Perusal* – Winter 2015, Reflections on Thanksgiving & Advent

(* perusal; to examine or consider with attention and in detail)

Col. 4:2-4: Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.

2015 is quickly coming to a close.  And what a year it has been.  At times this year much of Europe has been either on “lock down” or contemplating next steps to counter the rabid terrorism of Islam.  California is the latest state to experience the mass murder of people, perhaps at the hands of Islamic extremism. I read recently that Islam’s eschatology (vision of the afterlife), which promises up to 72 “houris” (“gazelle eyed women”, loosely translated “virgins”) as eternal companions for the jihadists, is perhaps the strangest and certainly most troubling of religions’ visions of heaven.  While the Christian faith promises an eternal and everlasting life of worship and fellowship with a loving, merciful, and gracious triune God simply by faith alone, Islam ups the ante by encouraging violent martyrdom.  While there are times when believers should defend themselves and their convictions from untruth, the bible encourages us to “preach the gospel of peace” and “if it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” 

The great contrast between jihad and peace is illustrated in the epistles of Paul.  His epistle to the church in Colosse (meant also for the neighboring church in Laodicea) is laced with counters to false teachings that were prevalent in the Greco-Roman world, especially Gnosticism.  He masterfully illuminates the eternal nature of the Christ Jesus and reminds the believers in Colosse to be aware of philosophical cheaters.  Our world is inundated with such people today, denying the Incarnation of Christ and claiming a natural Spiritism that asserts a mystical union with God. As in all his letters to young, primitive churches, Paul instructs in sound doctrine and corrects false, self-promoting deceit.  He does expect disciples to be consistent in their respect for and allegiance to their local church, reminding them that once born again, the “new man” is renewed in knowledge according to God’s image. He writes to instruct these churches from a heart of peace.

Paul brings the letter to a close with keen instruction for the structure of a Christian home.  Churches are only as strong as the number of strong, holy Christian homes.  He reiterates this in the closing verses, emphasizing the grace of continual prayer.  And the type of prayer he stresses is laced with thanksgiving.  He uses the word “vigilant”, a unique word used to imply “staying awake” and being alert to specific needs of others.  Thanksgiving in the bible is focused on the Gospel, good news indeed.

I am thankful for the Gospel in the incarnate person of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul is always instructing churches to effectively present the Gospel and pray that it might be broadcast. When he instructs individuals it is because they are ministering to local churches to expand the Gospel’s horizons.  While under house arrest in Rome, he asked the Colossians for vigilant prayer that an effective door be opened so that he may speak to those about him the Gospel. Nothing like isolation to make us thankful for our local church!

There is a path to peace and it begins with exposure to the Bible for in it we learn of God.  Once the Holy Spirit has regenerated us by grace alone and we have believed by faith alone, we should meditate on the written word.  Prayer is the natural motivation after contemplation, first for confession of our sins, then a thankful response and praise for salvation via the cross.  When we praise God, he brings others to our mind so that we make intercession for them. Finally we are free to petition our Lord for our own needs.

Prayers that begin focusing on ourselves are misplaced.  We all are needy, but we are not imprisoned.  One of the key components of thanksgiving is the reminder that, except for sin, we are not as desperate as we might think. Others surely have greater needs than I.  This is another reason why our consistency and faithfulness to a local church is vital to engaging prayers.  When the church prays we are reminded that the world is so very much larger than just us and, ultimately, the needs can only be met in the Gospel.  Flat Creek’s focus on prayer is vital to our faith.  Tim Keller in his book “Prayer” says, “Many churches today, especially those with what is called contemporary worship, give the congregants almost no help with prayer at all.”  Corporate prayer is a teaching moment and couple with our private readings of scripture, will over time change our selfish way of praying to praise and honor of Jesus Christ, lifting the needs of those who truly need His intervention for physical, financial, or emotional strength, and molding our prayers for our spiritual growth.  

Being thankful and praying for the gospel is primarily due to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the truth of Christmas.  How wonderful that a time of thanksgiving prepares us for Christ’s first advent.

May I ask all of us a question…”when we pray, do we pray for the jihadist that, by God’s amazing grace, they may have the Holy Spirit remove the blinders from their eyes, see Jesus as Lord and Savior, and by faith be transformed into a believer?”

I close this meditation with thoughts from Ravi Zacharias at this time of year:

“… I suggest that rather than think of all the bleak things we face let us pause and thank God for the hope He gives even in the darkness. As King George VI said, "I said to the man at the gate of the year, ‘give me a light that I may walk safely into the unknown.’ He said to me, ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. It shall be to you better than the light and safer than the known’."

Your hand in God's hand is the only experience that will take you safely into the future. That is best done with His word and on your knees. There, let all the earth be silent before Him. With minimal words from your lips, a bounty of peace can descend into your heart. When you draw close to Him you see the temporal through the eyes of the eternal. Lift your eyes on the positive side of blessing and you will see He carries you over the valleys around. In the desert sands, the broken stones may speak. But the mended hearts speak louder.”

Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas! My prayer is that 2016 will be the best year for growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ to God’s glory.

Sola Deo Gloria! Pastor Carey

Posted July, 2015