Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Oh Give Thanks to the Lord...

I love Thanksgiving.  My sweet wife was frustrated with me the other day because I never want to Christmas shop until after Thanksgiving is over and even then it may be the middle of December before she’s able to get me to the mall. She is right that she can get such better deals by shopping for Christmas early. I guess in the little box I live in it is hard for me because I feel like I’m ignoring a wonderful holiday called Thanksgiving. Part of me rebels at the constant onslaught of retailers and advertising that drives us toward Christmas and completely ignores Thanksgiving.

The Psalmist said in Psalm 106:1 “Oh give thanks to the Lord for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” I was talking with a preacher friend of mine the other day who has been such a blessing to so many pastors; but He was talking about how there is a lack of gratitude even among pastors and how sad this is that they don’t take time to say thanks. Well I’m not going to be one of those guys. As I write a few days before Thanksgiving, I thought I’d share four concepts for which to be thankful that I believe summarize the blessing of Thanksgiving.

First, I am thankful for the grace of God. The most fundamental definition of grace is unmerited favor. Part of our problem in our lack of thanksgiving is we have come to believe we’re owed what we have. When you realize God owes you nothing, and yet He’s given you everything by His grace and the mercy that flows out of His grace – not giving us what we deserve; you’ll be a thankful person. Paul expressed this concept this way in Romans 8:32 “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” Paul’s logic is profoundly simple, if God was willing to give sinful humans His only Son as payment for our sins, it stands to reason He’s going to be gracious in all other areas of life. Out of the grace of God flow all the blessings we normally think of, our families, our health, our homes, food, clothing and shelter. All of those things are completely undeserved and there is nothing we could ever do to earn God’s favor to deserve any of it because our sin nature makes us rotten to the core. In God’s grace we find an endless ocean of God’s capacity to forgive human rebellion and bless them in spite of their rebellion against God. Let me challenge you to reflect on God’s grace, His unmerited favor that has been showered on you; and you’ll find more stuff to be thankful for than imaginable.

Secondly, I’m thankful for the Word of God. I never cease to be amazed at how the truth of God’s word feeds my soul with exactly what I need for today. Like the manna from heaven God gave the Children of Israel every morning for breakfast as they wandered through the wilderness, God’s Word supplies exactly what I need every day. Oh sure many times it is painful to me because God’s Word tells me the truth about who I am and it challenges me and corrects me but I need it. I’m surrounded by a world of lies and a world system that seeks to destroy me and my family, I’m confronted with evil no matter where I turn, living as a citizen of the Kingdom of God in the realm of Satan and his evil forces that want to grind me up and destroy my existence. Yet in the midst of all that, God has given me the “Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Eph. 6:17). It truly is a lamp unto my feet and light unto my path (Ps. 119:105) that guides me through the minefield of life Satan has placed in front of me. I have found as Psalm 1:1-6 affirms those who walk in delight of the law of the Lord are so blessed. I have found that God’s Word makes me like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth fruit in its season and whatever I do prospers! Oh how I am thankful for the Word of God.

Thirdly, I’m thankful for the family of God. The local church is God’s gift to us as we do life together. It is a place of encouragement, blessing support, and a place to use my gifts and talents for Jesus to be a blessing to others. It is a place to be fed the Word of God, like my physical earthly family, God’s intentions for this institution is that it be a place of joy and blessing and shelter from the challenging storms of life. Oh sure there are dysfunctional families and there are dysfunctional churches because we humans that make up these institutions are fallen and sinful creatures. But again, God’s grace overcomes all that. A body of believers who are sold out and committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, where God’s Word is correctly preached and taught, and where the love of God abides; is a happy, healthy and vibrant family that people cannot stay away from. The “one another” passages in the New Testament picture the family God intends for us to enjoy and I’m here to tell you I love the local church family of God that He has given me and I’m profoundly thankful for it. If you aren’t connected to a local church family, you are missing out!

Finally, I’m thankful for the mission of God or the purposes of God for His church and individual believers. You see God’s mission or purposes for us is an amazing and exciting adventure of faith that gives purpose and meaning to life. It answers the questions like who am I and why am I here on planet earth. When a Christian finds the calling God has placed upon their lives, they find immeasurable blessing and joy. It is what fuels your passion to get out of bed in the morning to where you can’t wait to tackle the new day. When you learn to embrace the journey of the life of faith God has for you and you pursue His purposes and mission, you’ll find immense pleasure and blessing. Be thankful that Almighty God has seen fit to use little old you in some way to further His kingdom. Satan has convinced people the key to happiness is being self absorbed and pursuing “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” but those who pursue that worldly system find heartache, pain and terrible disappointment. Is it any wonder our society needs more counseling, drugs and alcohol to somehow anesthetize our pain? How thankful I am that living within the boundaries God has set for me and pursuing His purpose for my life gives me tremendous freedom and blessing. I’m free to pursue life the way Paul expressed in Col. 3:23 “Whatever you do, do it heartily as unto the Lord and not unto men.” He also said in Romans 11:29 “The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” God has graciously gifted you and called you to do something for Him and in that you’ll bring Him glory. How thankful I am for His mission/purpose He’s called me to join Him in. What an honor to serve my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

In these four broad categories, I find more to be thankful for than I can really comprehend. I will be reflecting on these blessings and giving thanks to the Lord for He is in fact good and His mercy endures forever upon a simple preacher named Ralph Green. I hope these thoughts will help you enjoy this Thanksgiving season, from my little corner of the world to yours…

Ralph Green

Senior Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church 

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Lord teach us to pray...

I’m writing to you the day after an historic election with a record turnout of voters in our national election for President. For serious disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the aftermath of the result of the election for President and for us here in Maryland where so called “same sex marriage” is now law in our state by a margin of 93,849 votes; there is profound sadness. The nation we knew and loved, a nation founded on Biblical truth, principleand fear of God does not seem to exist anymore. Maryland and Maine voters have now voted to affirm “same sex marriage”, Minnesota voters defeated a constitutional amendment effort to prevent “same sex marriage”; other states are legalizing marijuana drug use and assisted suicide. I’ve spoken with many of you today and the heartache and grief over the moral condition of our country, this land that we love is evident. This pattern of close elections and deep division in our country seemsto have reached a crescendo last night with the announcement the most liberal, pro-abortion President in American history was re-elected to a second term. What we await and worry about now is the storm surge that will be coming knowing the policies and views of our President having watched him the last four years. I’m literally sick at the thought of it!


In dealing with my own emotions on my morning walk and time in prayer with the Lord, I thought of the simple request of one of Jesus’ disciples in Luke 11:1 “Lord, teach us to pray as John also taught his disciples.” Last night while here at the church for my one hour commitment to pray as part of our church-wideElection Day prayer vigil, in our semi-darkened sanctuary, I prayed this house would become a house of prayer. I prayed for spiritual awakening and revival among our church and the churches of our land. I prayed for God to reorient our families to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. I prayed that God would pour out His Spirit upon this nation and that His Word would be taught and people would fall in love with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Maybe God has in fact begun to answer my prayer as I’ve been praying through our revival prayer guide. God is in fact teaching us to pray! He’s inviting us to have a conversation with Him about our spiritual ambivalence, our personal commitments to holy living, representing Jesus faithfully as salt and light, sharing His love with a world that is desperately and hopelessly lost apart from faith in Christ. Had Mitt Romney won how committed to prayer would Christians be as a whole regarding the moral decay in our society? How urgently would we be seeking God’s face and asking Him to heal our land?


While I’m greatly disappointed with these results, I am encouraged in that God’s people here at Calvary turned out to pray during our prayer vigil. I know many prayed at home but all day during Election Day there was a steady stream of individuals and whole families who came to the church during our 15 hour prayer vigil. I know a large number of you signed up for our 22 day prayer vigil leading up to Election Day. What a blessing to see God’s house and God’s people interceding and asking God to work in our families, our church and our nation! I can assure you He is at work and He will do “great and mighty things which we don’t know” (Jer. 33:3) because we have been calling out to Him. We must continue and we cannot quit.


I’m also encouraged in that all those who are loyal to the Lord Jesus Christ first and as American citizens second should no longer live under the delusion that America is a “Christian nation”. We are not. We are a pagan nation that has no regard for God or His Word. Our American society has systematically booted God out of our government, schools, public lives and families. We have told Him “You are not welcome here. You say “Pastor Ralph, how is that encouraging?” I’m encouraged in that our mandate and mission from the Lord Jesus Christ of preaching the Gospel and making disciples of Jesus Christ has not and will not change. If anything these results should be a warning sign the Lord’s return is very soon which means there is great urgency to our task of reaching every tribe, every tongue and every nation with the Gospel.


I’m encouraged in what the Apostle Paul said to the Roman believers laboring under the brutal regimes of various “Caesar’s” in Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. “Hope and Change” doesn’t come from political leaders nor does that idea originate in their political strategy rooms. True hope and change comes through faith in Jesus Christ and the transformation of lives. The Gospel message and power of God to transform lives transcends all socio-economic, race and class barriers and Jesus promised to be with us always to the end of the age!


I’m also encouraged that God’s Word teaches in several placesthat no leader takes office without God’s permission. For example, Daniel 4:17 says “…the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whomever He will and sets over it the lowest of men.” For whatever reason, even though I don’t understand it and as painful as it is for me to admit, God has placed President Obama in office for a second term. I take great comfort in the Biblical principle of Proverbs 21:1:  “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes. God is able to direct our President’s heart just like He did King Cyrus of Persia to rebuild God’s temple in Jerusalem using a pagan king’s treasury to pay for the project! (Ezra 6:3-4). What if God’s people earnestly prayed for President Obama’s salvation and for him to repent and place his faith and trust in Jesus Christ?


I’m encouraged that God wants to do just that and He challenges His people to pray to that end. Paul told Timothy in his 2nd letter to the young pastor: “I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2nd Tim.2:1-4). I’m encouraged that Jesus Christ died to save President Obama and all his advisors and desires for them to come to the knowledge of the truth. In the Southern Baptist Convention alone, there are an estimated 16 million members as of 2010.  We’re just one of how many Christian denominations? What if the Christians of the United States all cried out to God to save our President? Talk about “Hope and Change” that would take place in our nation with that!


Finally, I’m encouraged in that even though our efforts to defend traditional God given marriage failed in Maryland, of Maryland’s 24 counties, 18 of those 24 counties voted against Question 6 and we lost by a margin of 93,849 votes. 1 county, primarily Montgomery just north of DC made the big difference with a 119,910 vote margin in favor of Question 6. How is that encouraging? Because all told, over 1.1 million people in Maryland stood for God’s definition of marriage at the ballot box in a pagan culture; and that encourages me to recognize our primary mission field is right next door…from my little corner of the world to yours…

Pastor Ralph Green
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