Tag Archives: blessings

The Empty Chair

Sunday dinner used to be a big deal. I don’t mean going out to a nice place to eat. Dinner followed church and usually involved the family and perhaps a friend or two. Traditions might have included a roast or fried chicken, plenty of vegetables, and a favorite dessert. It was a lot of work but it might be one of the few times when the entire family sat down together.

In some parts of the country, another tradition was observed. There was always an empty chair. There was always room for one more. The tradition has a long history. We are concluding our study in Mark soon. We find ourselves in the midst of the passion of Christ. In Jewish heritage, there was always an empty chair during the observance of Passover. Symbolically, it was a sign of expectation and hope that this year Elijah would come, announcing the arrival of the Messiah.

We are fast approaching another tradition-rich occasion – Thanksgiving. Will there be an empty chair at your table? Perhaps a loved one or dear friend is no longer alive. Perhaps someone couldn’t make it home this year. Perhaps there is someone who has nowhere to go. Perhaps we could fill that empty chair with someone who needs to be included.

Sunday begins our Matthew 25 Challenge week. As a church family, we will gather around tables to enjoy worship, fellowship, and food. We will focus our attention on our blessings and learn how to bless others. We don’t want any empty chairs this Sunday, so please come.

There are three opportunities for each of us to get involved:

  • Matthew 25 Challenge – a week-long interactive experience sponsored by World Vision that kicks off with our Thanksgiving worship and lunch on November 12
  • Love Beyond Walls – Taylor Mason is recruiting help for Saturday, November 18 to pack Thanksgiving boxes for people in our community
  • Global Mission Offering – one of our significant ways to partner with other Christians in spreading the Gospel in word and deed. Our goal for Wieuca is $10,000.

Information about each of these ministry opportunities is available in our newsletter and worship guide. Let’s make a difference together.

 

 

 

Where were you?

Certain dates will always resonate with people … Pearl Harbor, JFK’s assassination, the moon landing, 9-11. Most of us can remember where we were on these significant events. Some of us were not alive when these historic occurrences happened. Our youth and children have no context to understand that dreadful Tuesday morning fifteen years ago. They are, however, affected by a climate of fear and anxiety. I regret what our world has become.

As people of faith, we can choose another perspective. So, let me ask:

  • Where were you when you first began to realize how much God loves you?
  • Where were you when you were overcome by His grace?
  • Where were you when you experienced a blessing that took your breath away?
  • Where were you when you felt His presence in a time of struggle and pain?
  • Where were you when you saw the power of community among His people?
  • Where were you when your willingness to serve brought hope to discouragement?
  • Where were you when you witnessed answers to your prayers?
  • Where were you when God’s Word spoke to some deep need in your life?
  • Where were you when you were overwhelmed by the beauty of His creation?
  • Where were you when a friend or family member said “Yes” to Christ?

I share one “where were you” story. Recently, the Wilbanks brothers with our wives and one of our first cousins and his wife got to travel together. We enjoyed time in one of God’s most brilliant displays of His creative glory. But the time we cherished was sitting around a table with hands linked, thanking God for His blessings. We prayed for one another and the challenges that each is facing. We asked God to help us be faithful in living out our stories. With much to be thankful for, we expressed gratitude for the ways He has touched our family. I was glad I was there.

“I’m old enough”

“I’m old enough” isn’t a complete sentence. There are always qualifiers:

  • “I’m old enough to tie my shoes.”
  • “I’m old enough to sleep without the light on.”
  • “I’m old enough to drive a car.”
  • “I’m old enough to make my own decisions.

Sometimes the sentence changes – “You’re old enough.”

  • “You’re old enough to sit there and be quiet.”
  • “You’re old enough to mow the grass.”
  • “You’re old enough to stop acting like a baby.”
  • “You’re old enough to know better.”
  • “You’re old enough to do this yourself.”

It seems like there are two notions to “old enough.” The first is on the way up as you develop, grow, and develop. As you move through childhood and adolescence toward adulthood, you learn lessons, achieve milestones, and become your own person.

Then there is that second. You are not going up anymore; heck, you’re heading downhill and you notice you are picking up speed!

  • “You’re old enough not to try to do that anymore.”
  • “You’re old enough to not be able to do that anymore.”
  • “You’re old enough to know that there are a lot of things you don’t know.”
  • “You’re old enough to talk about events and people from the distant past.”
  • “You’re old enough to appreciate things you used to take for granted.”
  • “You’re old enough to understand there are more years behind you than in front of you.”
  • “You’re old enough to treasure relationships and cherish time with people you love.”

I know I’m old enough to be grateful for blessings. In a week, Kim and I celebrate our 37th wedding anniversary. We’ve had the privilege of raising two fine sons who have become really good men. We’ve become grandparents to three amazing kids. I was called into the ministry as a senior in high school at a church camp. For over 40 years, I have had the privilege to serve with some of the most dedicated Christians around. I’m old enough to know the road can get rocky and life can be painful, but I’m also old enough to believe that God goes before me, stands beside me, follows after me, and loves me always. I’m old enough.

Forget? Who me?

Great way to start the new year at the office – left my keys at home. Does that ever happen to you? Ha! Of course it does. Please tell me it does.

We are supposed to remember the really important things – birthdays, anniversaries, name, address, etc. With all the technology at hand, we can just look most of this stuff up … unless we forgot where we put our phone.

I was looking for mine the other day and my sweet, tolerant wife said, “Well, where did you see it last?” If I knew that, I would go over and pick it up.

I do forget things. It happens more and more as I age gracefully. I know some of it is attributable to lack of concentration and focus, but whatever the reason … it is maddening.

People have systems to fight forgetfulness. Some make lists … now, where did I put that list? Some play word games. Some lay things out carefully in the evening so it won’t be so hard the next day. There are other approaches, but I forgot them.

There are some things I hope I don’t forget. I am blessed in so many ways. The old hymn reminds me to count my blessings, name them one by one. The psalmist wrote: “Praise the Lord, I tell myself; with my whole heart, I will praise His holy name. Praise the Lord, I tell myself, and never forget the good things He has done for me” (103:1,2).

When we are able to remember, we are overwhelmed by the good things, the things we don’t deserve, the things that come as welcome gifts and happy moments. It helps us when life gets rough or painful. It reminds us that we are not alone, that we matter to the One who matters most. I don’t ever want to forget that!

Oh, I almost forgot. Have a blessed day.

 

Spiritual Markers

“Here I raise mine Ebenezer” comes from a hymn written by Robert Robinson in the sixteenth century, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Robinson, as a 17 year old, had gone to hear the great evangelist George Whitefield … not to be inspired by the preaching but to scoff at what he considered to be the foolishness of religion. That evening turned out very differently for the young man. Not only did he find Christ that night, but also he was led to serve the Lord as a minister of the Gospel. At 23, he penned the words to a hymn that continues to trumpet the faithfulness of God.

The “Ebenezer” phrase comes from 1 Samuel 7:12. The prophet Samuel led Israel to a great victory over their frequent tormentors, the Philistines. To remember the event: “Samuel then took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah. He named it Ebenezer, which means ‘the stone of help’, for he said, ‘Thus has the Lord has helped us.’”

At other times in her history, Israel marked significant events to always remember what God had done for them. For example, Joshua instructed the people to place twelve stones near the camp site after crossing the Jordan river on their way to reclaim Canaan (Joshua 4:1-11).

Spiritual markers are important for us to note special occurrences, unique blessings, life-changing events, deepening insights. You need them. I need them. We need them.

In a period of several months this year, Kim and I have taken part in two spiritual-marker moments. Southside Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida celebrated their 75th anniversary at the end of May. Wieuca Road has observed their 60th anniversary this past weekend. Both churches have impacted our lives and those of thousands of other people through the years.

What are the moments in your life when you need to raise your Ebenezer? Count your blessings; name them one by one. We are so often too busy to mark those times in our lives when God has spoken, acted, delivered, blessed, anointed, called out, empowered, corrected, or challenged us.

 

Raise your Ebenezer! I would love to know about the spiritual markers in your life.

Happy Thanksgiving

An oldie but a goodie: Mom and four year-old have finished grocery shopping and are checking out. Woman at the register holds out a piece of hard candy for the little girl. Mom prompts little girl, “What do you say?” Four year-old responds, “Charge it!”

What do you say? That question is listed in the parents’ hall of shame. We’ve all heard it or said it. When has prompting giving thanks ever been a way to force feeling thanks?

You cannot make someone be grateful. It’s been tried, many times. Being blessed should not come with an unhealthy dose of entitlement; it should engender a deeply-felt humility.

“Count your many blessings, name them one by one” – so goes the old hymn. That would be an interesting challenge this week. What would your list look like? It might start with the big ones –  family, faith, friends, health, prosperity, talent – but it might move to the less-noticed – eyes to see, ears to hear, tongue to speak. The list might wander over to inspiring music, a good book, a great recipe, beautiful flowers, breath-taking views … it’s your list!

Finish your list and post it somewhere. Put it in your Bible and refer to it each time you open the Scriptures. Share it with someone you care about. Use it as you pray. Grateful hearts find means to express what is deeply felt.

As I wish you a happy day of giving thanks, I urge you not to limit your expression of gratitude to a 24-hour time period. Gratitude can be a lifestyle.

Here’s my gift to you – some of the corniest thanksgiving jokes I could find. You don’t have to thank me. Really, don’t thank me. Read ‘em and you’ll understand.

  • Why did the guy cross-breed a turkey and a centipede? So everyone could have a turkey leg.
  • If the pilgrims were alive today, what would they be most famous for? Their age.
  • Which side of the turkey has the most feathers? The outside.
  • Name a country that doesn’t observe Thanksgiving: Turkey!

Happy Thanks Giving!!

Don’t Forget Thanksgiving

 

Have you noticed? We seem to have rushed from Halloween to Christmas, right past Thanksgiving. Turn on the television and you’ll see snow-covered landscapes with brand new cars that-you-have-to-buy-if-you’re cool and people wearing clothes-you-have-to-have-if-you-go-out-in-public. Lots of money will help, too.

I love Christmas, but it’s not time yet. For the people who have already finished their Christmas shopping, I think you are missing the point.

Thanksgiving means different things to different folks. Even with Black Friday looming, perhaps we should slow down and think about it. We should take the time to count blessings that we often take for granted. This may be the only time in months that you will be able to spend with family and friends without having to rush to the next appointment.

Giving thanks means expressing love and gratitude. Giving thanks flows from a grateful heart. It doesn’t take a great deal of effort to be thankful. Think about it the next time you let someone in to your lane in heavy traffic and you don’t even get a wave!

Giving thanks is very practical. Being able to get up in the morning. Taking a breath. Opening your eyes. Having a job. Loving and being loved by people. These and many others are gifts to be celebrated.

I hope you sit down to a table of fellowship during Thanksgiving. Whether you have a more traditional meal or something less grandiose, I pray you will be thankful for the people in your lives.

Most Thanksgiving meals come with rules. One six year-old boy was asked if there were rules he had to follow at such special occasions. He answered, “Yep, don’t throw rolls at your sister.” Makes perfect sense. If you start throwing rolls, what’s next? He had an answer for that, too. “If you can’t throw rolls, throw peas – they’re harder to see and there’s a lot more of ‘em.”