question. Could we be drawing near to the end of this world? Some signs that the end is near are:

False prophets will appear

Wars and revolutions will occur

Nations will rise against nations

Earthquakes, famine, pestilence will ravage the earth

Martyrdom

Many of Christ’s people have studied these signs and wondered if the time of His coming was near. Some have disobeyed Jesus’ words to predict a definite time when he would appear. Jesus said, “No one knows about the day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come” (Mark 13:32-33). In spite of this warning, some Christians were very dogmatic in their conviction that Christ’s appearing was right around the corner. One such example was when the state of Israel was established and many Jewish people returned to Palestine. Well, Israel became an independent state, but the Lord Still has not come. Yet, we continue to confess as we should, “One day He will appear. History has an end.”

While we must be vigilant in realizing that the terrorists will strike our land again, let us be even more watchful and prepared to meet our Lord when he returns. As the world ends, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Then God will set up his eternal Kingdom, and those who confess Jesus as Savior and Lord will reign with him forever.

A Home Away From Home

I have a friend who owns a beautiful motor home. After giving me a tour of the vehicle, which cost $200,000, he said, “It is our home away from home. It is not our permanent home; it is a temporary residence. We are always on the move. The neighborhood is always changing.”

Yet, neither is their beautiful, five-bedroom home, appraised at $500,000, their permanent home. One day that house will be too large for just the husband and wife. So they will purchase a nice condominium that assures them that, when their health demands assisted living accommodations, such services will be available.

Whether or not we are financially able to acquire such property, none of us can realistically and biblically live with the thought that we have a permanent home on planet earth. The writer of the book of Hebrews said it well, “Here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” We are pilgrims and sojourners on this earth.

It is sad when you visit with people who seem unable to emotionally accept the reality that life here, whether lived in a humble dwelling of small value or one that is worth a million dollars, is so temporary. How thrilling to hear the testimony of a person: “We are thankful for all these material blessings we have acquired, but we know that whatever the earthly dwelling may be, it is only our home away from home. That makes us enjoy them all the more.”

Here is some great news: Our permanent home costs us nothing. However, it cost Jesus Christ his life. He offers this eternal gift to all who receive him as Savior and Lord.

According to the lectionary, this is All Saints Sunday. It is the Sunday where God’s people gather to give special emphasis to the heavenly home that awaits us.

Shortly before leaving his disciples, Jesus shared with them what they would inherit. Remember what he said: “In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, would I have told you? I go to prepare a place for you, and one day I will come and receive you to myself that where I am, there you may be also.”

That is the home that we await. When we can see all of this life in relationship to Christ’s promise of the heavenly home, we give our earthly dwellings their rightful appraisal. They are a place to enjoy our loved ones and rest our weary bodies until we go home to be with God.

St. John was the biblical writer who tells us about the heavenly home. Now he gives us another glimpse into what awaits God’s children. The words speak for themselves.

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne, and in front of the Lamb . . . Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes – who are they, and where did they come from? I answered, ‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Revelation 7).

Did you hear these words?

The people, millions of them, will have come from all over the world. This is the fruit of our missionaries’ work. There is a place for all of them.

How did they get there? “They had washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Remember, Jesus announced before his death and resurrection that he was the only way to heaven. Unless our sins have been taken away, there is no entrance to the heavenly mansions. However, God offers his grace to all who will receive him.

“They have come out of the great tribulation.” That is what life was on earth. In the heavenly home, all will be perfect. The fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control – surround us.

“There will be no hunger, no suffering, no sorrow.”

Can we comprehend all of this? No, but what a day it will be!

Now, let’s make it personal. That is where your loved one is if they have died trusting Jesus as their Savior. Remember those premature deaths when they had to leave us as the result of an accident or fighting a war? Remember how hard we worked to prolong life? How difficult it was to walk away from the grave leaving the earthly remains there? Do you recall Satan whispering into your ear, “Where is your God who would do such a cruel thing to you?”

There is a place there for you and me. All we have to do is receive Jesus as our Savior.

Dare we be dogmatic on what life will be like there? I do not think so. God has given us a peek into the heavenly home. The details will be forthcoming. We cannot help but wonder, though, and that is all right.