Heartfelt Gratitude is Rare

We can find reasons to complain every day of our lives. After all, we live in a broken, messed up world, and life doesn’t seem unfold like we wish it would many times. People, including family and friends will wrong you, good health will elude us, authority will exploit you, flat tires tend to happen when we are running late, there never seems to be enough money, well, and then we can talk about politics, taxes, healthcare, scandals, etc. 

Some folks seem to just like having something that gives them reason to complain. Simply listen to the conversations around you; there’s a lot of complaining going on.

But I would say there is far more to be grateful about if we pause for a few minutes to count our blessings. There is a difference in saying “Thank you” and truly being thankful. Heartfelt thanksgiving should flow from a general heart of gratitude. Anyone can focus on the frustrations of life, but gratitude is a choice. People who really understand the heart of God realize we have so much to be grateful. 

For example, aren’t you grateful for your next breath? Even on our really tough days, we have so much to be thankful for compared to the majority of the world’s population. Maybe we should spend more time being grateful than complaining. Maybe we should spend more time presenting our requests to God immersed in a thankful heart instead of being anxious and stressed out. (Phil 4:4-7) 

Maybe, just maybe God REALLY meant it when He inspired Paul to write Phil 2:14-16, “Do EVERYTHING without grumbling or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” THEN you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. 

If we all focused on all the reasons we have to be grateful and allow a thankful heart to dominate our thinking, our lives would have much less stress and anxiety. I think it is important to be consciously aware of how blessed we truly are; being grateful affects our entire outlook on life.

Being grateful refocuses your minds and hearts on God’s faithfulness and blessings. It stabilizes our thoughts and emotions in a positive place instead of the slippery slope of negativity. Being consciously aware of all we have to be grateful for makes us more understanding, sensitive, kind, and patient. It also has an on-going deepening affect on our personal relationship with Christ and our spiritual development journey.    

Sometimes we say to ourselves, “I’d be more thankful if…” Have you ever had that kind of thought float through your mind? It would be so much easier to be grateful if my circumstances were better or if my health was better, or if finances were better, or of my relationships were better. 

It is so easy to allow our gratitude to be governed by our circumstances and emotions or by what we are unhappy with rather than by all of our blessings. Pick the topic; health, relationships, business, finances, etc. No matter how tough it is for you, there are others enduring much more over-whelming circumstances.

So let me ask that question again.  What are you thankful for, even now, in the chaos that is 2020?  Maybe you should take a few moments and to “count your many blessings, name them one by one, and you’ll be surprised what the Lord hath done”.

Faith Needs to be Fueled by a Grateful Heart

The only truly lasting motivation for Christ-follower to continue following Christ is because we want to please Jesus Christ out of a deep heart of gratitude for all He has done for you.

Fear of hell is not a lasting motivator. People who choose to “follow” Christ because they don’t want to go to hell are usually not very good at actually following Him in obedience, surrender, humility, etc. Only those with deeply felt gratitude consistently will lay down their agendas, opinions, etc to follow Christ wherever He leads them.

Now, I don’t deserve to be saved, much less be in ministry. All that God does in us and for us and through us is by grace through faith. So out of a deep, abiding, heartfelt gratitude for the fact that I have a personal relationship with Christ, I want to actually give my life to Jesus Christ, and I want to serve Him in any way possible. Surrender is made easier when there is deeply felt gratitude.

I know that your heart is like my heart, and my life goal is to one day stand before Jesus Christ and have Him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” At that point He says that it will be worth it all. You won’t be in heaven five seconds and you’ll say, “Why didn’t I serve more? Why didn’t I give more? Why didn’t I love more? Why didn’t I obey more?”

Hebrews 11 is the classic chapter on faith. Verse 6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”  If I’m not walking in faith, I’m not pleasing God. The Bible is even more specific when it says, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” If I’m not walking in faith, I am walking in sin. That’s strong stuff!

Faith is visualizing the future in advance. It is seeing the future in the present. Every great achievement began when somebody saw it in advance. We didn’t put a man on the moon until one day JFK stood up and said, “Let’s put a man on the moon.” When he said that, the technology had not even been invented.

Faith is believing when I don’t see it. Some things have to be believed before they can be seen. The world says, “Seeing is believing.” God says, “Believing is seeing.” You have to see it in advance.

Faith is obeying when you don’t understand it. Abraham is a classic example of obeying when he didn’t understand. He was about 75 years old, and God asked him to give up all his security. God said, I want you to leave. Pick up everything and get ready for the greatest adventure of your life.

The scary part of it is God gave Abraham no details. Abraham says, “Where are we going?” God says, You’ve never heard of it. “How long is it going to take?” You’ll find out. “How will I know when I get there?” I’ll let you know.

Sometimes God will tell you to do something and you’ll think, “There’s no way this is going to work!” Yet, God says, Do it! And guess what? It works!

Life is like the Morning Fog

Scripture says, “The plans of man are many, but his steps are ordered by the Lord”. We are a people who are constantly making plans. We plan in good faith, as if we have some certainty about the future. We discuss details and made plans, yet none of us know for sure what tomorrow holds.

We presume upon that which belongs to God. We are not in control of tomorrow. We only have right now, today, without any assurance of another sunrise. We are so sure of tomorrow that we begin early to teach our young folks to plan for things they only hope they will see. There is nothing wrong with planning; as a matter of fact it is a necessity. I believe in long-range strategic planning, but at the same time we must remember only God truly knows tomorrow.

There once was a man named Herb, who proudly showed his wife some very special lures he had just purchased. These very special lures were going to help him to catch big fish in a Canadian province. He had a brochure of where he was going and took special care to describe how the trip was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to fish for Musky in Canada. The very next day, Herb had been found dead after working in a neighbor’s woodshed.

We have all heard those type stories; the seemingly healthy 55-year-old man retires early to enjoy is hobby, then dies unexpectedly of a heart attack, or the victim of a freak accident, or the disease that comes out of no where who reek havoc on someone’s life. Based on our life experiences, we all know we have no guarantee of tomorrow. We might live in denial of that fact, but we all know it to be true.            

Life is very uncertain. There are no guarantees. Life is just a vapor; here one minute and gone the next.  Scripture says, “Look here, you people who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit. How do you know what will happen tomorrow? For your life is like the morning fog; it’s here a little while, and then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that. Otherwise you will be boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-16)

I would encourage you to resolve the unresolved or tying up any loose ends while you can. “I’m fixin’ to” or “I’m about to” never got anything accomplished in the history of mankind. Easy thing or hard thing, bad thing or good thing, relationship thing or health thing, financial thing or spiritual thing; resolve it or start resolving it today.       

Is there something you need to say to someone or something you need to do?  Is there a habit you need to start or stop?  Do it today, because just with Herb, or the stories of people you know, we have no guarantee of tomorrow. 

Does Christ Know You?

Matthew 7:21-23 is pretty scary. I am worried about many people who consider themselves Christians. Jesus clearly says that there will be some people who consider themselves Christ-followers who will spend eternity in hell. The actual quote is “Not everyone who says to be ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (v.21).

Then He follows that with this statement, “Many will say to me on that day ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons, and perform many miracles? Then I will say to them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me, you evil doers!” (v.22-23).   

Those verses should cause any Christ-follower to pause and consider their eternity. Jesus also makes it clear who gets to spend eternity in heaven when He said, “but only he who does the will of my Father” (v.21). 

Scripture is consistent throughout; obedience as evidence of the indwelling saving work of the Holy Spirit is the primary test for loving God and having a relationship with Christ (John 14:15-21).

Praying a prayer, being baptized, attending church faithfully, giving money, going through confirmation, nor any other work or deed alone can save a person. The greatest evidence of a personal relationship with Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit in you evidenced by an obedient heart. 

Obedience seems to be a key defining mark of a Christ-follower. “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” The word “only” is deafening! “Only” the person who obeys God will be in heaven.    

Plastic Christians are killing the church. There are two disturbing issues; first, people who have a personal relationship with Christ, but are so bogged down with religion they are not authentic Christ-followers, and secondly, those who claim to know Christ, have been through all the motions of religion, but in reality they do not know Christ.

The second is much worse than the first. The first group is killing the redemptive potential of the local church, but they will go to heaven. 

The second group are not only killing they redemptive potential of the local church, but they will know spend eternity in heaven. Knowing the facts about Christ is different than actually “knowing” Christ. In Philippians 2:12-13 Paul tells us to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose”.

In other words, if you have a personal relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit will indwell you, and He will work in you to want to obey and to actual follow-through with obeying God. Therefore, if you find yourself not wanting to obey, or unwilling to obey God, Paul would say “with fear and trembling” you had better figure out if you truly have experienced the life-change that comes with a personal relationship with Christ. 

Because, you see, the real question is not, “Do you know Christ?”, but rather “Does Christ know you?”

Bob the Tomato Speaks (kinda, not really, but kinda)

Below is a 17:52 minute video. Yes, I know that seems like a really long time to watch a video, but it is also a good, data-driven, balanced presentation to help us understand the systemic root level problems which are creating many of the racial tension issues our nation is struggling with today.

This video is by Phil Vischer, co-creator of the popular Christian animated series VeggieTales. He was also the voice of Bob the Tomato. He carefully, but quickly, narrates the history of race in America over the last 100 years.

Vischer used data to summarize, “The average black household has 1/10th the wealth of the average white household. This didn’t happen by accident, it happened by policy.

Vischer’s bottom line closing is simple; “I’m not here to tell you what the right solutions are, because I don’t know,” Vischer said. “I’m just here to ask you to do one thing; it is the thing that begins every journey to a solution for every problem. What am I asking you do to? Care.”

Here’s the deal, in my opinion, the racial tension in our nation falls at the feet of the greed, manipulative tactics, and self-centered focus of politics & politicians, city developers, community leaders, AND a silent Church. From a biblical worldview perspective, I believe the problem is spiritual/ theological, and therefore, the solution is also spiritual/theological. Doing things God’s way is ALWAYS the best way to do things. But Phil is absolutely right, the place to begin is to actually care.

Feel Like a Failure? God ALWAYS has a Plan

Failure. Have you ever experienced the kind of failure that you thought you would never be able to recover from, or maybe even where those closest to you told you could never recover? And maybe, it was so devastating that is changed your reality, and circumstances. And furthermore, maybe you are still paying a high price for your failure.

There is rarely a week that goes by I don’t receive a message from someone who has messed up in some huge way. One of the first things I always remind a person is that “everything Satan wants to use to destroy them, God will use to make them the person He wants them to be”. God is not done with them. And God is not done with YOU either.

We all need to deal with the issues and failures we are facing. We are personally responsible for our choices and the consequences of those choices. Taking personal responsibility is the first step on the path. God being willing to forgive, heal, and restore does not remove consequences or the need to take personal responsibility, it just means that God is wants to restore you.

Each of us has had those days when all needed to be reminded that the Bible is full of messed up people who God used for great things.

Noah was a drunk.

Abraham was too old.

Isaac was a daydreamer.

Jacob was a liar.

Leah was ugly.

Joseph was abused.

Moses had a stuttering problem.

Gideon was afraid.

Samson had long hair and was a womanizer.

Rahab was a prostitute.

Jeremiah and Timothy were too young.

David had an affair and was a murderer.

Elijah was depressed and suicidal.

Isaiah preached naked.

Jonah ran from God.

Naomi was a widow.

Job went bankrupt.

Peter denied Christ.

The Disciples fell asleep while praying.

Martha worried about everything.

The Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once.

Zaccheus was too small.

Paul was too religious.

Timothy had an ulcer.

AND Lazarus was dead!

So today I’m sure there is someone reading this article and you think you are done because of something you’ve done; that your failure is beyond forgiveness or recovery. YOU are not done because God is not done. Do not walk way. Do not give up. God ALWAYS has a plan. It might be a painful journey, but God always has a plan.

I just wanted to remind you today that God is for you. God will use every single thing the enemy wants to use to destroy you, to make you the person He called you to be, if you will just let Him. Surrender to Him. Trust Him. I’m for you. They are many people rooting for you. This is not the day to give up. This is the day to dig in, come clean, get honest, embrace the pain, and begin your journey toward hope, healing, and restoration.

The Gospel in Five Minutes

This is the 5-minute version.

Scripture is clear, we are saved by faith in Christ, through grace, not of our works or good deeds. (Eph 2:8-9) We are not saved by believing in our mind, but when we believe in our heart. (Rom 10:9-10, 13)

Have you placed your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

If not, is the Holy Spirit stirring you to place you faith in Him right now? IF he is, simply pray a simple prayer. Doesn’t have to be fancy. IF God is drawing you to Himself He already knows what He is stirring in your heart. But if you want a guide of what to pray, you can pray something like this;

Lord, I know I am broken. I know I have sinned. I know I need you as my Savior. I believe you died for me and was raised from the dead for me.

Jesus, today I choose to believe in you as the Forgiver and Leader of my life. I choose to repent of my sin and accept your free gift of salvation. Thank you for becoming my sin and dying for me on the Cross. Today, right now, in this moment, I declare; Jesus, you are my Lord. I will follow you. No turning back. I WILL follow you.

Holy Spirit, I invite you to live in & through me, to transform me and restore my brokenness according to God’s will for my life. Amen.

IF you just placed your faith in Jesus as your Savior, PLEASE email me to let me know so I can celebrate with you. tim@thecrossmatters.org

This is the 17-minute version for those interested in more explanation.

Be Light in the Darkness

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; so that it gives light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, which is in heaven.” (Matt 5:14-16)

Summertime in Illinois is sure to bring with it little creatures we call lightning bugs. During those few weeks a year, some fields are literally full of little, blinking bugs that intermittently flash with fluorescent light. Small children have captured them and put them in glass jars for generations. The children hope that placing enough bugs in the jar will provide a natural flashlight.

Most of us have tried to catch lightning bugs. It seems so easy when they are lit, but then their light goes out they are hard to see. Recently, it came to me that many Christians are like those bugs. Instead of giving off enough light that our works become evident to those who look on, we blink off and on without providing adequate illumination.

We live in a dark world! Darkness is crowding out most everything that believers hold sacred. The success of darkness is NOT due to its strength. Light will always displace the dark. Darkness succeeds due to the lack to consistent light. We are like those little bugs, going through life blinking on and off without ever shining brightly.

We need a true spiritual awakening! Just because someone attends a church and calls himself or herself a Christian, does not make them an actual follower of Christ. Many people consider themselves to be a Christian but demonstrate little evidence of a life-transforming personal relationship with Jesus. The point is that being a “Christ-follower” is much more than merely calling yourself a “Christian” or attending church or adhering to some religious code. Being a true Christ-follower implies you are actually following Christ, embracing His attitude, and committed to carrying out His mission. The problem is people calling themselves Christians but not evidencing their faith by walking out what they say they believe.

Our Lord has told us to shine so bright that our good works become evident. If we keep blinking every so often, the darkness will continue displacing us. If ever we needed to shine, it is now. As Paul said in Philippians 2:14-16; “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 as you hold out the word of life….”

Conversations with Tim: Racism (June 9, 2020)

Conversations with Tim is exactly what it sounds like; I sit down with a friend or two and have a conversation and you are invited to eavesdrop in on our conversation. I think about it like we are at a restaurant having a conversation and you are at the next table over-hearing our conversation.

My guests in this episode are two of my friends from Chicago, Pastor Adron Robinson, Hillcrest Baptist Church, and Pastor Bryan Price, Love Fellowship Baptist Church.

Do You Understand What is Meant by “Systemic Racism”

Sometimes, maybe most times, what we need to diagnose, resolve, and overcome a problem is better understanding of the problem. One of the reasons I am engaging such a divisive topic as racism, is to help people understand the struggle black Americans face as a normal everyday part of their culture.

I can no longer sit by and just watch my black friends (and others) fight this battle alone. I am a nobody. I have a very limited sphere of influence, but I do have some influence. Sometimes my words will be misunderstood and twisted by others, but I do have a platform to use my words to shine a little light into the darkness of racism.

I choose to be a part of the solution by striving to be a difference-maker in my context by being an agent of peace, hope, and restoration. I choose to be light in the darkness around me. I choose to be thermostat (who changes the temperature of my culture), not merely a thermometer (who only reflects the temperature of the culture). I choose to give the rest of my life making a difference by doing good, being generous, and being kind.

What will you choose?

For today, will you choose to spend 4:23 watching this video that does a pretty good job of explaining what is meant when someone uses the term “systemic racism”.