How can I learn to be more thankful?

America sets aside one day each year
to give thanks. Historically this day has been understood as a day to give thanks to God. Some may wonder why. What is there to be thankful about? In a time of economic, civil and international troubles, what reason do Americans have to be thankful? Many people struggle with thankfulness. Some are not thankful because they think good things are due them. Some are not thankful because their life is filled with sorrows which overshadow the blessings of life. Whatever the national and personal challenges to gratefulness, can a person learn to be more thankful?

The first step in learning thankfulness is to recognize your dependence on others. Every day every person is dependent on others. You are dependent on city workers to keep a smooth flow of water to your house and an equally smooth flow of waste water away from your home. You are dependent on farmers who raise meat and produce, on distributors who ship your food, on drivers who transport it and on grocers who sell it. Even someone who lives off the grid and grows all their own food is dependent on others for the lumber in their house or the electronics in their solar panels. Few in America today cut their own trees, mill their own lumber, plant their own gardens, raise their own livestock, create their own technology, build their own houses and dig their own wells. Every person is daily dependent on the work of others. Those who have the humility to recognize their dependence on others will be thankful for the good things they possess.

Every person is fully dependent on God for life. God gives life and breath to all people. (Acts 17:25) Life is dependence. Life is dependence on God for the air we breathe, the lungs to breathe it, the muscles that control the lungs, the blood that transports the oxygen and the brilliantly designed cells fueled by oxygen our lungs inhale.

Most Americans are surrounded by good things in excess of their necessities. These good things are from God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father.” (James 1:17) The refrigerator overflowing with food, the closet filled with clothes, the climate controlled house, the car, the job, the family and the friends are all gifts from God. Those who have the humility to recognize their complete dependence on God for life and goodness will be thankful for the good things He gives them.

Psalm 107 repeatedly says, “Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men!” A careful look at the world and the abundance that fills it will show that God is a good God who gives good things to all men regardless of what they deserve. He gives sun and rain to the righteous and unrighteous alike. (Matthew 5:45)

Humbly look for the good things in life and you will see you have many reasons to give God thanks. You are surrounded by opportunities to give thanks. We do not need to learn how to be more grateful, but how to better see the blessings we receive every day.

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Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?

Jesus died on the cross. This fact is as historically certain as any fact of history. Jesus was condemned by a hateful crowd of religious leaders who despised Him and His teachings. Instead of believing His claims to be their Messiah they demanded His death. Jesus was sentenced to death by an indifferent politician who found it convenient to bow to the wishes of a mob instead of doing what he knew to be just.

The political and personal reasons for Jesus’ crucifixion explain the motives of the individuals involved, but they do not explain it’s necessity. The “why” of Jesus’ death on the cross can only be explained theologically. Jesus died because of the sinfulness of men. The necessity of Jesus’ death is found at the intersection of God’s holiness and love.

God is holy. Consequently, He cannot have a friendly relationship with anything polluted by sin. Every person is a sinner. Man’s sin separates him from God. Sin is not an offense to God and rebellion against Him. God is holy. Consequently, He cannot allow sin to go unpunished. The punishment of sin is death. The only way for a sinful human to have a relationship with God is for the punishment of his sin to be paid. God cannot simply overlook sin. To do so would be unjust. The punishment of sin must be paid, but ne perosn is able to pay the penalty and restore himself to God.

The love of God responded to the helpless sinfulness of man by providing a payment for sin that is sufficient to satisfy the holy demands of God’s justice and reconcile the sinner to Him. “For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlsating life.” (John 3:16) “God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Because God is love, God the Son willingly died to pay the penalty of our sin and restore us to friendship with God.

God’s system of justice permits a substitute to be punished in place of the offender provided the substitute meets certain standards of perfection. This is not the case in American justice, but it is true of Divine justice. When Adam and Eve sinned God provided a substitute to cover their sin. He then promised a greater substitute who would conquer sin. Jesus is the perfect sacrifice promised as the substitute for sinful men. His death satisfies God’s justice and makes it possible for sinners to be reconciled to God. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) “You, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death.” (Colossians 1:21-22)

Jesus had to die on the cross if sinful men were to be saved from the death they deserved. Through His death Jesus met the demands of justice. His death on the cross made it possible for sinners to be forgiven. If Jesus had not died, no one could be saved. Because He died, all will be saved who receive Him by faith. He promises forgiveness freely to any who will rely entirely on Him to take away their sin and restore them to God. Have you turned to Jesus for salvation? Will you?

Do I have to be baptized?

Baptism is a subject of much controversy in Christianity. Christians have left churches over the issue. Sprinkling, pouring and immersing are forms of baptism practiced by churches. Despite the many different beliefs about baptism, most churches teach that baptism is a necessity for everyone in their church. Does the Bible command every one to be baptized?

The Bible does not contain the words, “Thou shalt be baptized.” Despite the absence of this straightforward statement, the Bible clearly teaches that every Christian must be baptized. All Christians need to be baptized because it is the new believer’s public profession of faith. Jesus instructed the disciples to go into all the world making disciples and baptizing them. (Matthew 28:19) The instruction to baptize is a clear command. The necessary inference from the command to baptize is that all believers must submit to being baptized.

The disciples understood the Great Commission to be a command for all believers to be baptized The book of Acts records repeated testimonies of new converts being baptized. On the day of Pentecost 3,000 people were saved and baptized. The household of Cornelius was baptized when they believed the gospel. The Ethiopian eunuch was baptized when he believed Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of sinners. Saul of Tarsus was baptized after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. The households of Lydia and the Philippian jailer were baptized when they believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. Baptism of every believer is the pattern established in the book of Acts.

Though baptism is commanded for all Christians, baptism is not necessary for salvation. No one is saved by baptism, and no one loses their salvation if they refuse baptism. Though baptism is not necessary for salvation, it is necessary for the Christian. The person who refuses to be baptized is living in disobedience to God. The refusal to take the first step of obedience will hinder the Christian’s walk with God and growth in Christ.

What about people who have strong reasons for not getting baptized. What about those who are scared of getting in water? What about those who are too old to get into a baptistery, river or swimming pool? What about the physically handicapped? Baptism is a command of Scripture. Christians have no more justification to refuse to be baptized than they do to refuse to pray. However, sometimes legitimate reasons exist why a person cannot be baptized. Those saved on their death bed, much like the thief on the cross, may have not have time and opportunity to be baptized. Health problems or handicaps may render some Christians incapable of being baptized. However, every effort should be taken to make it possible for a person to be baptized.

Those who are afraid of water or afraid of standing in front a crowd may have a harder time in obeying the command to be baptized, but their personal difficulties do not exempt them from baptism. A shy person is exempted from the requirement to share the gospel, and a hydrophobe is not exempted from the necessity of baptism. In such a situation a friend may need to come into the water with them or steps be taken to get the person in and out of the water as quickly as possible. Though being baptized may be a great personal struggle for some, fears should not prevent a person from obeying the command to be baptized.

Every one who has trusted Jesus as Savior should be baptized. It is commanded by Jesus and is the first step of a life of obedience to God.

How Can I Get My Prayers Answered?

Jesus makes great promises about prayer. He said, “Whatever you ask in my name, that will I do.” (John 14:13) “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7) “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name He will give you.” (John 16:23) “Ask and it will be given to you.” (Matthew 7:7) God’s promises to answer prayer are repeated in First John. “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” (1 John 5:14) Since the Bible makes such wonderful promises about prayer it should be easy to have our prayers answered. For most people, this is not the case. Why? Either God does not keep His promises or the people praying are missing something important.

God is undoubtedly a promise keeping God. The testimony of Scripture and the experience of countless Christians shows that God always does what He says He will do. Since the problem is not in God, it must be in people. The first step in getting prayers answered is a simple one. You have to pray. “You do not have because you do not ask.” (James 4:2) Wanting something is not the same as praying for it. Imagining you have something or thinking about how nice it would be to have something is not the same as praying. Prayer is a conversation with God in which the person makes specific requests to God. If you have never asked God, He cannot be blamed for not giving what you never asked for.

The promises of answered prayer all have specific conditions attached to them. Answered prayer is dependent on a right relationship with God in Christ. You must be walking closely with Jesus so that He is a vital part of every day. God does not promise to answer your prayer if you are holding on to sin. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” (Psalm 66:18) You must be asking for that which is in agreement with His will. God will never answer prayers for sinful things. You must be asking for the right reason. Selfish prayers will not be answered. “You ask and do not receive because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your own pleasures.” (James 4:3) An honest evaluation of prayer would reveal that most of our requests are for things we want simply for our own self-gratification. God never promises to answer self-serving prayers.

God answers prayers through Jesus. Praying in Jesus’ name is coming to God through Jesus and in dependence on Jesus. This means God only promises to answer the prayers of His children. You must be saved to lay claim to the promises of prayer. You must also pray in dependence on Jesus. You must rely on God the Son to bring you and your requests to the Father. The person who attempts to come to God based on their own good works or their own devotion will not be pleasing to God. The person who tries to bargain with God will not have their prayers answered. Prayer that is in dependence on the work of Jesus will receive answer from God. We must also pray in accord with the character of Jesus. We must pray for things that please Him. We must pray in submission to His authority over every aspect of life.

Prayer was never intended as a means for people to get anything they want. God is not a genii who grants wishes. He is not Santa Clause who exists only to give presents to good people. Prayer is not magic. Saying the right words in the right order with the right feeling will not assure you of answered prayers. God created people to have a relationship with Him. The most important step in having your prayers answered is to have a close relationship with God. When prayer is relational it will be focused on the conversation with God instead of the wish list. When prayer is relational, God will answer. Walking closely with God in obedience to Him will lead you to pray for that which is right and good. When you pray in a right relationship with God He promises to give you what you desire. “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)