“Oh, Happy Day”

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last wordBy Nate Champneys

On October 26, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday. George Washington, during his presidency, asked for “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer,” although at that time it did not become an official national holiday. Nevertheless, the idea of a day to focus on thankfulness has been a part of our history in the United States of America since our nation was founded. Now yet another Thanksgiving is around the corner with another Christmas almost upon us, and I feel it thus appropriate to focus this week’s Last Word on the idea of thanksgiving.

“Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint committee requested me ‘to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.” George Washington, October 3, 1789

The above statement is the opening paragraph of a “Thanksgiving Proclamation” given by President Washington. It’s hard to imagine our government making such a statement today. We hear the term, “Separation of Church and State” so often nowadays, but I don’t think people understand what the intent of our nation’s founders was when it came to religion. Obviously if Congress gave such a request to President Washington, they were not opposed to recognizing “Almighty God” as the source of all things good, nor were they opposed to prayer. They were, however, according to our Constitution, opposed to the government making laws “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” They were opposed to government messing with the free practice of worshiping God, not to the worship itself. Thus it was actually the government itself that requested George Washington “to recommend to the people” to have a day of thanksgiving. It wasn’t an order forcing people to thank God, but a recommendation.

Thanksgiving by definition is, “the act of giving thanks.” And “thanks” is defined as, “a good feeling you have towards someone who has helped you, given something to you, etc.” So being that it is a “good feeling,” thanks is an emotion and something that cannot be forced upon someone, but can only be recommended, as Congress did.

But going deeper, thanksgiving by definition has to have an object. You can’t have thanks without a person to whom you are giving thanks. Are you getting it? Without an object, this definition of “thanks” turns into simply “a good feeling.” Without God as the focus of thanksgiving, we are simply happy that we are lucky. We are not thankful.

So to those who do not acknowledge God as the source of every good thing, Thanksgiving is reduced to being simply “Happy Day,” when they are essentially saying, “I’m so happy that I have so much stuff!” This is not meant to be a put-down, but it is the logical conclusion that you must come to if you do not give God the acknowledgment for what He has given you.

For those who recognize the reality that every good and perfect thing comes to us from our Father in Heaven, Thanksgiving Day is just that — a day of Thanksgiving. A day to remember and thank God for His faithfulness. And being that Thursday was instituted by our government, I think it is good to follow the recommendation of George Washington and to also acknowledge the “favors of Almighty God, especially by affording [us] an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for [our] safety and happiness.” So as you sit down around the table with your family and friends on Thursday, ask yourself, “Am I just happy … or am I thankful?”

“So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us His true word. And we, out of all creation, became His prized possession.” (James 1:16-18 NLT)

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I’m Gonna Follow You

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By Tom Chase

Jesus called and still calls His disciples with the phrase, “Come follow Me …” (Mark 1:17). Later, Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me for whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).

What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? As I have been processing this question, several things have come together for me.

First, I am seeing that the Christian life is not intended to be lived out of convenience. We get that from the verse above “denying one’s self” and “take up your cross.” These are not terms of a life lived the way we have been programmed by the world to live. We have been called to the opposite:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

Michael Ramsden (with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) also talks about not living life out of convenience from the story of the Good Samaritan. You might remember the story in Luke 10:29-37, about the man who was beaten, stripped of his clothes, robbed, and left for dead along the road. First a priest and then a Levite came by, but both avoided the injured man. It was not obvious that the injured man was a Jew. If they knew he was a Jew both of these men would have been compelled by the law to help him (Lev 19:17-18).

We might assume that these men were callous or simply too busy (as suggested by VeggieTales.) But they were not simply too busy and they were not callous. This road was notorious for life-threatening danger and robbery. It was given the name “Bloody Pass” as a result. The man lying there could have been the perfect setup to initiate a robbery. The priest and the Levite act in self-preservation; they want to live.

The story continues and finally a Samaritan came by and helped the man. He ignored the dangers, bandaged the injured man’s wounds, put him on his donkey, took him to an inn, and cared for him. The next day the Samaritan left but gave money to ensure the injured man would be alright. Absolutely none of this was convenient, and his actions went far beyond simple inconvenience. We have heard about the hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans. Apparently it went both ways and ran deep like the feuds between the historical Hatfields and McCoys. Because of this hatred, it is interesting to note that there are no Samaritan towns even remotely near this road — only Jewish ones. He takes an injured man (likely a Jew) into a Jewish town. Not only does this Samaritan risk his life by stopping to help, but he probably also risks his life by taking him to the inn. This is absolutely incredible, inconvenient, self-sacrificing, life-endangering stuff here.

Then, following this parable, the words of Jesus to the expert of the law are amazing and alarming: “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37b). This cuts me to the core; when I look in the mirror of my life, I’m not sure the reflection is too appealing.

Second, this call to follow Jesus again hits me between the eyes from a book I have been reading, The 10 Second Rule by Clare De Graaf. I certainly cannot do the book justice in the few words I have here, but it challenges believers to live a life of simple obedience to Jesus. The author was challenged by the words of Jesus in the Gospels that he found “amazing” and “alarming,” like:

“Do good to those who hate you.”

“Deny yourself daily.”

“I came not to be served, but to serve.”

“Whoever wants to be first … must become last.”

“No man can serve two masters.”

De Graaf didn’t know many Christians who lived like that, but he began a journey to pursue a life of following Jesus with the motto he calls “The 10 Second Rule”: “Just do the next thing you’re reasonably certain Jesus wants you to do.” Simple obedience to Jesus is anything but simple. When we look at the standing orders He has given us we understand that life will be anything but sensible. It will not necessarily be safe, but it will be an adventure of walking with Jesus daily! Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10b). I know that just doing the next thing you’re reasonably certain Jesus wants you to do sounds very simplistic at first. It has the benefit of not getting bogged down in the “God’s will for me” debate and allowing one to begin following Jesus today. The 10 Second Rule is in short a way to move me from inaction to action. Many of the things I am reasonably certain Jesus wants me to do I simply do not do because they go against my sensibilities and I can talk myself out of doing them. The book goes on to share some real, practical ways of how to begin and continue walking this radical way of living, which is in fact following Jesus.

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.
It has been found difficult and left untried.”
– G.K. Chesterton

I don’t want to be that guy who has been unwilling to follow Jesus. So I am being challenged to live out this life not just when it is convenient for me but to live in simple obedience to the One I have committed to follow. It is my desire to pursue Jesus with a lot less self-centeredness and a renewed willingness to submit to His direction. I am reminded of an old song, “I’m Gonna Follow You” by Silverwind. I think it expresses some of my heart. If you’re also a bit challenged by all this, maybe this song can be your song to Jesus too!

I never thought that I could ever feel this way
You’ve got me falling more in love with you each day
You made my life matter, like no one could do
So for ever after, I’m following you.
I’m gonna follow you.

Some people tell me that I take a road so rough
They say I’m crazy but I say it’s only love
No it doesn’t matter what people may do
‘Cause forever after I’m following you forever
I’m gonna follow you.

Though the road may be narrow and the road may seem hard
Lord I’m still going to follow and I’ll never turn back and I’ll get through ‘till I do
I’m gonna follow you!

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Money: Where Does It All Go?

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By Martin Schlomer

By now, most of you know that this Sunday we are voting on a proposed budget for 2014. Too often, money and budgets are contentious issues in church families. I am pleased to say this is not the case at Elim. That being said, we want members and attenders to be aware of where the money goes. Our goal is to be transparent. The money you give is donated to God as a “… fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice …” (Philippians 4:18). God considers these offerings sacred and they need to be used accordingly to support the work of the Gospel ministry through Elim.

At first glance, budgets aren’t very exciting. They’re like feet … not very attractive but extremely important. The largest budget area at Elim continues to be staffing (pastoral, support, and custodial staffing and associated costs). There is a 4% increase proposed for 2014. Ministry programs are asking for a 10% increase to accommodate growth. Half of this increase is to help cover the costs of student ministry leaders going to the EFCA Challenge conference in July 2014. The ministry area with the largest percentage increase is facilities. In 2013, we budgeted $22,240 for maintenance and mortgage. In 2014, we are proposing $32,240. This includes an additional $6,400 (for a total $16,400) to cover additional maintenance costs like resurfacing the parking lot and painting the exterior of the main building and annex. In addition, $3,600 is being requested to go toward paying down the principle of our mortgage, which is in addition to the mortgage line item. There are numerous smaller changes — increases and decreases — throughout the budget which you can observe at your leisure. All of these changes take the bottom line from $338,536 in 2013 to a proposed $359,491 in 2014 — a 6% increase.

This raises the question, “Can we afford this increase?” Our average weekly giving as of November 10 is $6,541. The proposed budget will require $6,906 in weekly giving. While giving will fluctuate from quarter to quarter, $6,906 is well within the range of our capacity if 2013 is a reliable indication. For example, in the 1st quarter in 2013 our average weekly giving was $7,342.

What is God’s heart in this issue? What is He most interested in? While budgets and financial trends are helpful, the issue in which God is most interested is the condition and attitude of our hearts as we give to Him. Are we generous in our financial gifts to Him? Does our giving reflect the generous grace He has given to us? In 2 Corinthians 9 Paul writes:

11 “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. 12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

In summarizing what Paul writes, we could state, “Grace came down; generosity welled up; the Gospel is lived out.” Budgets aside, what matters most to God and therefore to the Elders is the generosity of our hearts. I’m glad to say that generosity is a part of the fabric of Elim. However, we must never take it for granted. There is a culture around us and within us that would seek to erode away giving by turning generosity and joy into begrudging obligation. Therefore, let us always protect, promote, and value joyful generosity.

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Time Out

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By Brian Waple

At times, we come to a place where everything around us seems busy, hurried, and urgent, and it’s hard to be mindful of God’s presence and the peace His presence brings.  Admittedly, I have been in that place many times, as I’m sure we all have. When that happens, it’s important to remember to take time out from whatever we’re doing and just simply reflect on God’s Word, taking from His Word the reassurance that comes from knowing He loves us and will never leave us.

Recently, I was reflecting on Psalm 23, the psalm which Charles Spurgeon once called “David’s Heavenly Pastoral.” It is a psalm that to me is uplifting, encouraging, and reassuring. It brings hope.

I don’t know what you’re going through, but I would ask that you take a moment right now and just read through the psalm. Savor each phrase. Let the Holy Spirit speak to you through the reading.

“The Lord is my shepherd;

I have all that I need.

He lets me rest in green meadows;

    He leads me beside peaceful streams.

He renews my strength.

He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid,

    for You are close beside me.

Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.

You honor me by anointing my head with oil.

    My cup overflows with blessings.

Surely Your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life,

and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.” (NLT)

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to You, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14, NLT)

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