Giving Thanks in 2020

Written by Gary D. Myers on Monday, November 16, 2020 (

The account of Paul and Silas in the Philippians jail (Acts 16:25-34) captured my attention as a child. Being in prison was about the worst situation I could imagine at the time. The fact that Paul and Silas praised God and sang hymns surprised my young mind and provided a powerful testimony of what it means to trust God. But my marvel at what happened did not stop with them singing praises – it continued as God used them to lead an entire family into the faith that night. The events that happened that night in Philippi still amaze me. How could they be thankful in such difficult circumstances? How could they trust God so fully? I want to emulate Paul and Silas. I want to praise God amid the struggle.

This year has been a challenge. Many of us know people who lost their lives to COVID-19. We all know others who have lost jobs and businesses due to the efforts to control the virus. And COVID-19 did not bring an end to all the other “normal” struggles of life. Many families are dealing with a cancer diagnosis or another illness this year. Some have received a late-night call informing them that a loved one has died in a tragic accident. All of us have grappled with isolation and restrictions in our communities. Our churches have struggled. Life is anything but normal in 2020. That brings me to Thanksgiving in 2020. Can we be thankful this year?

Two-thousand and twenty is hardly the first year Americans have faced a similar dilemma. Thanksgiving celebrations had to be difficult in 1919, the year of the Spanish Flu pandemic. My grandparents experienced years of challenge and difficult Thanksgivings as children and young adults during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression in western Oklahoma. They told me that their families were thankful to God despite bitter poverty and what seemed like a hopeless situation. They trusted God in those difficult days. My grandparents remained thankful people who trusted God throughout their lives. Can we be thankful this year?

Like many other families, my family won’t be traveling to visit our extended family this Thanksgiving. The three of us will have a small celebration together here in New Orleans. Will our celebration be marked with thankfulness and prayer? Will we look at our circumstances and despair, or will we follow the example of Paul and Silas in the Philippians jail? Will we follow the example of my grandparents and pour out praise to God in this difficult time? Will we trust God with the future? Can we be thankful?

In his final exhortations in the Letter of 1 Thessalonians, Paul calls the believers to rejoicing, prayer, and thankfulness. His words, inspired by the Holy Spirit, await us today. Ready to convict us, challenge us, and encourage us if only we will read them.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Paul mentions three things in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 that offer us a guide for our Thanksgiving celebrations in 2020.

1. Rejoice.

If you are looking for reasons to rejoice in 2020, start by counting your blessings. Make a list if necessary. Salvation – freely given to us by Jesus – should top that list. Rejoice about your family. Your friends. Your church. Rejoice that we have purpose and abundant life in Christ.

2. Pray.

Work through your prayer list and empathize with the struggles of your brothers and sisters in Christ. It is difficult to worry about your own situation as you think about the challenges your neighbors are facing.

3. Give thanks to God.

Even in this long, challenging, confusing year, we have much to be thankful for. Thank Him for life, for salvation, and for the purpose He brings to our lives through His gospel.

Can we be thankful this year? It will take focus and intentionality, but yes, we can be thankful even in 2020. Perhaps our thankfulness and praises to God will be a witness that bears much fruit – like Paul and Silas in the Philippians jail.

Gary D. Myers (MDiv ’03, MABA ’18) is director of communications and marketing at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College.

GEN12: Blessed to Be a Blessing

Written by Mike Pettengill.

Read:  Genesis 12:1-2

God has provided enormous blessings to today’s Christian church in the Western world. We enjoy amazing freedom, resources, and opportunity. Yet world poverty and Christian persecution endures. Why has God blessed our churches in such times? God’s call to Abraham gives us insight: “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2).

Our country, our churches, and our families have been blessed in order to be a blessing to the world. Are we using those resources to bless the world? Many of us have lost our biblical perspective. Our Western brand of Christianity is increasingly out of touch with our brothers and sisters across the globe.

Lost Perspective

If you make $49,802 per year (average income in the United States) you earn more money than 99 percent of the world’s population. If your family earns $23,050 per year (U.S. poverty level for family of four) you are in the top 19 percent of the world’s richest people. More than one-half of the world’s population lives below the internationally defined poverty line of less than $2 a day. We are the richest church in the history of the world.

The gifts we have been given were not intended to merely provide us comfort and security, but instead used to better serve those in need. Our Christian brothers and sisters are struggling. Every year more than 100,000 Christians are killed for what they believe. Today 200 million Christians in 60 countries are denied basic human rights because of their faith. Today 300 million people don’t have a Bible available in their own language. Can’t we afford to do more? As Tim Keller tells us, “Because Jesus served you in such a radical way, you have a joyful need to serve.”

Why We’re Blessed

Paul told the Christians in Corinth, “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:11). God does not need us to expand his kingdom, but he has blessed us with the extreme privilege of sharing his name with the world. Our goal, in everything we do, is to glorify God. We are to bless the world and expand the reach of the gospel. God did not give us good health and resources so we could spoil ourselves. Use all God has given you to expand his kingdom and share his Word.

Doctor, teacher, and janitor is not your only calling. Those are not only the ways you serve your fellow man but also the means God has given to provide his mercy and love to others. “One of the worst things we can ever do,” R.C. Sproul tells us, “is to waste the gifts that God has given to us.” Our time, our resources, and our heart should be diverted away from primarily seeking our own pleasure and comfort and toward expanding God’s kingdom and glory. Serving the poor is not about sympathy for their condition, it is also sharing the gifts we were given when God had mercy for our condition.

James taught the early church, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). Serving the needy around the world or on your block is the calling of every Christian. When God places a needy stranger in your path he is giving you the opportunity to show that person the grace and mercy of Jesus. Giving a coat or a sandwich to the destitute is like giving a piece of the new heart you have been given from Christ.

Bless the World

God has richly blessed our Western churches and families. Augustine told us we can enjoy God’s blessings, but we must share them in God’s name: “Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others.” We must use God’s resources for what they were intended: God’s glory in the world. God’s grace and mercy poured out on us should create Christians devoted to blessing the world in God’s name.

Giving our leftovers was not the goal when God called for us to give our lives. Make a sacrifice in your life today to better enable the expansion of the gospel into the world. When you give dignity, mercy, love, justice, charity, and respect to others you are letting them see Christ in your words and actions. We must not lose sight of why God has blessed us so richly. Paul reminds us: “who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:4).

The late Adrian Rogers said, “You cannot obey God without your obedience spilling out in a blessing to all those around you.” Let’s strive to bless the world with the blessings God has given us.

Living in Light of the Resurrection

Written by Kjell Axel Johanson.

Read:  Mark 16:1-8

As a Scandinavian I know what it means to pine for the new life of spring to appear every year. Our winters are long, cold and dark. It is the assurance of spring with its abundant life—snow melting, birds singing and thousands of flowers blooming in the life-giving warmth of the sun—that keeps us persevering through the winter months.

When spring and summer come, our countries change dramatically—it is as if we all moved to another country. We change from introverts to extroverts. Even during the most severe winters we are certain spring will come because it has always happened that way before. Since the earth’s axis is tilted toward the sun, nothing in the world can hinder spring from coming.

Similar to the arrival of spring, a new creation is on its way, and we have seen the beginning of it in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead!

The Apostle Paul puts all his eggs in one basket when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus. Our daily life with God, as well as our whole eternal future, is based on this all-important reality: Jesus, Son of God, died for our sins, and the Father raised Him from the dead. This event changed everything in history. And through the resurrection God showed how He will not just restore the world but that He has a plan and the power to make a totally new creation, the one that we are eagerly waiting for. This is how Paul teaches it:

Our Faith Is True

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says that the resurrection of Jesus proves that He is the Son of God and that His message is absolutely true. There is a monumental difference between Jesus and all religious teachers. Jesus does not just teach abstract truths, but He does what He teaches. His miracles are His divine and authentic ID card that assures us who He is, and His resurrection is the final and absolute confirmation from the Father that Jesus is who He claimed to be.

We Can Know That Our Sins Are Forgiven

The resurrection of Jesus is God’s most powerful declaration that our sins are forgiven. Jesus died for our sins. He Himself had no sin. His resurrection is a statement that the atoning sacrifice was completed and fully accepted. From then on, our standing with God is only contingent on our trust in Jesus’ death for us and our receiving Him as Lord and Savior. When we have done that, we are absolutely assured that our sins are forgiven.
And when we doubt, which we might do from time to time, we just need to be reminded that Jesus’ resurrection is God’s guarantee to the world that Jesus’ blood cleanses from all sin.

An Astounding Promise

In Ephesians 1:19-20, Paul writes that the same power that the Father used to raise Jesus from the dead is at work in us. This is a strong message from someone who is chained in a Roman prison while he writes this. That fact does, however, make the promise even more powerful and relevant. Paul assures us that whatever happens in our lives, whatever challenges we meet—even severe persecution—God will absolutely fulfill all His purposes for us and His promises to us. Our lives might sometimes look unimpressive, as Paul’s did at the time, but look at what God has done through Paul’s ministry through the ages! The same power that is doing that today also works in us. This certainly motivates us to pray with Paul that our eyes be opened to see how good and generous God is, how He loves us and how we need to ask Him to help us see our lives from His perspective. No power, human or spiritual, will be able to thwart God’s good plans for us.

Victory Over Sin

In Romans 8:11-17, Paul shows us another result of the resurrection. He has just reminded us about the struggle of temptation that he and we experience. He reminds us that we cannot live in victory over sin by our own power; something that we are too well aware of. So the answer to temptation is not to try harder but to rely on the resurrection power. The Holy Spirit of the God who raised Jesus from the dead lives in us.

What an amazing reality! That power enables us to say no to sin, frees us from fear, and is an inner testimony to the fact that we are God’s children and co-heirs with Christ. That blows my mind! But it is really, really true, and the resurrection of Jesus is the proof that it is meant for you and me. As in Ephesians 1, it does not imply that we are promised problem-free lives. We are reminded in verse 17 that we might meet suffering, like Jesus Himself did. But the suffering ended in total victory, and so will our lives too as we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to lead us to live for Jesus.

It Is Worth it All

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

The message of Easter expresses an exuberant and defiant hope. It calls on us to live and serve the Lord with an eternal perspective. It is not in vain. There is a future, a reward and a life of joyous service and worship waiting for us. And think about this—if just one of our friends and neighbors receives Jesus as Savior, that person will be saved from eternal separation from God, will receive all the blessings that Jesus brought through His death and resurrection, and will join us in that fantastic day of resurrection that we ourselves anticipate because of Jesus.

Seeking A Homeland – And Its Politicians

Everyone acknowledges politics are imperfect now. While we live and vote responsibly in today’s world, Jesus promised us he would bring his administration to this Earth some day. Let’s say hello to what that promised future will be like — what kind of leaders would I love to have and vote for…

  • Judges who works for justice to the weak — the illiterate and socially awkward — and fatherless, and those afflicted and sick. And even judges who bring about good for the poor who cannot afford a lawyer to help them fight their cause. (Psalm 82:3, Exodus 23:6)
  • Presidents (or Prime Ministers) who take only the minimum taxes necessary, exercise the minimum restrictions possible, study the Bible personally, do not enrich themselves, and enlist only those who desire to serve. (Matthew 22:21, Deuteronomy 17:14-20, 1 Samuel 8:10-12)
  • Military leaders who go out for the cause of truth, the cause of the meek and humble, and for doing what is right even while waging war. (Psalm 45:4)
  • Police, courts, and a penal system who punish those who do wrong — and ONLY those who do wrong — by God’s granting of wisdom for justice (Romans 13:3, 1 Peter 3:14).
  • Governors and mayors who give commendation to those who are doing what is good, to show us examples of living rightly. (Romans 13:3, 1 Peter 3:14)
  • Natural Resources Manager who ensures the mountains bring wealth to all the people — especially the poor. (Psalm 72:3)
  • Eloquent political communicators in leadership who explain good policy, and when praised, they honor God. (Acts 12:20-23, Genesis 41:16).
  • Fellow citizens who fight the pride, arrogance in their hearts and humble themselves before God, and turn from their individual sin which they do and tolerate in one another, and seek God for personal forgiveness. (2 Chronicles 7:14, Jeremiah 48:29-33)
  • President (or Prime Minister) who will, by God’s enabling strength, fight the sin in his own heart, humble himself, and lead me and our nation away from sin. (Jonah 3:6, 1 Kings 14:16)
  • Leaders of Infrastructure who desperately seek God personally, even taking great personal risk, before undertaking a Civil Engineering task. (Nehemiah 1:4-11)
  • Legislators who write laws that make it easier for the needy to get justice, and ensure that the weak, the busy, the disorganized get everything that belongs to them. (Isaiah 10:1-3)
  • Courageous families of those in power who are wiling to say what needs to be said, going against popular policy and the most dangerous leaders in their land, even at the risk to their own lives. (Esther 4:16)

Jesus teaches us to pray for God to bring his kingdom to earth, just as it already is in heaven. And as long as I live here, I exercise my faith in him by hope for the things he has promised. I look forward to them, knowing that I’m never quite going to fit on earth. I’ll always be a bit like a foreigner. Not quite an immigrant; but more than a tourist. But I’m looking forward to a homeland, confident God will bring me to it.

These [Noah, Abraham, Sarah, etc.] all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. — Hebrews 11:13-14 ESV

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ — Philippians 3:20 ESV

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. — Revelation 20:4-6 ESV

Keeping the Cross at the Center

From What is the Gospel by Greg Gilbert (Chapt. 7).

Read:  Mark 15:21-47

At one point in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, the hero of the story, Christian, finds himself talking with two sketchy fellows named Formalist and Hypocrisy. Like Christian himself, they insist, they are on their way to the Celestial City, and they’re quite certain they’ll make it because many in their country have gone this way before.

Of course, the names give it away. Formalist and Hypocrisy aren’t going to make it to the city at all.

The first time Christian sees the two men, they are tumbling over the wall that runs alongside the narrow path Christian is on. He of course recognizes that this is problematic, since he knows that the only legitimate way into the narrow path was through the Wicket Gate, which in the story symbolizes repentance and faith in the crucified Christ.

If we make it onto the path, what’s it matter which way we got in? If we are in, we are in. You are on the path, and you came in at the gate; we are on the path, and we climbed over the wall. So how are you any better off than we are?

Christian warns the men that the Lord of the city has decreed that everyone who enters the Celestial City must enter the narrow path through the gate, and he shows them a scroll he was given there, which he must present at the gate of the city in order to gain entrance. “I imagine,” Christians says, “that you lack this, because you didn’t come in at the gate.”

Bunyan’s point was to show that the only way to salvation is through the Wicket Gate — that is, through repentance and faith. It’s not enough to be navigating the path of the Christian life. If a person doesn’t come in through that gate, he is not truly a Christian.

Why Did the Crowd Turn on Jesus and Yell “Crucify Him”?

Adapted and updated from The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim (Book V, Chapter

Read:  Mark 15:1-20

During the Passion Week, the crowd in Jerusalem seems to have had a major swing in opinion. Jesus entered the city to praise and adoration but, by the end of the week, faced a crowd shouting “Crucify Him!” demanding for his crucifixion. Can such a change really happen so quickly?

Why Did the Crowd Turn on Jesus and Yell “Crucify Him”?

We must consider first that the people shouting “Hosanna” when Christ arrived were not the residents of Jerusalem. Instead, He rode in the company of pilgrims coming to the city for Passover. Because of the news about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and hopes that the Messianic Kingdom would soon begin, these pilgrims took to shouting and praising in their enthusiasm. Singing on the road to Jerusalem was not uncommon, and with their false ideas about a Rome-conquering Messiah, the enthusiasm spilled over into palm branches.

Most of the people in Jerusalem, to put it mildly, disagreed with the “unlearned” rabble from the country. Among these types, we find the Pharisees, who urged Jesus to rein in the crowd. When Jesus refused and claimed the rocks would praise Him if the people didn’t, their animosity only grew. Between these two opposing currents, Jesus rode into town.

We can envision a Jerusalem packed with outsiders pressing close to hear Jesus answer the challenges of Israel’s leaders who came to embarrass Him. But this only incited more anger. Jesus had at least the superficial support of the outsiders, but the insiders—though they feared the temporary crowds—only needed opportunity, which came soon enough.

Their Opportunity to Crucify Him

Thus, when those insiders arrested Jesus and brought Him to trial, the former supporters likely felt intimidated by the authority of the leaders. Supporting someone is much easier when there’s a reduced chance of being imprisoned for it (e.g., Peter’s denials). And perhaps some of those wrapped up in the enthusiasm for Jesus were just as quickly wrapped up in the fervor against Him.

At the height of his ministry and miracles, many Jews came to believe in Jesus as Messiah, the Son of God. Jewish leaders feared Jesus because of his growing followers. With the help of Judas Iscariot, Roman soldiers arrested Jesus and he was put on trial for claiming to be the king of the Jews. According to Roman law, the punishment for rebellion against the king was death by crucifixion.

Near the end of His trial, Pilate attempted a way to free Jesus. Pilate permitted the crowd to choose between a condemned convict named Barabbas and Jesus. Instead of choosing Jesus, as Pilate had expected, the crowd chose Barabbas for release. 

“Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them. “Crucify him!” they shouted. “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. – Mark 15:9-15

The Roman governor Pontius Pilate was hesitant when it came to the penalty for Jesus. Pilate could find no wrongdoing in Jesus, yet he wanted to give the people what they desired, which was the death of Jesus. Pilate rinsed his hands in front of the crowd to signify that he was not taking responsibility for the killing of Jesus and then handed Jesus over to be beaten and lashed. Jesus had a crown of thorns thrust on his head and made to carry his cross along the pathway to the hill where he would be crucified.

Not all those who supported Jesus turned against Him. Some, in fact, later wrote the accounts we have today.

The Look of Love


Read:  Mark 14:53-72

Each of the four gospel writers record that faithful night when the apostle Peter denied our Lord with three statements of increasing rejection.  They tell us of Peter’s bitter weeping when he realized that Jesus correctly predicted his denials before the rooster crowed.  But Luke includes a profound little detail.

Luke 22:61 says that just as Peter was denying Jesus for the third time and the rooster crowed, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.  Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him….”

That look must have killed Peter a thousand ways!  When the Lord looks at us in our sin and rejection we can’t help but be stricken with grief.  And the truth is, the Lord sees us all the time in our various faults, sins, denials, and rejections.

But what was this look.  What did Peter see in Jesus’ eyes?  Did the look say, “I told you so”?  I don’t think Jesus was gloating over Peter’s failure.

Did Jesus look at Peter with eyes of fire, angry.  I don’t think so.  Jesus will not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoking candle.

Did the look say, “How could you?”  I don’t think the look communicated personal hurt.  Jesus did not come to burden us with guilt, but to take it away.

I think the look was pure and holy love… which we cannot bear to see in our sin.  In our self-righteousness, we could understand—even want—anger or disappointment or hurt or even an “I told you so!”  But when the Lord continues to look at us with unfeigned and unblemished love… it robs us of all self-righteousness and makes us see what holy love we rejected… and what wretched messes we are.  We can’t bear to see him look at us with such pure and holy love when we’ve failed so miserably. So, like Peter, we turn our faces away and weep bitterly when we fail our Lord.

And that’s a terrible mistake.  If when we sinned against our Lord, we could continue to look in His face, we would eventually see that this holy love accepts us.  It pardons.  It cleanses.  It relieves guilt and removes shame.  It heals the broken and lifts the worthless.  If we could but look in His face, we’d see a loving look that says, “Come unto me.”

It’s a face of One who loves in such a way as to overcome our sin… to take our sin as His own… to bear our guilt as if it were His… a love that joins us to himself.  To look into that face by faith… is to feel and know the holiest, most sacrificial, redeeming love possible.

Peter’s biggest problem isn’t that he denied Jesus three times.   He will be restored from that.  Our biggest problem isn’t our failing or denying Jesus.

Peter’s biggest problem is that he wept alone and turned away… rather than run to Jesus’ loving face.  Our biggest problem is looking away from Jesus.  He has taken away our sins.  Now we must look to Him and continue looking to Him until we rejoice in His loving acceptance.

If we’re Christians for any length of time, we come to discover that our lives are full of failure and sin… even denials of various sorts.  But we also discover that He keeps looking on… and He keeps calling us to himself.  Christian… look to Jesus.  Do not turn away.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.