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It does not take much for people to express their displeasure in life. Ask the average person "How are you doing?" and frequently, a list of circumstances that are less than ideal are enumerated. Go on Facebook and scroll through your friends' and families' most recent status updates. While you will find descriptions of the mundane or excitement for different events, undoubtedly you will find someone expressing some displeasure on a variety of fronts, from the trite to the more serious. This is a far cry from repeated commands to give thanks. In Psalm 107:1 we find "Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!" And Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, tells us "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."

It can be challenging to find deep meaning in Christmastime celebrations when surrounded by many non-religious cultural expressions of Christmas and a busy schedule. The deep theological truths that are represented at the coming of Christ can be minimized. For example, I say things like "God became man" without thinking much of it; in reality, the incarnation is remarkable and impossible to believe for many.

One of my favorite times of the year is at hand: Thanksgiving. It is a time to turn our hearts to God for all of the blessings He has given us. In fact, every good gift and every perfect gift is from Him (James 1.17). God has blessed us in that every physical need has been met (Matthew 7.9-11). More importantly, we have been blessed with everything that we need spiritually.

In my previous pastoral words, we’ve considered giving as a means of grace. God’s Word dictates the manner in which we should give; we ought to give sacrificially, cheerfully, purposefully, and regularly. However, God’s law does not leave us without motivation. Giving is a means of grace, in that, if we give properly, then God will use that action to grow us to be more like Christ. Consider some of the benefits in giving biblically that are found in 2 Corinthians 9.

The Bible has much to say about how we view money, possessions and giving. I would like to focus on the last category: giving. The Bible not only commands us to give but also dictates the manner in which we give.

What do I do when a loved one rejects the gospel? More specifically, when a loved one passes away apart from Christ, do I bend the truth? Compromise is easy, particularly in cliché phrases: “at least he or she is not suffering any more” or “may he or she rest in peace.” In reality, nothing is further from the truth.

Why should we pray? A simple question. At times, I find myself mindlessly going to pray out of obligation because that is what I should do first thing in the morning. Other times, I can find myself praying because I want something. While there are numerous reasons why we ought to pray, we need to consider the purpose of prayer and motivating factors to pray. The purpose and motivating factors should be connected to the goal of prayer.

There are certain activities within the life of the church that God uses to bring blessing to us. These activities are called “means of grace.” Briefly defined, the means of grace are public and private activities (such as hearing the Word of God and praying) that are gifts or graces (and not law) from God. Before we consider the activities, let us consider the blessing.

After reading my previous pastoral word, I realized that I woefully underdeveloped a crucial element in our understanding of the means of grace. Let me first give a brief review. The means of grace are simply public and private activities (such as praying and hearing the Word of God) that are gifts or graces (and not law) from God. When performed in faith, they conform us more into the image of Christ. We stand in grace (Rom. 5:1), not works, and grace flows only through the channels of faith.

My early view of growth in Christ was fairly immature. For what I could figure out, being a Christian basically meant this: I made a profession of faith by saying a prayer and now I have to do certain Christian activities like read my Bible, pray and go to church. There was no rea- son behind those activities other than duty. While I benefitted from some of these activities, I recall feeling so guilty when I didn’t do them. The guilt went so far that I made it a condition of God’s love for me. I needed a better, and biblical, model for my life as a believer.

Through God’s providence, Andy Muxlow and I independently picked the same topic for the pastoral word. Since this is a topic that is on both of our minds and one that is profitable to con­sider, let’s again think carefully on the topic of spiritual warfare.

At the beginning of the summer, I wrote a pastoral word on the topic of denying oneself during vacation and unscheduled free times. Andy Muxlow encouraged me to consider the same topic with respect to the workplace. So, after enjoying Labor Day weekend, here I go. Instead of using the same passage (Matt. 16:24-27), I think another passage may be helpful. Allow Colossians 3:17, 22-24 to instruct our minds and guard our emotions

Recently, I sat down in anticipation of the opening ceremonies of the World Cup. I felt particularly excited this year. Certainly the history of the Republic of South Africa played a part in the drama. After emerging from segregation and apartheid, the nation had much to celebrate. Former President Nelson Mandela was continually thanked and praised for uniting his nation. While national pride of fans from around the world was evident, there was a clear emphasis on the celebration of peace and global unity. The crowd danced, sang, and waved flags in support of this message of unity, freedom and peace.

The school year is almost over! As a teacher, that probably brings me more joy than most (other than students). I look forward to summer: family time, late evenings, BBQs, swimming, vacation, a time to catch my breath and of course, a break from work. As I anticipate this time of year, I must confess that often the driving force behind my thoughts and emotions is not a desire to know God more and make Him known. When considering unscheduled free time and opportunities to get away, my selfishness can take over my thought life and desires.

Occasionally, I find myself reading the Bible and learning doctrine out of obligation or responsibility. Paul gives instruction in this matter as he speaks to young Timothy regarding the purpose of knowledge and obedience: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).

God has providentially placed a few recent circumstances in my life to make me consider the reality of death. As many of you know, I’ve experienced the loss of two loved ones this past year. God has also used His Word through recent messages from Nathan Busenitz, Pastor Whitcomb and Upward to help me properly interpret my experiences and to further consider death and hope. While I’ve learned many different lessons, I would like to address one in particular: with all of the death, suffering and persecution in this world–followed by ensuing judgment–our hope should not be set on the things of this world!