From Thanks to Amen

The other day, my wife shared with me a very interesting story.  My wife had a friend and her son over.  At some point during their time, my youngest son sits on the stairs and says, “Pray”.  He folds his hands, bows his head and says, “Thanks.  Amen”.  

Although we were able to have a giggle about this, there were some truths out of his short prayer.  Many times, we enter into prayer with “Lord, please supply our needs” or “Lord, please heal those we love.”  Many times in the Psalms, David pours his heart out to God and asks God to supply a need or desire.  Job cries out to God asking Him “Why is this happening to me?”  Paul even asks God to “remove this thorn”.  However, we rarely hear ourselves cry out to God in thanks.  

Many might say they thank God every day, but do we really thank God and what do we thank God for?  When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians he writes:

“In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thess. 5:18

Do we really give thanks in everything.  Notice Paul never said, “For everything”.  Rather he said, “In everything.”  This proclamation for “in everything…” is one that is not commonly spoken of today.  We thank God for the positive things in life, our family, our jobs, our children.  However, do we also give thanks when we are sick, in the hospital or the loss of someone close to us?  Do we give thanks for those things that hurt us?  Do we give thanks for our tribulations and pain?  Even I would have to admit that most times, I do not thank God for the bad times.

Paul makes this distinction because when we thank God for everything, we tend to thank Him for individual items.  Our focus is not Him but rather the circumstance we are experiencing or the thing we desire.  When we change that distinction to “in everything”, we re-focus our thoughts toward God.  No longer is the circumstance or item or person the focus, but rather God is in focus.  

When we focus ourselves on the circumstance, our thankfilled attitude changes based on our feelings toward the circumstance.  When we focus ourselves on God, our thankfilled spirit will pour out and affect others in a positive way.  Focusing on God enables us to have that relationship with Him that He so desires for us.  Focusing on God allows us to realize that our will is meaningless without His guideance.  Focusing on God allows us to do His work, regardless of outcome.

However, the other portion of my son’s short prayer was even more interesting.  The word Amen means, “Truth or certainty”.  It is not just a word we say, but when we say this, we let God and others know that whatever they said, we are in full agreement of because it is truth and certain.  This means that if we say Amen when someone says, “Jesus is coming back”, we are pubilcly admitting we are in full agreement with this.  On the flip side, when we hear someone say, “Just name it and claim it” and say amen, we let everyone know that we are in full agreement with that, even if it is a misguided concept based on us rather than God.  

There is nothing mystical about the words “thanks” and “amen” but both are very important in our walk with God.  If we approach God without thanking Him in everything, we do our relationship with him a disservice.  If we say Amen without realizing why, we stunt our relationship with Him.  

God does not desire sacrifice but us.  God does not desire committment to the cause, but rather dedication and devotion to Him.  God does not desire robots who will obey without question or understanding, but rather desires for us to use the brains He provided to us.  In a nut shell, God desires US.  He desires a relationship with us.  He desires for us to call on Him and focus on Him and what He desires.

In Revelation, Jesus said that some will say, “Lord, Lord, I did this or that in your name” and He will say, “Depart from me you evildoer, I never knew you.”  It will be a very frightening moment for those who hear that.  They will have lived their lives, doing things for God rather than being with God.  We can do a whole lot and never have that relationship with God.  However, we cannot be in a relationship with God and not do something for Him.  It is the relationship first, then the act.  

If I did things for my wife, but never spent time with her, talking with her, listening to her, holding her hand, she would never know my love for her.  Those actions would be self fullfilling not others fulfilling.  God has made us to have a relationship with Him.  He has created us for relationships.  He has given us His Son to provide the only way into that relationship.  

My son may not have really understood what he said by saying, “Thanks. Amen: but I was taught a very valuable lesson.   My relationship with God needs to have thankfulness in all situations and my amens need to be carefully understood before I say it.  I am glad that God still teaches through the mouths of babes.

God bless and encourage someone today.


People Can Change

This past Sunday, I preached on the book of Philemon.  The book of Philemon is a single chapter book with only 25 verses.  However, the information contained in those verses is life changing.

The book begins by Paul encouraging Philemon, letting him know that he has heard all of the positive work Philemon is doing in Colosse.  Philemon was one of the leaders of Colosse.  In fact, it is safe to say that Philemon was well to do.  He had slaves that worked for him.  One of those slaves is named Onesimus.

According to the text, Onesimus was a slave who may have stolen from Philemon.  During that time, slaves who were thieves were not considered worthy of life.  We know this because Jesus was crucified between two thieves.  In this letter to Philemon, Paul says that whatever Onesimus stole, place on his account to be repaid. 

As I read this and prepared my sermon on this text, some things came to light that are worthy of sharing.  First, the overall idea of this text is “Do you love God more than anything or anyone?”  Although Paul doesn’t explicitly ask this question to Philemon, Paul does imply this by way of encouragement, reminding Philemon that he was transformed by salvation through Jesus Christ.  Then Paul says to accept Onesimus back not as a slave but as a brother.

Think about that for a moment.  Here we have a boss, who’s employee stole from him and the penalty for that, according to the law is death.  However, Paul encourages Philemon to forget what the law says and show grace and mercy to Onesimus.  If Philemon truly loves God more than anything or anyone, then Philemon would have to accept the fact that Onesimus was a new man in Christ.  Therefore, the law of man no longer was in play here but the law of grace and mercy was.  

Second, Onesimus was considered useless before but useful to Paul now.  In the Greek, Onesimus means profitable.  What Paul did here was to play on Onesimus’ name and let Philemon know that this man, whose name means profitable was originally useless to Philemon, but now that Onesimus is a brother in Christ he has become useful.  Paul explain this by using words like “formerly” and “once was” and “has become”.  All of these are words of transformation.  Paul expalins to Philemon, that just like him, Onesimus has been changed because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Here is what I thought about when I read this.  Philemon is in Colosse when Paul preaches there.  Philemon converts to Christianity and becomes a leader in Colosse.  Philemon has a thieving slave who runs away, aware that his sin’s penalty means death.  Then this same slave runs into Paul, IN PRISON, and then becomes a convert as well.  Paul works with this slave and then returns him to Philemon.  The same man who brought the Gospel to Colosse is the same man who helped in saving Onesimus.  Which brings me to my third point.  Sometimes we need to be removed or those around us need to be removed for the sake of the Gospel.

It wasn’t a coindence that Onesimus ran away and ran into Paul.  In fact Paul let’s Philemon know that there is a very strong possibility that the reason why Onesimus ran away was because he needed to hear the Gospel from Paul.  There is another side to this as well.  Sometimes those who have wronged us need to be separated from us because we will get in the way.

If Onesimus stayed, Philemon would have probably had him killed because the law allowed it.  This would mean that Onesimus would have died and suffered in hell for all eternity because he had not heard the Gospel.  However, because of God’s providence, Onesimus was allowed to escape only to find Paul who led him to Christ.  Then after working with Onesimus, Paul sends him back to Philemon.

How many times do people in relationships run away?  How many times have we run away because we have wronged the one’s we love and care for?  As sinful human beings, we all have a tendency to run away from conflict.  However, what we need to do is the opposite.  We need not to run away, but listen for the voice of God and work out our problems with those we love.  

There will be times, where God will allow separation for a time, but only to point that person back to the cross.  Never is this separation supposed to be permanent.  At the same time, if we are separated from those we love, we may need ot consider that it is us who need to run to the cross and take time to learn who God is and what He has done for us.  

If we are the one’s who were hurt, have been separated from that relationship for a time, there will be a moment where we need to restore that relationship.  We need not look at their past but how God has transformed them into a new creation.

Paul had told Philemon to accept Onesimus back.  Paul told Philemon that Onesimus has been transformed by the same power of God that transformed him.  We need to take the same approach with others that have hurt us.  Was Philemon going to accept Onesimus based solely on Paul’s words?   Probably not.  But Paul encouraged Philemon to look at Onesimus with they eyes of transformation rather than his past.

When relationships fall apart and want to be restored, we have the right to be careful concerning the other party.  However, we need to stop for a moment and ask God to show us the transformation He made in that person’s life.  If God has truly transformed that person, the fruit of the Spirit will show.  However, we need to give them a chance.  No matter how long we have been hurt or how badly, we owe it, not to the other party, but to ourselves to allow God to show us how He can transform lives.

As we face hard times and harder relationships, let us consider that the other party or ourselves, needs to evaluate our own relationship with God and consider that God can and does change people for His glory.  People can change.  All we are asked to do is give them another chance like God has given to us.

God bless and encouage someone today.