Thanksgiving: Food for Thought

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Thanksgiving is right around the corner. In a couple days, your extended family will descend upon your home – or you’ll descend upon theirs – and the 2013 Holiday Season will officially be under way. As with any major holiday, it’s useful to take a step back and think about how Thanksgiving originated, as well as what this holiday is really all about.

Of course we all know the story of the Pilgrims. The Thanksgiving holiday can be traced to a festival of thanksgiving that lasted several days in Plymouth, MA, in the year 1621. The Pilgrims, who had just moved to the country in 1620, had a good harvest and wanted to honor God for it. They had a habit of fasting as they were waiting for God to bless them, and feasting once the blessing materialized. Thanksgiving was the natural conclusion to a harvest marked by divine providence.

The real meaning of the holiday is decidedly Christian. Thanksgiving is a day created to give thanks for all the blessings bestowed upon us over the past year. We aren’t meant to give thanks to just anyone, and we aren’t meant to just think about how thankful we are; we’re supposed to pray. We’re supposed to gather together with our loved ones and offer praise and give thanks to God for all the ways in which He has abundantly blessed us.

The United States is now a largely secular nation, and most of our major holidays have lost all reference to God and Jesus Christ in favor of turkeys, Easter bunnies and Santa Claus. However, the United States was once a religious nation. President George Washington proclaimed the first nationwide Thanksgiving on October 3, 1789. The full text of the proclamation is really quite stunning, especially in contrast with modern Presidential speeches (full text available here: http://herit.ag/1crAzfu). President Washington stated that he gave the declaration because Congress had asked him “…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.” The President and the entire government at the time knew that the young nation was enjoying incredible favor and prosperity, and that we had God to thank for it – publicly!

This Thanksgiving, as has become tradition, the current United States President will pardon a turkey, releasing it to live and roam freely in retirement for the rest of its life. My family and I will be thanking and praising God for everything He has done in our lives. We will also be praying that our nation once again makes the choice to collectively honor God for all the blessings He has poured out on us. Enjoy your turkey!

“Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10

-by Pastor Mike White

Examine the Evidence

 

“Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed.” (John 20:8)

In this scene, Jesus has just risen from the tomb. Mary Magdalene has run to tell Peter and John, which sends them running to examine if her claims of the risen Christ are true.

There is much to be learned here from John’s response. First of all, here the Bible reinforces what wisdom already dictates: we should always examine the evidence of any supernatural claim. Peter and John both run to the tomb to test the story Mary has just told them. The key is this: they do it in faith; not in fear, and not in doubt. They examine the story because they hope it is true, not because their decision about Who Jesus Christ really is will hinge on what they find.

Once John gets to the tomb, he does not need any more evidence. The verse above tells us that he (1) saw the evidence, and (2) immediately believed. John had yet to see the risen Christ for himself; yet he was able to examine what evidence he already had and make a faith decision at that moment.

Each and every single one of us is in a similar situation. Unless you have been blessed with some miraculous encounter in which Jesus Christ Himself appeared to you in a vision or a dream, you have probably not seen Him face to face. Yet we are still required to make a decision as to what exactly we believe, based on the evidence we already have in front of us. This is not unfair; it is actually exactly what God asks us to do.

We have a complete account of the life of Jesus Christ from four different Gospel writers. On top of that, millions of believers have left an account of all the awe-inspiring things Jesus has done in their own lives. God does not leave open to us the option of waiting until we see Him face to face to make a decision as to whether or not we believe in Him; He asks us to use what evidence we already have in front of us and decide, here and now, to believe in His Son Jesus Christ. There is no reward for waiting to believe in Christ until we see Him, whether after we die or at His second coming. By then it is too late. Infinite reward, however, is reserved for those who make that choice while they are alive.

John’s response in the verse above is one of faith. Thomas, on the other hand, exhibited doubt. Jesus’ response to Doubting Thomas tells us all we need to know:

“Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

If you want to be blessed, you have to make the choice to believe in Jesus Christ; here and now, with whatever evidence you already have in front of you.

-by Pastor Mike White

Wise and Foolish Christian

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Matthew 7:24

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shares a parable comparing two builders: a wise one who builds his house on the rock, and a foolish one who builds his house on the sand. A storm ravages both houses but only one remains.

The entire parable contains just four sentences, yet contains a deep spiritual truth. This truth can be easily missed if we read it too fast. Notice we don’t read this as the parable of the smart and stupid builder. Both builders seem to know what they were doing in building a house. Jesus tells us nothing about how the house was built. The scriptures reveal the foundation as the only difference between the two homes.

In reading this passage, I noticed that this parable is not necessarily about Christians building their lives on Christ while those without Christ are building their lives on metaphorical sand, although one could certainly make that application. Notice the context around which Jesus shares this parable. In Matthew chapter 7:15, Jesus warns of false prophets. He tells the listeners to judge the false from the true by the fruit evidenced in a person’s life. In verse 21, Jesus  says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter.” The same thought carries down to verse 24, which begins with “therefore.” A wise pastor once pointed out that when you see a “therefore” in the scripture, you should always find out what it is “there for.”

In this case, the “therefore” presents a logical flow from one idea to the next. Jesus makes the point that the wise build their lives by acting on His words. Calling yourself a Christian is not enough. Jesus wants us to hear what He is saying and act accordingly. In order to hear what Jesus says we must be continually reading, studying, and meditating on the scriptures. We must understand what God has to say in all respects and not just isolate feel-good scriptures. When we isolate scriptures, especially out of context, we run the risk of missing the full counsel of what God has to say and distorting His message. A Christian should develop a strong understanding of what the scriptures say and how they relate to all areas of life. Understanding the Bible is not just for the select few who attend Bible school or seminary.

The parable of the wise and foolish builder answers a question that has always bothered me. I would see some of my fellow Christians go through proverbial storms in their lives. As a young man, I remember a leader in our men’s ministry who had all the earmarks of a serious Christian. He attended church regularly with his family, taught Sunday school, and made friendships with the right Christian leaders. This man organized our men’s outing to the Promise Keepers event. He went through a deep personal trial and ended up leaving his wife and children for another woman. Of course, each situation contains its own nuance, but both stories share one common detail. In both cases a Christian who did know better chose a path radically different from what the teaching of Jesus would prescribe. I once thought all Christians were examples of the wise builder; I’ve since learned better. The storm exposes the foundation upon which a person has based his or her life decisions. Not all “Christians” base their choices on the words of God. These Christians might think they built on the solid rock but are shaken to the core when calamity hits. Let’s be wise and make our decisions based on the words of Jesus, His apostles, and His prophets. I speak to myself in this as much as I speak to anyone else.

-by Pastor Shawn Martin

Can Christians Celebrate Halloween?

As a Christian, can you celebrate Halloween?

Great question. Let’s start with a quick origin of the word ‘Halloween,’ from the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM):

The word Halloween is derived from the term “All Hallows Eve” which occurred on Oct. 31, the end of summer in Northwestern Europe. “All Saints Day,” or “All Hallows Day” was the next Day, Nov. 1st. Therefore, Halloween is the eve of All Saints Day.

From a Christian perspective, we have much to celebrate on October 31st and November 1st. October 31st is celebrated throughout much of the world as Reformation Day, which commemorates Martin Luther nailing his ‘95 Theses’ to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany, in the year 1517. That event sparked the Reformation. Much of the Christian Church also recognizes November 1st as All Saints Day, a holiday meant to honor the saints in the Christian faith who have come before us. In the Biblical calendar, days start in the evening; so, All Hallows Eve (Halloween) is the beginning of All Saints Day, which has roots that can be traced back to the 5th Century AD.

The contention some Christians have with Halloween comes from the fact that many people dress up as witches, ghosts and goblins – a tradition many historians believe is derived from ancient pagan festivals. Yet even if that origin has some truth to it, what would Jesus command us to do? I believe He would tell us to take back what is His. I believe He already told us to go into all the world and preach the Gospel (Matt 28:19), not to shrink back from preaching the Gospel on the day when unbelievers need to hear it most. We are to be salt and light in this dark world, knowing that we have the authority to cast out demons (Mark 16:17) because Jesus has given it to us. Shrinking back from a chance to spread the Gospel on Halloween is avoiding our responsibility as Christians.

If we’re going to rule out Halloween as a day to preach the Gospel, we also have to rule out every other day that has ever been associated with pagan traditions. The word Sunday means ‘Sun-day’ (dies solis in Latin). Pagans tried to make it a day of the week to worship the sun, and Christians reclaimed it as a day devoted solely to worshiping the One True God. Does the fact that there are some possible ancient associations between Sunday and pagan traditions mean we should stop going to church every week? Absolutely not! Sunday, like every day, belongs to God. So does Halloween. It is our job to go out and take possession of it for Him.

At CityLight Church, we offer an alternative to traditional Halloween festivities. We have a Fall Festival, which gives us the chance to invite the entire neighborhood to church. We have games, prizes and fun activities for kids of all ages. And yes, we encourage kids and parents to dress up in costumes. Why? Because it’s fun. That’s it. When the kids who come to our Fall Festival grow up, we want them to remember church as the place they went every year around Halloween and had the time of their lives. If we don’t offer an alternative to Halloween as a church, who will? If our members don’t go out and preach the Gospel every day of the year, including Halloween, who will?

If we sit back and worry about whether or not we can participate in the most culturally active and relevant days of the year, we risk becoming irrelevant as Christians and passing up opportunities to share the Gospel. Our goal for every major holiday (Christmas, Thanksgiving, and even Halloween) should be to turn those days back into what God intended for them to be: a chance to gather with our loved ones and honor Him.

So, here is what we recommend. If you have any serious reservations about Halloween, don’t participate. It’s your choice. If you know anyone who would be thrown off from his or her Christian walk because of your participation in Halloween, don’t participate. Plain and simple (see 1 Cor 10:23-33 for an analogous discussion from Paul on eating meat sacrificed to idols).

However, any holiday – regardless of origin – is defined by what it means to you, here and now. If you understand that complete freedom in Christ means you can dress up and go door-to-door asking for candy just for fun, then feel free to do it. But don’t forget to use every day – especially Halloween – as a chance to evangelize. Dress your kids up as angels instead of demons and send them around with CityLight Church postcards or Gospel tracts. They can go from house to house in your neighborhood and invite people to church as they receive candy. You’ll be training a bunch of pint-sized evangelists. When kids come to your house, hand them invitations to our Fall Festival along with a Snickers bar. That way, they can come to our Fall Festival on November 2nd and bring their parents. We promise to preach the Gospel to their whole family.

-by Pastor Mike White

Hearing from God

How can I hear from God? How can I hear from God more often?

These are two of the most common questions we hear at CityLight Church. There are plenty of things you can do to position yourself to hear from God more often. Our senses are designed to receive stimuli from the Holy Spirit; many times we just have take the time to notice what He is telling us. Quite often, God may have already told you something, but you just didn’t realize it. Let me explain:

John 14:21: He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.

For most people, ‘hearing from God’ means experiencing something tangible: a still small voice, a dream, a vision, or one of many other tacks the Lord can take when speaking to us. In the verse above, Jesus promises He will make himself manifest (real; tangible) to ‘he who has [His] commandments and keeps them.’ If we keep His commandments, He will make Himself real to us.

So, when someone asks me, ‘How can I hear from God,’ my response is usually, ‘What have you done with everything He has already told you?’ The Bible is full of truths – ways to pray, things to pray for, and situations over which the name of Jesus Christ already gives us full and complete authority – that we can take the time to fully appropriate when we don’t feel like we are hearing from God. Sometimes God will give us a fresh word, but sometimes He will wait for us to internalize what has already been distributed before He gives us more revelation. There is always Scripture that is relevant to whatever we are going through in our lives; it is our job to find it and use it, trusting that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all understanding.

If you want to hear more from God, ask yourself this: what was the last thing He told you? Maybe the Holy Spirit highlighted a verse of Scripture to you as you read. Maybe you had a dream a few years back but never followed through on it. Maybe a still, small voice told you to make a phone call but you never had the conversation.

Now go back and do whatever He told you to do, or memorize that Bible verse that really spoke to you. God will give you more information when you fully utilize that which He has already shown you.

-by Pastor Mike White

How Much is Your Soul Worth?

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8:36

The story of Faust best captures a certain aspect of American life related to Americans’ worship of achievement. If you are not familiar with Faust, there have been numerous retellings, all featuring a protagonist who makes a deal with a devil for power or knowledge in exchange for his soul.  Each version of the story ends differently; in some, Faust loses his soul while in others, he receives redemption.  Alex Rodriguez could be termed our most recent Faust. A-Rod, as he is affectionately known, was once the most sought after baseball player in America. The New York Yankees agreed to pay him $275 million for ten years with the expectation that he would break the all-time home run record. I don’t know the whole A-Rod story. Perhaps in a year we will see a book that gives us a clearer picture of what made A-Rod choose to get entangled in performance enhancing drugs. What is clear is that A-Rod made a decision to cheat. He had a good life playing the game that he loved as a boy. He made more money than most would see in a lifetime. He spent time with attractive and famous women. Did he really need more? Was the pressure so great to break the home run record that he felt he needed to cheat to achieve that?

I have no desire to throw stones at A-Rod. I have no desire to defend him either. What I find interesting is that A-Rod is not the only one who figuratively sold his soul. Many people do the same each day, only for much less. Every time we make small compromises on things of moral importance, we give a little bit of our soul. Every time we choose the temporal over the spiritual, we are giving away a little bit of our soul. Every time we choose our career over our family, we give away a little bit of our soul. With each compromise we make regarding the important things of life, we give away a little bit more of our soul. We risk looking back over our lives and finding out that we sold our souls cheaply over the course of our lives. At least A-Rod got $275 million for his soul. Was it really worth it?

-by Pastor Shawn Martin

Condition of the World

It is easy to look at the world and despise its condition. We are living in a time rife with sin, when the last thing on many peoples’ minds is seeking God. We are on the brink of war with Syria, which could send much of the Middle East into unthinkable turmoil.

Yet we have much for which we, as Christians, can be thankful every single day. Through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, we are afforded a more intimate relationship with Christ than the disciples could have ever enjoyed, even though they sat right next to Jesus (John 16:7). We are living in a time when the things for which the Old Testament prophets tirelessly sought God (salvation and grace) have finally been revealed (1 Peter 1:10,11). Angels would long to look upon the truths we get to enjoy every day (1 Peter 1:12).

Let’s be thankful for everything that has been brought to our attention! Despite the condition of the world around us, we are living in a time when the Word and Will of God is more available to us than ever before.

-by Pastor Mike White

 

The True Vine

Pruning is an important Biblical principal. It can also be a painful one.

John 15:1-2: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

John constructs a beautiful metaphor here. Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. We need Him to survive; if we find ourselves disconnected from Him, we will wither and die. But that’s just the beginning.

As a branch, we have two possible outcomes: we either bear fruit or we don’t. If we don’t bear fruit, God will cut us off; but even if we do bear fruit, we still get cut – just in a different way! In the best possible scenario, we still have to be ready for pruning.

Google defines ‘to prune’ as, “to trim (reduce the extent of something) by cutting away dead or overgrown branches or stems (removing superfluous or unwanted parts), especially to increase fruitfulness and growth.” We all have things, people, and activities in our lives that are dead, overgrown or unwanted; we’re just not good at recognizing what these things are – and that is where the vinedresser comes in.

God is the vinedresser; not us. He does the pruning; we don’t. What branch gets to decide if it’s too long, or if it bears good fruit? That is a right and responsibility reserved for the vinedresser. God sees things in our lives that no longer belong there, and He cuts them off – for our own good. He prunes our lives so that we will be more fruitful in the end.

Before I became a full-time Pastor, I worked in finance. After a few years of working at a bank, I laid out a plan for a gradual transition into full-time ministry over a 3 to 5 year time frame. God had other plans.

One morning, with no warning whatsoever, I found myself in the HR office of the bank where I worked. I was being let go; not for any performance reason, but because my ‘position was being eliminated.’ I was being pruned. My career was overgrown, taking up too much of my time, and interfering with the plans God had for me. So he cut it out of my life.

We’re not always ready for pruning, and it never feels good; but God knows the plans He has for us. His understanding is unsearchable; ours is limited. God began to provide for my wife and I financially from the moment I stepped out of that HR office. He launched me almost immediately into full-time ministry. I soon found myself in Jonah’s shoes, vomited out of the belly of a fish called unemployment and back on dry land, with a chance to fulfill my destiny instead of running from it. He pruned me so that, in the long run, I would be more fruitful.

I thank God for that pruning every day.

-by Pastor Mike White

Lens of Love

Self-perception can be everything. At CityLight Church we focus on the believer’s identity in Christ. When God looks at you – his child – He sees you through a lens of love. He sees you as He sees His only Son, Jesus Christ.

John was a man who had a handle on his identity in Christ. He refers to himself as the disciple ‘whom Jesus loved’ on five different occasions (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21:20). John had a handle on just how strongly Jesus felt about him. He loved him, and he was not afraid to let the world know.

God loves you just as much as He loved John. You are the disciple whom Jesus loves. Now start acting like it!

-by Pastor Mike White

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