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Count Your Blessings

            IT'S Thanksgiving morning and I am reminded of a hymn we used to sing at the church where I grew up. Now at this church we sang a lot of hymns; "On Christ The Solid rock" (my favorite); "A Mighty Fortress"; "Amazing Grace"; and "Blessed Assurance", to name a few. But this hymn I'm thinking of today is "Count Your Blessings" by Johnson Oatman. The last part of the chorus goes, "Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your many blessings, see what God has done." I distinctly remember asking myself back then, is this even possible? Could someone count all their blessings that God has done? No way!

            FIRST of all we have been blessed in so many spiritual ways that we can't even comprehend this in physical realm. Paul wrote, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ." Ephesians 1:3. Now I could name a lot of spiritual blessings I have received, but I could never list "Every spiritual blessing in Christ." But that doesn't mean I shouldn't try.

            WE have been blessed with salvation from our sins and the forgiveness of them that accompanies salvation. This means all the bad things I have done (an exhaustive list as well) have been totally washed away, pardoned and forgotten by the Lord. In reality, unbelievable, and yet must be believed to be received. We have also been blessed with God's grace. Grace is the unmerited favor of the Lord (Goodness Received At Christ's Expense). His grace is something that cannot be earned and is never deserved. This is what makes it grace. We also have been blessed with Mercy. While grace IS receiving what we DO NOT deserve, mercy is NOT receiving what we DO deserve. Grace and mercy, two blessings I've been given and I am so thankful for.

            GOD has also blessed us with His peace. Jesus said in John 14:7, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." This peace is like a triple blessing because we get the peace and then His peace eases our troubles and alleviates our fears. Paul says in II Timothy 1:7, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind."

            OBVIOUSLY we can't name all our blessings, but here are a few more. We have been adopted into the family of God. Paul writes in Ephesians 1:5, "He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will." Wow, adopted as God's own kids, and He was happy to do so for anyone who believes. John said, "Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God."  John 1:12

            THIS adoption into God's family means we have many brothers and sisters in Christ. God blessed me with two sisters by blood but no brothers. But now, I have so many more sisters and a whole host of wonderful brothers in the Lord. How rich can one person be?

            SERVING the Lord is in itself a great blessing. Because of this my life has purpose that reaches beyond this temporary world into the Heavenly realm. In other words, my life has meaning for this life and for the after life.

Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:11, "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." It's so beautiful to be able to live a life that matters to God and for others.

            WHAT is another blessing about being able to serve God is I don't have to try and do it all by myself. God blesses me with His power to achieve what He is asking of me. This power is through the Holy Spirit, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses..." Acts 1:8

            FINALLY, (for the letter, not for the blessings) we have hope. This hope is for the life we are living now and hope for the future. Peter writes, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."  I Peter 1:3. This living hope is the blessing of being resurrected to heaven after I die. The great blessing is that this world is not all there is to life. There is a better one waiting for us. What hope we have, what blessings (impossible to count) we have!

Stay In Your Yard

            FROM the start, let me apologize for, once again, using sports as an analogy. I am aware I use them often, but I do like my sports.

            WHILE on vacation last week I was watching a sports talk show hosted by Colin Cowherd. He started off his segment by saying that he does not like to go camping. Immediately I was intrigued because I do not like camping either. Camping for me is a Motel 6 and hiking is when your room is on the second floor. Anyway, Colin was saying that he didn't like camping because he did not want to get eaten by wild animals or bitten by reptiles or bugs. He said, "That is their backyard." He went on to say that in his backyard, "there are no bears." He also commented on how a surfer shouldn't complain if bitten by a shark. Once again, you are in the shark's back yard. I was kind of wondering where he was going with this and then he started talking about Aaron Rodgers, the Quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers had been injured the previous game and could likely miss the season. The reason for the injury, Colin stated, was because Rodgers left the pocket (his backyard) and ran into the backyard of the linebackers. He went on to say that "running quarterbacks" are much more likely to face injury than pocket passers (those who don't run). He also gave the list of quarterbacks who seldom leave the pocket and who have the longest active game streaks. Amazing analysis. Stay in the pocket and stay safe. Venture out and possibly get creamed.

            THIS got me to thinking about my own life and the life of you, the members of The Foothills. When, in fact, do I face the greatest risk to my spiritual life? It's usually when I venture outside the pocket because I either think I am as swift as a Cheetah or agile as a Squirrel.

            JESUS said in John 10:10, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." Notice Jesus said, "The thief comes only..." There is no other purpose or goal of the Devil than to destroy you, your spouse, your kids, your finances... your life. He, the Devil, doesn't play fair, doesn't play nice, doesn't take pity and doesn't play games. He wants to steal your relationship with God and people, kill all your hopes and dreams for the future and finally destroy you in the pit of Hell for eternity. I know that sounds a bit morbid or over the top, but if you don't believe me, trust Jesus, He is the one who said it.

            JUST how does the Devil end up destroying us? By getting us to leave the pocket, assuming we will be O.K., and then cutting us down in an unsuspected blind-side. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 4:23, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." I want to do that. I want to be safe and guard my heart and in doing so my life, my family, my future and my friends. But how?           

            STAY IN THE POCKET! What is the pocket of protection that God has provided and assigned for me? There are several: #1) Read God's Word. Every morning of my life I get up and spend time in the Bible. It is a safe haven for me. #2) Spend time in Prayer. Each day and at various times throughout the day I ask God for wisdom and guidance. His voice to me is life, health and wholeness. #3) Church attendance. One hour a week. O.k. with shower and getting ready time and then drive time, an hour and a half. That's it. We all have one full week (52 of them a year) and God asks you to spend one hour with Him at His house, per week. Church is a great pocket of protection for you... and for your kids! #4) Small Groups. Ladies Bible studies (morning and evenings), Men's Bible Studies, The Forge, Marriage classes... All of these are meant to keep you safe and strong in the Lord. #5) Worship & Thanksgiving. It is so important to thank God, sing to God and listen to Worship music. Worship of God can change our attitudes quick, fast and in a hurry.

            THERE are no short-cuts to growth, maturity and safety in the Lord. Stray outside the pocket (His backyard) and don't be surprised if life kicks you upside the head. Folks, it's a dangerous world and dangerous times. All I want for you, as your Pastor, are the words of John, "I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well." III John 2

Dynamics of a Healthy Family

            THERE are healthy families and sadly, there are unhealthy ones too. But make no mistake, there are no perfect families. What we need are just good, healthy, strong families. But for this to happen there are some things we must know.

            FIRST of all, there is the family way. Will it be humble and heavenly or hard? In James 3:13-15, James writes, "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom."  "But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such 'wisdom' does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil."

            THE humble and heavenly way is God's way (that's why it's heavenly) of relating to one another within the family unit. It is a way of treating each person in the family with love, grace and mercy. It is the "wise" way to live which produces a climate of growth, inclusion, happiness and freedom. These families are well, well, because they treat each other well. And this is not just for the family, but for our work places, schools, neighborhoods and communities. Make no mistake about it, good begets good.

            ANOTHER way which some families or members of the family adopt, is the hard way. This is the way of bitter envy and selfish ambition. Envy is different than jealousy in that jealousy can be rooted in love. Like God who loves us with a jealous love. Envy is never rooted in love but in greed, lust, and unholy desires. Selfish ambition is different than ambition. Ambition is good and we all should have it. But selfish ambition, well, it speaks for itself.

            ENVY and selfish ambition is a contentious spirit that is always wanting more, never satisfied with any outcome or result and always believes it is being cheated or taken advantage of. This spirit is devastating in any group of people. It is a pushy, demanding, selfish attitude which causes all sorts of fighting and bickering.

            EVERY established country has a currency. The same is true of heaven. The currency of heaven is love, grace and mercy which purchases acceptance and forgiveness. When we live this way now it's a slice of heaven on earth. But how can we get a hold of this "wise" heavenly currency? By choosing to be content. People who choose to be content have little strife in their life... they are "good."

            CONTENTMENT can best be defined as "I am good (full, satisfied), God is good (all the time), and whatever (everything) I am going through will work for my good." James writes, "...Wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving..." James 3:17. Contentment is wise because it brings about purity. Paul's perspective on purity comes from Romans 16:19, "...Be wise about what is good, and innocent (unwise) about what is evil." Innocence about evil means I am unaffected by the temptations of Satan. This will bring great peace to my life and therefore to all my family members.

            PAUL says in Philippians 2:14-15,  "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe." People who argue and complain are more susceptible to temptation and thus less likely to be pure. This takes us back to contentment versus envy and selfish ambition. Contentment is the antidote for all the arguments and complaints in a family. Being content makes us good. Learning to be content will give us peace. The more at peace we are, the more we prefer it. This makes us peace-loving people, which is good for all of our families. By choosing to be content, I choose to be a safe person and at peace with everyone in my family.

            THIS practice of peace is easier once we have learned contentment. Being content makes us wise, according to James 3:17, "...Considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere." All good things for our families.

            HOW could we go wrong by being content? Contentment helps us to be pure and peace loving (not envious or selfishly ambitious) and full of good fruit, all of which are good for our families.

            IF this were the case (true), who in a family would ever be hurt again? We'd all have healthy (dynamic) families.

How God Speaks

            HOW do we hear God when He speaks? How can we be those sheep Jesus referenced in John 10:27 who listen to His voice and follow Him?

            WE have to learn to discern the voice of God because it is one of His primary methods of speaking to us.

            A delivery system is very important to the success of a business. It can have a great product, terrific workers and a state of the art facility, but if it can't get its product to the consumer it's of no use. God is awesome, heaven is, well, heavenly and God has the best ideas. But if He can't get His message to us then what good is it? God knows that the answers to every human problem and condition lies within His heart. But we can't hear His heart without His voice. His words help us relate. We all know the frustration of being in a place where we can't speak the language or understand anyone there. Now imagine how God feels. He has so much He wants to say to us but we can't hear from this world. To hear God's voice we have to "leave" this realm (the physical one) and enter the spiritual realm. God is Spirit and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth. This happens through prayer.

            THE next method God uses to speaks to us is His written word. David wrote in Psalm 138:2, "...You have exalted above all things your name and your word." We worship and pray in His name and read and study His word. This is how we hear God. This is how we know Him.

            THE only way to know God's word is to read it. If we read it He will reveal it. Trusting and knowing God's word is crucial to our survival as believers. But it's our choice. I love what Jeremiah 15:16 says, "When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name..." Finding joy in reading God's word is the way to grow in your relationship with Him.

            I'VE heard many "reasons" (excuses) why people can't (won't) read the Bible. Some people don't read because they don't trust the translation or the  interpretation. Some people are too "busy" to read God's word. Others can't understand it and so don't read it. Some people just don't like to read. Then there are those who think only the clergy should read and interpret it so it's done right. But God wants you to read it so He

can have a one on one relationship with just you. God is available to chat with you any time you desire.

            OF all the excuses we use for not reading the Bible, it all comes down to desire. We tend to do just what we want to do. When a person wants something bad enough they will find a way

            GOD also likes to speak to us through Godly people. As I said earlier, He prefers a one on one relationship with just you, you and your Father. But He will speak through one of your brothers or sisters.

            THERE are some people who refuse to seek out or listen to good, Godly counsel. Solomon called them mockers in Proverbs 15:12, "A mocker resents correction; he will not consult the wise."

Interestingly the word "Mocker" in the Hebrew is the word "loots". It's like Solomon is telling us that a mocker robs himself of a valuable resource of God.

            SOLOMON also said in Proverbs 15:22 that, "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed." His many advisors are the Godly people He has placed in your life to help you.

            SO God speaks to us through His spoken word, which will be confirmed through His written word. He will also speak to us through His servants, which again will be confirmed through His written word. These three ways of speaking to us lead us to the last primary way God speaks to us... His peace. Jesus said in John 14:27, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."

            MANY people war within themselves. They battle with their conscience, decisions, people, work, you name it. But it's good that you battle; it means you care. However, when we are battling something it's because we do not have the peace of God, which should cause us to pause and ask why. Jesus wants to give us his unexplainable, unshakeable peace which rises above human understanding, but we must seek Him for His peace and note the things in life which are causing us fear and confusion because that will never be God speaking.