Bless God and Talk Nicely

It was Thanksgiving Day and the family gathered around the table for dinner. The family went around the table sharing gratitude to God in turn for blessings that they had received. The father then led the family in a prayer of blessing to God, filled with words of gratitude and praise to God.

Before the dinner was over, blessing turned to something else. What began as humorous banter quickly devolved into bickering and then cursing. Gratitude to God was lost in the angry arguments and demeaning dialogue. Thanksgiving was drowned in the waves of words washed in resentments and bitterness and hurts and fears and insecurities. 

“With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people made in His likeness. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:9-10)

When we, who have been bathed in God’s grace, thank God with one breath and curse others with the next, our hearts our out of sync with the grace that has saved us. To profess love and gratitude to God while we revile, curse, criticize, or condemn someone is a brazen offense against holy God.

But it can be hard, can’t it? When people around the table disagree about some hot-button issues, emotions can get heated. When past hurts or fears are surfaced, the curse can come easy.

Here’s where gratitude can make a big difference! The more we bless God for the good that His grace delivers, the more our hearts grow in gratitude. The more our hearts grow in gratitude, the less power the pains of yesterday, insecurities of today, and fears of tomorrow have over us.  

As Thanksgiving Day approaches — and every day — let’s baptize our words with gratitude to God for the grace that He gives us. 

Bless God… and talk nicely!

Give Thanks in Everything

Do you know the history of the chocolate chip cookie? I imagined that they were forever a part of the fabric of every civilized society, but I recently read the real record of the history on this delightful dessert.

In 1930, Ruth Graves Wakefield and her husband ran the Toll House Inn near Whitman, Massachusetts. One night Mrs. Wakefield decided to bake some chocolate cookies for her guests. While whipping up the dough, she couldn’t find any baker’s chocolate in her pantry. 

Not to be undone, she grabbed a block of Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate. She chopped chunks out of the block and mixed them into the dough. She thought that the chocolate would melt throughout the dough as the cookies baked. Instead, the chunks remained, adding gooey goodness and creating the first chocolate chip cookie.

Everyone who has taste buds built for delight gives thanks!

Changes to our plans can threaten us with loss or stress or pain or tragedy. Often, significant changes in our lives delivers on the threat.

Yet, even in the face of significant changes and the results of those changes, followers of Jesus are called to gratitude.

“Give thanks in everything.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

It’s the “everything” part of gratitude that’s hard for us. “Everything” may include a pandemic or an empty pantry. “Everything” may contain harsh words from a friend or isolation from family. But, whatever the “everything,” our response should be gratitude.

Why? Because gratitude isn’t based upon our “everything.” Gratitude is based upon our intimacy with God “in everything.” The more we know God, the more reasons we have to thank Him… even in “everything” that we face.

Now, the lesson of chocolate chip cookies helps. Even though Mrs. Wakefield’s pantry was bare of bakers’ chocolate, the loss led to something great.

When the pantry is bare of baker’s chocolate, God in His love gives us something more powerful and more significant. He transforms the change that we may not like into something delightful for us and others. When we understand the faithful love of God, we begin to trust that His love won’t fail us even in “everything.”

God doesn’t always give us chocolate chip cookies, but He always gives us the taste of delight in His love and by His presence.

Today, give thanks… even in your “everything.”

My Anxieties Have Anxieties

Some of us can relate to the Charlie Brown cartoon that shows Linus dragging his blanket and saying to Charlie Brown, “You look kinda depressed.” Charlie Brown replies, “I worry about school a lot.” Then he adds, “I worry about my worrying so much about school.” After some reflection, Charlie makes his final observation: “My anxieties have anxieties!”

As we approach Thanksgiving and Christmas, maybe you’re feeling your anxieties piling on top of anxieties. As we navigate more restrictions due to a pandemic, maybe your soul is sinking under the weight of your worries.

When we’re filled with worries and anxieties, Jesus gives us truth that leads to hope. He gives us promise that awakens faith. 

“Therefore, I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26)

Jesus calls us to remember God’s faithfulness. He uses an illustration from nature to remind us of it. If God takes care of the birds of the air, we can be certain that He will take care of His sons and daughters. 

When our anxieties have anxieties, turn your gaze upon the love and commitment of our Father in heaven. Through prayer, trust your worries to Him, and He will surround your soul with gratitude rather than anxiety.

Communion at First Norfolk

This weekend, we will celebrate communion together at First Norfolk. I wanted to take some time to help us prepare for this wonderful time with our First Family.

1. The bread and the juice.

If you are able to join us in person, we will have “pre-packaged” bread and juice, and we will give everyone a safe, distanced time to get those elements for the time of worship.

If you are joining us online with family or friends, I encourage you to pick up some bread or crackers and some juice. I will guide us through the time of eating the meal together.

2. Setting our mind on Jesus.

More important than the bread and juice is the preparation of our hearts. If you are gathering with us online, take time to help those who have gathered with you to think on the significance of the meal. Through Communion, we treasure the beauty and worth of Jesus Christ our God and our King. We celebrate His death for our sin upon the Cross as payment for our sin and cleansing for our soul.

“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took the bread and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take eat; this is My body which broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner, He also took the cup after the supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25)

We think about the blood that He shed to purchase our forgiveness. Our sin separates us from God, but Jesus poured out His own life at the Cross so that we might be forgiven. Through communion, we celebrate Jesus and His sacrifice for us.

This weekend, as we hold the bread in our hand, let’s think about Jesus and our relationship with Him. Take the cup and the bread and we feed upon His goodness, His care, and His compassion. Think about His love and His grace. Rejoice in the hope and peace that He provides by His grace through faith in Him!

This weekend will be a glorious time for First Norfolk Family, in person and online.

The Trail

When you go hiking, you want to be on a trail that’s marked and well-worn. I don’t mean that a lot of people are on the trail any given moment. I mean that it’s clearly a trail and that it will get you to your destination. 

Not every trail in the mountains are like that. I remember one time my Dad, my brother Brett, and I were hiking to a particular stream. We were on a clear path, but Dad wanted to take a short cut off the trail and down the side of the mountain.

Now, I couldn’t see any sign of a trail on this short-cut. No signs of travel, no marks on trees, nothing on the map (I’ve looked). But Dad said, “Let’s go.” And we went!

I couldn’t see the trail, but Dad could. He had fished that section of the mountains since he was a little boy. What I couldn’t see, Dad could see. 

So the trail that I followed that day was marked with each step Dad took. He was the trail that I followed to the stream (and lots of trout).

When God first speaks to Abram, we hear God call him to follow a trail that would lead to the fulfillment of a promise.

“Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing.’” (Genesis 12:1–2)

God promised blessing for Abram and through Abram, but Abram didn’t have any clue how to get there. He couldn’t see any sign of the trail to the blessing. But God knew. What Abram couldn’t see, God could. 

So the trail that he followed was marked by each step that God commanded. God was the trail that Abram followed to the blessing that God promised.

God promises blessing to those who belong to Him. The way may be confusing — the trail may not be marked — and we might not know the way to go. But God does. He knows the way for us each day. He is the trail for us to follow. 

Today, ask God, “What do You want me to do? Where do You want me to go? Wherever You lead, I will follow.” The result will be blessing!

Between a Rock and Hard Place

I would imagine that all of us feel a little (or a lot) “squooshed” by life right now. The pressure of changes in our lives over the bulk of this year has been rough. The squeezing from particular circumstances of life that we all face seems a little more intense. From family struggles to financial problems to seasonal expectations, we’re living in the tight spot of life, between a rock and a hard place.

When I’m pressed between a rock and a hard place, I will often try to work it out. Pushing and pulling, I try to wiggle my way out of the pressure. It’s not a bad plan, but it’s not anywhere near a complete plan. It’s not a bad plan, but it can’t be our first plan.

When the strangle-hold of pressure threatens to squeeze hope out of our soul, we need more than our efforts. We need help bigger than our hands to help ourselves.

The psalmist found hope beyond the rock and the hard place in the power and promise of God.

“I called on the Lord in distress; The Lord answered me and set me in a broad place. The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:5-6)

Every day that we live, but especially when we’re living in the pressure-cooker of life, we need God’s rescuing power to invade our tights spots with His love. 

When we’re confined, oppressed, and suffering, we can call upon the Lord. When we call upon Him for help, He sets our feet on a broad place of security. He gives the freedom of life in the comfort of everlasting love.

Living in between a rock and hard place is never fun, but we don’t need to be afraid. God is ready to rescue those who belong to Him. 

Today, let’s set our hopes on God, even in the tight spot of distress. When our hope is in Him, our fears fade!

Escaping Quicksand

Death-by-quicksand was one of those things you’d see in movies or television shows. If you watched television in the 1970s, you would likely come across a scene where the hero of a particular story fell into quicksand, which threatened to pull him or her under slowly to their death.

The reality of quicksand’s deathly power may not match the mythic storylines of my childhood, but the metaphor of quicksand fits the way we feel. It has become a short way of describing painful moments or strangling circumstances in our lives.

We’ve all experienced “quicksand” seasons in our lives. We’ve all had those struggles that drag us down and suffocate hope in our soul.

The beauty of living in fellowship with God through faith in Jesus, however, gives us a powerful pathway to escape the quicksand.

When we feel the downward tug of depression or the vortex of circumstances swallowing our hope, we who belong to God have a lifeline. He is our rock and rescuer! His ear is tuned to our cry and His heart is turned in faithful love for us.

“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; So shall I be saved from my enemies.” (Psalm 18:2-3)

God is the foundation beneath our feet. He gives us stability in the struggles of life and He becomes our security in insecure seasons. No quicksand is stronger than God’s love for us. So, call upon Him, trust Him. He will deliver us from “quicksand” seasons in our lives!

Unspectacular Preparation

Like many young boys living in Dallas, Texas in the 1970s, Roger Staubach was my hero. He was nicknamed “Roger the Dodger” because of his ability to elude opponents. He also had the nickname “Captain America” because of his sterling character and athletic prowess.

Staubach accomplished much in his football career. He played quarterback for the United States Naval Academy and earned the Heisman Trophy in 1963. That year, he led the Midshipmen to a 9-1 record, ending the season ranked No. 2 in the nation, after losing to University of Texas in the national championship game. He was the 10th overall pick in the 1964 NFL Draft, going to the Dallas Cowboys.

Staubach was later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and was ranked ninth in ESPN’s Top 25 players in college football history. 

Following graduation, Staubach spent one tour of duty in Vietnam, returning to the states in 1967 and resigning his Naval commission in 1969. Five years after being drafted, Staubach went to play for the Cowboys. He led the Cowboys to victory in Super Bowl VI over the Miami Dolphins, where he was also name Super Bowl MVP. He won his second Super Bowl (XII) in 1977 in a victory over the Denver Broncos. 

With all of the achievements and accolades (even more following his football career), Staubach summed up his philosophy in this statement.

“Spectacular achievements come from unspectacular preparation.” ~ Roger Staubach

This is truly words of wisdom and hope for every person. We may not have gold-ribbon talent, but we all have the capacity to work and prepare. To survive the struggles of time-stealers and thrive in the face of passion-robbers, we more than talent. We need “unspectacular preparation.”

God gives us this truth in His book of wisdom.

“Prepare your outside work, make it fit for yourself in the field; and afterward build your house.” (Proverbs 24:27)

Here God uses a metaphor to help us see the importance of preparation. Before building a home on a plot of land, the farmer must make sure that the fields are fertile enough to support a family. 

It’s like when the settlers came bursting from the East Coast led by the likes of Daniel Boone. They would stretch out toward the West looking for land that would be the most productive for their family and for a community. Before sinking their family roots into the soil, the first thing they had to do was prepare the fields for a harvest. If the land was right, their family roots would produce a fertile family tree.

Today, let’s prepare the fields that God has set before us. Let’s do the hard work of growing in fellowship with Him through Bible study and prayer. Let’s do the hard work of pulling up the stumps and stones of sin that thwart the harvest of joy that God offers. Let’s do the hard work of tilling the soil of our soul by submitting to the Spirit’s leadership. 

A dynamic day of delight comes every day when we give ourselves, not to perfect circumstances, but through the unspectacular preparation of our hearts to be the fertile land of God’s favor.

The First Will Be Last (By Seth Peterson)

As someone who grew up playing all types of sports I’m uber competitive. This can be a good thing but sometimes it isn’t – especially when things don’t go my way. I don’t think I’m unique in this. We all have times where the worst comes out in us and it’s usually because we expected things to go one way and it went another.

When we do this, we are feeding pride within ourselves. That competitive nature can be used to drive excellence, but it can also be the thing that drives others away from you. 

However, there’s so much freedom in putting others first and serving them. It is a very counterintuitive principle, but it’s exactly what Jesus did. And what an example He sets in His earthly ministry! 

“Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8)

Think about it, The King of Glory — #1 in all the universe. He reigns over the earth and the heavens — The One who is being worshipped 24-7 & 365 for all eternity by angels and other celestial creatures that we can’t even really imagine in are humanly minds (Revelation 4:6-11), THAT GOD, yes, THAT GOD stepped off His throne, left all of glory for me and you. (Pause and let that sink in for a second).

That is crazy right? Right — this is crazy, MEGA OFF THE CHARTS humility. Earthly Kings don’t do that, but Our Heavenly Father as King of humility does! And He calls us as children of The King to do the same — to serve others by serving them first. 

Listen to what Jesus tells us today:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

“The greatest among you will be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11)

If Jesus left all of glory to serve us by dying on the cross for our sin, how could we not seek to bring Him glory by serving others? Putting others before ourselves is HARD, but it is exactly what He models for us and expects from us in return.

J. R. Briggs said it this way: “If serving is below you, then leadership is beyond you.”

Let’s serve others for God’s glory today!

Run the Race to Win

Steve Fossett became the first person to make a solo-flight around in the world in a hot air balloon. He began his voyage on June 19, 2002 and finished the flight on July 4, 2002. His goal of circumnavigating the globe in a one-man balloon took five previous failures before he achieved what he sought. In his fourth attempt he was almost killed when lightning tore his balloon to fragments and he plunged 29,000 feet into the Coral Sea. Yet, he persevered and disciplined himself until he reached his goal. He told the media following his victorious landing that he celebrated his “persistence of staying with it. It’s been six attempts before I’ve finally been successful; I think it is a very worthwhile object.”

When it comes to things that matter in life, we need to have the kind of attitude that says, “I’m going to stick to it!” That’s what Paul was getting at when he wrote:

“Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. However, they do it to receive a crown that will fade away, but we a crown that will never fade away. Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Steve Fossett disciplined himself to get his name in a record book. But followers of Jesus are pursuing something far more important. We pursue perseverance to accomplish the goal that is far more worthwhile than floating through the heavens in a balloon. Our goal is not some temporary flash of the bulb or tarnishing tangle of medals. 

Our win in this life is the eternal reward of God’s pleasure. So, each day we run for the win! Each day, we radically and relentlessly discipline ourselves to pursue His pleasure. We decisively and determinedly bring every program, process, and pathway into subjection to the goal to make God smile. 

Run the race this day to win!