“How is your day going?” asks a friend.
How do you answer that question? Many people let circumstances beyond their control determine their answer to that question. If they are sick, or the weather is bad, or somebody has treated them poorly, then they decide it’s a bad day. But if their health is improving, or the weather is nice, or somebody was kind to them, then they decide it’s a good day. The problem with that approach to life, is that it allows other people to decide for us what kind of day we are having!
God’s Word teaches us a better way. “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it,” says Psalm 118:24. “Give thanks in everything,” we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. Really? Everything? How can I give thanks for cancer or a loved one who is dying? Notice scripture does not say to give thanks for everything, but to give thanks in everything. We can give thanks to God despite our troubles, because God often works through our troubles for good, and because, as bad as things may seem, we still have many blessings around us. Many of the psalms list reasons to give thanks. Read Psalm 103, 136, and 138, and you will see what I mean.
A pastor in Illinois was grieving the death of his father. His father always had a thankful attitude. But his son didn’t feel that way. He missed his Dad terribly. His mother told her son that during the war in Korea, his father was depressed one day, and went up on a mountain. On the mountain, God spoke to his heart in prayer. He decided right there, in the midst of war, to make it his daily habit to count his blessings. It changed his life. As the mother told her son this story, they came across an old photograph of the pastor’s father in his Army t-shirt in Korea. He had a happy smile. His mother pointed to something in the background. It was a mountain. “That,” she said, “was where your father counted his blessings.”
Someone wisely said,
Count your blessings instead of your crosses;
Count your gains instead of your losses.
Count your joys instead of your woes;
Count your friends instead of your foes.
Count your smiles instead of your tears;
Count your courage instead of your fears.
Count your full years instead of your lean;
Count your kind deeds instead of your mean.
Count your health instead of your wealth;
Count on God instead of yourself.
As Christians, we are able to do that, because we have the greatest blessing of all, the forgiveness of our sins through faith in Jesus Christ. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That’s blessing number one! Start there, and keep counting. On a mountain in Korea, a soldier decided to count his blessings. When and where will you do and I do the same?
(Below is a guest blog by Suzie Kolber on the subject of how to express sympathy during the holidays, which can be a difficult time for those who have recently lost a loved one. Suzie is a writer at ObituariesHelp.org. The site is a complete guide for someone seeking help for writing words of condolences, sympathy messages, condolence letters and funeral planning resources.)
The holidays can be such a fun, exciting time for most people. However, for those who have recently lost a family member or close friend, it can be a difficult, painful time. Everywhere they look, something reminds them of prior holidays spent with that person.
Depression is a common problem during this season for people who have lost their loved ones. If the anniversary of the death or the person’s birthday falls during this time, it can make the brightest days seem dark.
Many bereaved people tend to avoid others during this time. They don’t socialize or go out because they see the festivities as another painful reminder of their loss. On the other hand, friends and family members may tend to avoid the bereaved person because they don’t know what to say. It feels awkward to be around them and try to hide their natural excitement for the season.
While it is natural to want to avoid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, the isolation only contributes more to the feelings of depression and loneliness. Family members and friends need to be aware of this and continue interacting with their grieving loved one.
What To Say
It’s normal to want to avoid someone when you don’t know what to say to them. However, your support and sympathy is needed, especially when someone suffers such a loss around the holiday season. The following tips will help you offer the comfort that is needed.
- Offer assistance for the person who still has to organize the holiday celebration even though they are grieving. For instance, someone may have lost a spouse but has children who want to celebrate. They may need help with cleaning, cooking or even shopping.
- Invite someone to your home for the holidays, especially if you are having a low-key celebration. This allows them to get out without being overwhelmed by the activities.
- Invite the loved one to volunteer with you. Doing something like creating gift baskets for soldiers can help a person feel useful and remind them that they are not alone. Others may be missing loved ones for different reasons.
- Be willing to talk about the deceased. Your job may be as simple as listening as the person relives fond memories. While you may think it would bring sadness to talk about the person who is gone, it can actually be helpful. The person is thinking about them anyway; talking provides healing.
If the person lives far away and you can’t visit during the holiday season, it is appropriate to send a flower or gift basket. You don’t need to wish them “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.” Instead, include a card that says that you are thinking of them. Just this reminder and a few lovely flowers can brighten their day.
Anytime is a bad time to lose a loved one. Suffering the loss during the holidays makes the pain even more severe for many. Reach out to those people and they will appreciate the comfort that you provide.
Continuing my series of photo blogs on houses of worship, I share a photo that is one of my most recent, but one of my favorites. Providence Baptist Church is an historic congregation that dates back to 1818, yet this church in rural Forrest County, north of the city of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, has a worship center that blends the classic and contemporary. On the classic side, there is the red brick and columns in front, with a white steeple. But the high pitch of the roof in front that juts forward, and the columns rising to meet it, give just the right contemporary touch. Add to that the curb appeal of a country church standing proudly on a hill, and this church building is an amazing eye-catcher.
Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers
I continue my series of photo blogs of houses of worship that I like with the creative design of Black Rock African American Episcopal Church near Washington, Georgia. This worship center caught my eye because of the amazing way that it brings together the entrance, steeple and pitch of the roof. I don’t know if there is any symbolic meaning to the three-part steeple on the front (perhaps for the Trinity?), but it certainly has an unforgettable look that I love.
Continuing my series of photo blogs of houses of worship I like, we see a great example of a wonderful Lutheran tradition. Notice the red door at on the sanctuary of Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield, Georgia. Local Lutherans tell me that many Lutherans paint their church doors red because one must go through the blood of Jesus to enter the church. That’s great theology, and the classic all-American white wooden structure to this congregation is outstanding for its simple beauty.
Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers
I continue my series of photo blogs of houses of worship that I like with a Roman Catholic church. The Church of the Holy Family is a traditional Catholic sanctuary located in downtown Columbus, Georgia. It caught my eye as a majestic example of modern church architecture in the Gothic style, so popular in Europe and among Catholic churches.
Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers
I continue my series of photo blogs of houses of worship that I like, with a very unique worship center. The sanctuary of St. Mary Magdalene Christian Orthodox Church looks like it might be in Russia, but it’s actually located in a rural area just outside of the small city of Rincon, Georgia. This building shows that a congregation does not have to be large to build an absolutely gorgeous building. Notice the dome and cross, a popular design among Eastern Orthodox churches, and the icon above the front door, as well as the musical pipes on the front lawn.
This is the second installment in my photo blogs of houses of worship whose architecture I like. Tabernacle United Methodist Church is located in the Sandbridge area of Virginia Beach, Virginia.
This sanctuary is a white wood design that was popular among many Protestants in the 19th century, particularly Methodists. (This building was built in 1830). I particularly like how the building has an entrance that juts forward and then continues upward into a steeple. This congregation has also kept their building spotlessly clean and carefully landscaped. This is one of most eye-catching country churches that I have ever photographed.
Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers
I love taking photos of houses of worship. Over the next few days, I will post some of my favorites, and share what I like about them.
I’ll begin with Richburg Baptist Church, Hattiesburg, Mississippi. This is a classic red brick worship center, especially popular among Baptists. Like many in this style, it has red bricks, with a white column porch in front. Yet this congregation added some other nice touches to that basic design. Notice the stained glass, the cross cut-out in the steeple, and the arched bell tower in front of the worship center, with a cross on top. Simple, yet beautiful.
I. First reason: The First Cause. (Psalm 90:2)
Psalm 90:2 says, “Before the mountains were born, before You gave birth to the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity, You are God.” So God has always existed, but the universe has not always existed. The universe had a beginning, when God created it out of nothing.
But why should we believe this? We have clear evidence that the universe has not always existed. Instead, it began to exist. If it began to exist, what started it? What was the first cause? The answer is God!
Someone might ask, “How do we know the universe has not always existed? How do we know that it started sometime in the past?” We know this from logic, and science also confirms it.
Think about it. It is logically impossible for the past to go into infinity. It is impossible to count down from infinity to one. There is always an infinite distance to travel, so we never arrive. In the same way, if the past went on into infinity, we could never arrive at the present. But here we are! So there must have been a beginning. (Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, p. 219-223)
Science has also given us reason to believe in a first cause. In 1929, astronomer Edward Hubble discovered that a dozen galaxies near earth were moving away from us at high speeds. Scientists today agree that the universe is expanding, because it had a beginning, which they often call the “Big Bang.” Scientists don’t know what caused the big bang, they just know it happened. But as Christians, we know that caused the Big Bang. God spoke, and bang! It happened.
The Big Bang Theory is not the only scientific reason to believe in a first cause. There is also the second law of thermodynamics. This scientific law states that the energy in the universe is slowly but surely being used up. Like a fire that eventually burns out, all the energy in the universe is eventually going to disappear. Now here’s where it gets interesting. If the universe existed for eternity in the past, then it would have already used up all the energy by now. But here we are, with energy still available to use. So the universe is not eternal; it had a beginning in the past. What other way is there to explain this beginning, except that an all-powerful, supernatural person was the first cause? (Groothuis, p. 224-226)
The only answer atheists can have to this, is to argue that the universe was caused by nothing but a pure accidental explosion. Not only does it take more faith to believe the beautiful complexity of the universe had no cause, but such belief would also mean that everything in life is meaningless, and has no cause or reason. So would you prefer to believe that an all-powerful Creator spoke the word and brought the universe into being with a purpose, or would you prefer to believe that everything began from no cause, and life has no meaning? The choice is yours, but thank God we have a better choice than to live a meaningless life that began by nothing and has no purpose. Instead, it makes far more sense to believe that there was a First Cause, a supernatural Being, who brought the universe into existence, and that our lives do have purpose and meaning.
II. Second reason: Self-Consciousness. (Genesis 2:9; Romans 7:22)
Those who believe in Darwinian evolution, think that the human being is a mere biological collection of atoms that assembled by chance over a long period of time.
The Bible, on the other hand, says that God formed mankind from the earth, and we became a “living being.” (Genesis 2:9). Romans 7:22 talks about understanding something “in my inner self.” Whether or not you believe the Bible, we all know that we have an inner self, a self-consciousness. As the philosopher Rene Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” I have an awareness of my own self; I have something within myself that makes me to be me.
But where in the human body is my consciousness located? Where is my self-awareness? No scientist has located it. Nobody can tell you that in this part of the brain, or any other place on the human body, is the location of self-consciousness. Nobody can tell you where it is, yet we know we have it.
And if I am only a biological collection of chemicals, then how do we explain the human appreciation for beauty, music, poetry and art, and how do you explain love?
If you are an atheist, there is no explanation for it. But if you believe in God, the answer is simple: God put it there.
III. Third reason: Religious Experience (John 9:25)
The man born blind who was healed by Jesus could testify to a changed life, and nobody could dispute his experience. In John 9:25 we read, “He [the blind man] replied, ‘Whether he [Jesus] is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!'”
In Isaiah 6:1-5, Isaiah had a face-to-face encounter with the Lord in the temple; in Acts 9:1-9, Saul met the Lord on the road to Damascus and had a life-changing conversion experience.
This series of blog posts was originally presented as a series of sermons at the church I was serving in near Savannah, Georgia. When I presented the message, a student at Armstrong Atlantic State University, came forward at the end of the early worship service to publicly profess her faith, and at the second morning service, she gave her testimony to the congregation. She told how she did not believe in the existence of God, but she began to seek God. She heard all of the same arguments for the existence of God that we have talked about last week and this week, but she was still undecided about whether she believed. Then she decided to go with the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at Armstrong Atlantic State University on a mission trip to Haiti. That week, she prayed, and said, “God, if you are there, will you reveal Yourself to me.” Later in the week, she was walking through a voodoo area of Haiti, where all of the statues had been destroyed by the earthquake, and she looked up and saw a statue of Jesus on the cross. Her friend had been encouraging her to have faith in God, and right then she looked up and saw the statue. She decided that if she turned away then, she would never believe. That experience finally brought her to belief in God and faith in Jesus Christ.
The religious experience of millions of people is a powerful evidence for God. People can deny the existence of God, but they cannot deny the fact that millions of people of every time, language and culture have believed in God and claimed to have an experience with God. When the white men first came to the New World, they found Native Americans who had never had contact with Western society, yet they believed in a Great Spirit.
Atheists sometimes claim that people who believe in God are ignorant, or even neurotic. But they have a more difficult time making this claim when confronted with the fact that so many great leaders like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln believed in God, great musicians like Ludwig von Beethoven and Johann Sebastian Bach believed in God, great artists like Leonardo da Vinci believed in God and great scientists like Werner Van Braun believed in God. My late uncle, Dr. R.A. Clinton, Jr., was a rocket scientist who worked alongside Van Braun in building a satellite at the space center in Huntsville, Alabama. My uncle later became the leading American expert on Russian missile technology. Yet brilliant as he was, Uncle R.A. was also a believer, who taught Sunday School at First Baptist Church of Huntsville for over 25 years.
Atheists often claim that much harm and cruelty has been done in the name of God. However, atheists must also face the fact that millions of people were massacred by atheist dictators like Joseph Stalin and Mao-tse Tung. Atheists are correct that people with distorted views of God have done great harm, whether they were misguided people who claimed to follow Christ, as in the Crusades, or the brutal terrorists of ISIS. This points to the fact that it is not enough to believe in the existence of God; one needs to know the personal God who has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ, and truly obey Him. True followers of Christ have fed millions of hungry and in the name of God millions of sick have been nursed to health. After Hurricane Katrina, there were no atheist relief organizations to help, but thousands of churches and Christian organizations came to help. The life-changing experience of the God of the Bible, Jesus Christ, is the greatest reason I know to believe in God. How about you? Do you believe?