Grateful Ones Give

A week ago tonight, I returned from a great trip overseas with a couple brothers from our church and some other brothers in the area. I had the wonderful opportunity to travel with friends to visit old friends in Turkey. Praise the Lord!

One of the things all seven of us men wanted to do while we were in Turkey, was get gifts for our wives. Why? Well, not only because we love our wives but because we are grateful for their sacrifice in letting us go.

Five of us have small children at home, so our wives graciously agreeing for us to leave the country for two weeks is no small thing. And, when you realize that and are filled with gratitude, you want to give. While we did not have a lot of extra time while in the country, it seems like every little bit of extra time we did have was spent trying to figure out how we could bless our wives.

Although I do not believe I did a very good job in the gifts department, I am definitely reminded of the truth that grateful people are giving people.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be finishing my short Thanks & Giving sermon series, preaching from Exodus 35-36 on how “Gratitude Leads to Giving.”

Do you desire to give of your treasures, your time, and your talents for the glory of God? Do you long for the gospel to advance and, as a result, long to be a part of that advancement (via your treasures, your time, and your talents)? If you cannot answer those questions with an enthusiastic yes, I believe something critical is missing in your life. Only a changed heart and life – a new heart and a new life – will generate what is necessary to experience this kind of passion for God’s glory and God’s gospel.

Turn to God and to His Word today. Surrender your all to Him. Let us be grateful people who, as a result, are giving people.

If you recognize your need for growing gratitude to God but have not yet received the new life that is required for such ongoing gratitude, check out the Story.

Tough but good summer so far

breakfast timeWith an extended, exhausting trip back to the U.S. a couple weeks ago, followed by my Grandpa David’s memorial service this past Saturday, this summer is off to a difficult start for our family. We slept in five different places (including the Chicago airport) our first 12 nights back in the U.S., but the good news is that we seemed to get over jet lag rather quickly. My grandpa’s memorial service was one of the toughest things of which I have ever been a part. Still, it was and has been an incredible blessing being with family, leaning on each other for comfort and looking to the the King of kings and Lord of lords for grace and strength. Preaching the gospel at the memorial service was an honor and a privilege, and I continue to pray that God will use His Word to soften hearts to the Truth.

So, even though the summer is off to a bit of a tough start, we are doing well. God has been so good and faithful, as always, and we certainly recognize that our family is blessed.

To see a bunch of pictures from the past month, please click HERE.

Religion and the most meaningful gift

God's Grace
DrakeCity tends to be more of a family Website than a blog where I share my thoughts, opinions and convictions. Tonight, though, I’m shifting the pattern and sharing, of all things, an essay I was asked to write this weekend. A local university student working on a project with English speakers asked me to answer the two questions below, and I decided to share my answers with the world…or the few people who follow DrakeCity.

1. During a Turkish religious holiday, what procedures are done? What did you feel during this time?

The religious holiday that stands out most to me in Turkey is the Kurban Bayram? (Sacrifice Holiday). During this holiday, Muslim people sacrifice an animal, such as a sheep, goat or cow, and they keep a portion of the meat for themselves, give a portion to their friends and neighbors, and then give a portion to the poor. Remembering when God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice in place of his son, the sacrifice holiday is a very special holiday for Muslim people.

Having lived in Turkey more than five years now, I’ve experienced five of these holidays and learned many things about religion and culture as a result of them. What I first understood to be a “sacrifice” for right-standing before God and forgiveness of sins, I later learned from most of my Muslim friends is really more of an offering to others. In other words, the word “sacrifice” means something different in this context than what I first thought. Whereas the ram God provided Abraham was a replacement sacrifice to take the place of Abraham’s son on the mountain, the “sacrifices” done during the Sacrifice Holiday for Muslims is a way for people to show their devotion to God and to help others.

In fact, I was surprised to learn that many of my friends don’t even really consider the religious implications behind the holiday. Rather, they do it more as a cultural tradition. Many of my friends even said that although they used to do it, they don’t purchase a sacrifice anymore because they just don’t have the time, the money and/or the desire to participate.

Yes, the first sacrifice holiday I experienced while living in Adana, Turkey, was definitely a bit of a culture shock for me. For a few weeks leading up to the holiday, we saw sheep being gathered in a parking lot across the street from our apartment building. My sons enjoyed watching the sheep out the window and talking about them. On the first day of the holiday, though, the sheep were led out to the street where a butcher slit their throats and prepared the bodies for edible meat and delicacies. This was definitely a new cultural experience for us WesternersJ!

I also had the opportunity to go along with my neighbors to another field a few blocks away, where the sheep they had purchased was sacrificed and butchered. Walking through the bloody field with sheep and goat legs scattered everywhere and doing my best to avoid stepping in piles of sheep dung and guts, I will admit I struggled to understand the reality of all of this.

Honestly, though, my biggest struggle was that the people around me didn’t accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who freely gave Himself to die on the cross for our sins, so that if we call on and trust in His name, we could be saved. This continues to be what I feel every year during the Sacrifice Holiday and every day when I talk about my faith with Muslim people. Do I look down on them for what they believe or do? Absolutely not! I do hope and pray, though, that they will one day believe in the most amazing and gracious sacrifice ever given. I am no better than them or anyone else. We are all sinners in need of God’s sacrificial love.

2. What is a meaningful gift you have given or received?

The most meaningful gift that comes to mind is what I believe to be the most meaningful gift ever given in all of history – the gift of salvation. Of course, only God can give this gift, and it will not be fully realized and understood until Jesus Christ returns to earth to judge the living and the dead.

I am beyond grateful to share, though, that I have received this gift. During my sophomore year of college, when I was 20 years old, I came to the realization that I had been living my life only for myself. Although I claimed to love God, I really only cared about girls and sports and becoming successful in life. Frankly, I was on the path to hell and did not to that point realize it.

Thankfully, though, God opened my eyes and my heart to understand His Truth. I began studying the Bible like never before, began asking many questions to my friends and others, and was continually praying for God to reveal the Truth to me. Well, He did just that when through reading His Word and talking to a Christian pastor, I realized that I was a sinner in need of a savior. There was no hope for me, even though I had lived a “good life.” No, I didn’t do drugs; I didn’t drink alcohol; I didn’t smoke; I didn’t sleep around; I didn’t steal; I didn’t kill anyone; I went to church; I tried to be nice to others; I believed in God; etc.

BUT, none of that erased the fact that I was still a sinner. I was (and still am) a sinner, and God is perfect and holy. There is no way for a wretched sinner like myself to spend eternity with a holy God in heaven. Well, there is no human way possible. God, though, made a way for us. He sent his One and only Son to live a perfect life, die on the cross for our sins and rise from the dead, so that anyone who believes in Him as Savior and Lord will not spend eternity in hell but will instead spend eternity in heaven.

When I came to that realization in November 4, 1998, it was the best day of my life. I had been given the greatest gift any person could ever possibly receive – the removal of all my sin debt and eternal life with Christ Jesus my Lord. Wow!

Sometimes when we receive gifts, we say things like, “Thanks! This is perfect!” In reality, though, nothing is perfect. Nothing, of course, except for the love of God given through His Son Jesus Christ. This perfect gift of endless love is said so well in Paul’s letter to the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago: “God demonstrates His own love for us in this – while we were still sinner, Christ died for us.”

Do we deserve this perfect gift of love and sacrifice? No, we deserve wrath and damnation. Can we earn this amazing gift? No, it’s a gift that cannot be earned. The only thing we have earned is eternal death and separation from our holy God. Can we buy this precious gift? No, a gift this amazing cannot be purchased with money. It was already purchased with the blood of Jesus Christ. It was sealed with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And, it will one day be fully realized by those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. Praise God for this perfect gift!