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November 14, 2017, 9:17 AM

Give thanks to the Lord, for...

            I love Thanksgiving.  It’s one of my favorite holidays, but I’m panicking a little.  I realize it is closing in on me fast and I am not yet ready.  As a pastor, I have some extra preparations to make before Thanksgiving: an extra worship service to plan, an extra sermon to write, some of next week’s work that I need to get done now so that I can take off Thanksgiving Day and hopefully the day after.  And then Advent is right around the corner.  I am not yet ready.
            My wife loves Thanksgiving too.  She has many preparations to make, but they are different from mine.  She is planning the entire menu from the shopping to the cooking.  She’s thinking about putting up Christmas decorations that weekend.  She’s got a running list of “Christmas Attractions” on a sheet of candy cane striped paper, and most of those activities could begin anytime on or after Thanksgiving weekend.  She’s thinking about gift shopping and Black Friday deals.  She is very well prepared.  I’m blessed to have her and her fantastic organizational skills!  But is she ready to give thanks?  (She is, but not because of the things I mentioned).  That leads us to the question…

Are you ready?
            What is it that makes us ready?  I don’t mean ready for Christmas or the Christmas season.  I mean are you ready to give thanks?  You won’t be ready, you can’t be ready, if you are not ready to recognize and worship the Giver of all that you have. 

Give thanks to the Lord, for…
            “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,” says Psalm 136:1.  This psalm is one that reminds you to recognize the unfailing mercy and undeserved love of God and invites you to praise Him for who He is, for what He has created and provided, and for the salvation story of Israel coming out of Egypt and into the Promised Land (a salvation story that anticipated and foreshadowed your own rescue from slavery to sin so that you can be called holy and receive the promise of heaven).  You are not ready for Thanksgiving if you do not recognize and praise your Creator, your Redeemer, your Sanctifier—the One True God who saves you.  Therefore, you are invited to join in the psalm’s refrain (that appears in every verse) and acknowledge: “His steadfast love endures forever!”

Thanksgiving Sacrifice
            The psalms are full of thanksgiving and worship of God for His saving work.  Take a moment to think about what God has done for you.  I’ve referred already to the salvation we have in Jesus Christ.  Think of that!  He has paid for sin on your behalf on the cross.  He has conquered death in His rising triumphant from the prison of the grave.  He has cast down Satan and delivered you from the Devil’s reign, transferring you to the Kingdom of light and grace, which is yours already now and will be yours fully and forever when you are with your victorious Christ.  The Giver has given you all you need, for His salvation is everything!
In addition to that gracious gift, He has provided all that you have and all you need: food and drink, clothing and shelter, family and friends, even pets and toys and competitive sports and Black Friday sales and blessing upon blessing upon blessing.  In fact, we are blessed so richly that one of the biggest challenges in our culture is to learn contentment.  We are often overcome with selfishness and greed.  How do we overcome our greed and have a true heart of thankfulness?
Again, we turn to the psalms.  “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” (Psalm 50:23). Here we are encouraged to voice our praise, give an offering to the Lord out of gratitude for all he has done, and walk in his ways.  Yes, that means we are to learn His Ten Commandments and strive to keep them.  Yes, it means we rejoice in His mercy, grateful that we are forgiven so many sins.  Yes, it means that we give thank offerings to the Lord to support the work of the Gospel.  And in giving to the Church, not only are we learning contentment by depriving ourselves of something valuable, but we also have the joy of knowing our offering is used for work that makes an eternal difference in the lives of many.

Don’t forget to sing!
            Psalm 107 not only mentions a sacrifice of thanksgiving, but also invites us to lift our voices in prayers and songs of thanks: “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!” (Psalm 107:19-22).  When you sing to God with a joyful heart, you are a witness to others.  So tell and sing of His deeds in your life.

What are you thankful for?
            Salvation through Christ?  That you are baptized?  For God’s sustaining Word?  For the Body and Blood of Christ given for your forgiveness?  Are you thankful for your family?  Your material possessions?  Your dog?  Your hobby?  Every good thing is a gift from God, for He loves you dearly as His own precious child.  So make your preparations, carve out a little time and space for a holiday (holy-day).  Join us as we worship our giving God.

Pastor Jon

Thanksgiving Eve Worship at BSLC is Wednesday, Nov. 22, at 7pm.  Join us as we give thanks to the Giver of every good gift!

Special Door Offering? - Typically we collect a door offering on Thanksgiving Eve to help support families in need.  This year our “Help Fund” is already sufficient and we will be able to provide any needed assistance.  Please consider giving any special thank offerings this holiday season to support the ministry of BSLC in its active witness to the community.

February 2, 2017, 11:11 AM

The Time We Started Giving Less to Church

           Confession time.  There was a time Nicole and I decided to give less to the church.  I felt terrible because it was recently, and I was the Senior Pastor, and I felt compelled to set a good example of giving even if no one knows what I give.  (Giving at BSLC is kept confidential).

            But we had good reason to give less.  It was May 2015 when, by our own choice, we became a single-income household.  Nicole quit her job as an RN to “stay home” (which really means “to work around the clock at home”).  We decided to sacrifice her income to gain better family time and to better manage our life.  That’s a tough balance for every family to find, and we can certainly relate to the joys and struggles of both a two-income family and a one-income family.  Maybe that’s a great topic for another time.

            When we made the decision, we had to do some number crunching first to see if we could make it work.  We recouped much of her lost income by deleting childcare from our budget.  We found we could hack our restaurant spending, which is shockingly high for anyone brave enough to add it up.  We ditched cable, which was a blow to our (then) 10 year-old Royals fan.

            Because our income was going down, and because the numbers still weren’t quite balanced, I wrestled with the amount of our giving to BSLC.  Nicole was not absent from the conversations and final decision, but she acknowledged that this should be my call.  But I vacillated back and forth.  If God calls us to proportionate, firstfruits giving, it makes sense that if our income goes down, our giving goes down proportionately, right?  But I’m supposed to set an example of faith.  What to do?

            We had to make it work for the family.  Plus, I knew that the important thing wasn’t the amount given, but rather that an offering is 1) an act of trust, 2) a sacrifice of thanks, 3) a firstfruits gift, 4) proportional to income, and 5) for the sake of the work of the Gospel.  So, I asked God to provide, prayed for forgiveness if this was the wrong choice, and then reduced our giving to BSLC at first.  I vowed to myself I would raise it as soon as I could.

            It was sooner than I thought!  After only a couple months of reduced giving, I saw that we were making it work and we were doing ok.  In casual conversations with people about the change in our life, I would tell people joyfully, “We’re still paying all our bills!”  It wasn’t easy, and Nicole works very, very, very hard at finding deals, and saving money while still providing everything the family needs (she’s a true Proverbs 31 woman!).  And so, we decided after only a couple months to put our giving back to where it was before.  We have increased it from there, especially when we made our pledge in 2016—a pledge of regular, firstfruits giving to BSLC, and a pledge of over-and-above gifts to the “Growing up in Every Way” project.

            Now, the van broke a few times, and we fixed it.  The furnace broke a few times and then died altogether.  But we got that fixed/replaced too.  The boys outgrew their clothes and we had to buy more.  And they keep eating and eating and eating!  But God is good, and he amply supplies all we need.  We haven’t missed out on anything, really.  Even our Royals fan is fine.  Our life is as full as we could imagine.

            Two lessons we learned in the process: 1) We should have been giving more before.  We could have afforded it, easily.  We could have made a few more sacrifices and we wouldn’t have missed out on much.  We could have had a greater joy in giving earlier.  2) When God says he’ll take care of you, he truly means it!  I’ll share this detail with you, not to gain attention but in order to challenge you to believe it is possible: we are giving more now (in percentage and amount) than when we had two-incomes.  And we are glad to do so for the glory of God and for the furthering of the Kingdom.

            Friends, please take this in the way I mean it.  I am not boasting, except to boast in the Lord.  And notice that I did not share even a hint of a dollar amount, because that’s not the point, and that’s only between you and God.  If all you can give is one dollar, it is a beautiful gift to the Lord.  (Recall the story of the widow’s offering in Mark 12:41-44).  With that one dollar, you can say “Lord, I trust you will provide.  You have richly blessed me.  I want others to receive help, and especially to hear the Good News of Jesus.  Please receive this humble offering of thanksgiving.”

            Do you dare to believe that all things are possible with God?


Still learning these joyful lessons,


Pastor Jon

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