The Gift Of Thankfulness


veggie-still-life-332389-mOn Sunday our guest speaker at my church gave us homework. He told us to think each day this week of three things we’re thankful for. As I recall, he told us about a study in which one group started the day listing three things they were thankful for and another group started the day listing three things they wanted. At the end of the time period, the thankful group had all kinds of amazing benefits—better sleep, weight loss, a cheerful outlook, fewer divorces, and more.

Imagine if we took this a step further and made God our focal point. What has God given me or what about Him am I thankful for?

Interestingly, our thanks is something God desires. Jesus, for example, healed ten lepers in an interesting way. He told them to go to the priest who determined who was leprous and who was clean. On the way, they were healed. One, a Samaritan, turned back, glorifying God on the way, fell on his face at Jesus’s feet, and thanked Him. And Jesus’s response?

Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” (Luke 7:17-18)

In Romans, Paul added a lack of thanks as part of the darkened human heart:

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (1:21; emphasis mine)

I’m pretty sure I’ve mostly focused on the knowing and honoring. I’m guilty of paying little attention to the third of the triumvirate, giving thanks.

Paul particularly emphasized thanksgiving in one section of his letter to the church in Colossae:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. (3:15-17; emphasis mine)

In Ephesians Paul tells us what ought not be a part of our speech: filthiness, silly talk, coarse jesting. But he also tells us what ought to be in place instead of those things: giving of thanks. (Eph. 5:4).

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, he goes so far as to say that giving things in everything is “God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” So when we’re not thanking God, we’re actually out of His will.

One more fact that’s stuck with me about thanks: the writer of the book of Hebrews marries thanks with praise which he says is a sacrifice to God: “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Heb. 13:15).

Our thanks is a sacrifice of praise to God. Sacrifice was the centerpiece of worship in Israel’s relationship with God. The centerpiece of our relationship with God is Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. And yet, as redeemed people we are not to go merrily on our way as those nine healed lepers did. God desires more. He would have us be thankful.

That’s His will for His people. From the study our speaker shared, thanks actually benefits us. What a wonder! God continually surprises me, though you’d think I’d start anticipating this. I’m referring to the amazing fact that what He asks of us is what is best for us.

I tend to be like the five-year-old, only happy when I get candy and wishing I could have it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. God gives carrots and broccoli and green beans and sometimes lima beans. He gives potatoes, but not always mashed with gravy. He gives steak sometimes, but liver other times, or fish—really fishy fish.

Why would He do that when He knows I want candy—mostly chocolate, M&Ms or Reeses or, best of all, Sees candy (a 2 pound box all for me would be nice!)

Well, God knows what I need.

And as it turns out, what He wants and what I need includes my giving Him thanks.

The other really cool thing is that I’m discovering I grow to like the things God wants for me, in the same way that I grew to like foods other than chocolate! 😉

Giving Thanks For The Fleas


pumpkins-912529-mIn a comment to my post decrying President Obama’s decision to create law through an executive order, my nephew reminded me to give thanks for the fleas. The line alludes to a true story Corrie ten Boom told in her book The Hiding Place.

She and her sister Betsy had been moved in the concentration camp to a room that was crawling with fleas. Their circumstances were bad enough, but the fleas made life almost unbearable.

Because of a passage they studied in the Bible, Betsy had been saying they needed to thank God for everything. Corrie could hardly believe her ears, but then she thought about it and thanked God that she and Betsy were together, that they had a Bible, that they had a sweater and a bottle of vitamins. Maybe a few other things.

After she prayed, Betsy said, You must also thank Him for the fleas. This seemed like too much, but Corrie wanted to be obedient to God, so she prayed again, this time thanking Him for the fleas.

Soon Corrie and Betsy began to share passages of Scripture with the other prisoners in their room after they came in from their work assignments. At first they were cautious, not wanting a guard to walk in and confiscate their Bible. But as days wore on, no guards came in the evening.

The number of women drinking in God’s word increased. Because they did not all speak the same language, Corrie would read the passage from her Dutch Bible, then someone would translate into Germany, Polish, or whatever other language was needed. This went on for weeks.

At some point Corrie had a chance to find out why the guards never came into the room to check on them. The fleas! she was told. None of the guards wanted to go into that room because of the fleas!

So, yes, God works even in circumstances we think are all wrong, when stuff happens and it makes life hard. In ways we don’t see immediately, or perhaps ever in this life, God works.

He sends a storm to stop a prophet from going the wrong way and a big fish to bring him to his knees and send him in the right way.

He takes a boy in prison because his brother betrayed him and his master’s wife lied about him, and uses him to save the lives of his entire family—God’s chosen people.

God uses an eight-year-old king to bring revival to Israel.

He takes an exiled Israelite boy and uses him to proclaim His name before Babylonian and Persian kings.

He assigns a virgin to birth the Messiah. He uses a carpenter to save the newborn child’s life from a power-hungry, paranoid king.

God sends an earthquake that opens prison doors.

I could go on and on. The Bible is replete with examples of “fleas” which looked so bad, no one if left to himself would be thankful. Thank God because you’re in prison? Exiled to a foreign land? Pregnant and not married? On the run to a far away place with the king trying to kill your family? On your knees in rubble after an earthquake broke apart your prison? In the belly of a big fish?

You have got to be kidding me!

These are not the things we trot out at Thanksgiving time to put on the list we write into our journals or hang on the refrigerator or pray over during our quiet time. These are generally the things we ask God to change, not the things we thank Him for giving.

The truth is, we’re short sighted and don’t realize what God is doing because of those fleas—not in spite of. Because of!

Our measure of what’s good is off. We’re using the wrong gauge. We think all is right when we’re comfortable, at ease, upwardly mobile, winning at work, and free to do whatever we want during our off hours.

Of course life is not centered on us and our wants, so we are at many, if not most, times aware that we have “fleas.” We want them gone. We rail at God for not removing them, for allowing them into our lives in the first place, and we dig our heels in and refuse to thank Him for sending us things that make our lives so much harder.

Such a perspective means we’re not trusting God. Do we think the “fleas” surprised Him, that He didn’t realize that particular room was crawling with them? Do we think He forgot about us or doesn’t care? Do we think He doesn’t hear or answer our prayers or that He’s not strong enough to do so even if he wanted to?

None of those things is true about God. But our lack of thankful hearts when the fleas are raising itchy welts all over our bodies, is a passive aggressive way of questioning God’s sovereignty, love, omniscience, compassion, faithfulness, and omnipotence.

Pretty much we’re saying with our complaints that we’d do it better than God. We’d get those fleas out. In fact, we’d never have let the guards put us in that room in the first place. Or better yet, if we were God, we’d never have been captured and sent to a concentration camp.

And then, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people in many lands, down through the generations, would not have heard about God’s love and forgiveness and power to save. They would not have learned that Jesus is the Victor, and that there is no pit so deep that God is deeper still.

Thankfully God is God, and people have heard the powerful message Corrie delivered after her release.

All because of fleas. Thank God for the fleas!

The Call Of God


Paul_the_Apostle_conversionThe apostle Paul received the call of God. So did any number of other people in Scripture—Abraham, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Elijah, Samuel. The thing about Paul’s call was that it was so public.

He saw a light so bright it blinded him for days. In fact, he needed a man sent by God to restore his sight. In the midst of that light, Paul heard a voice and what this Person said was a distinct message for him. First a question: Why are you persecuting Me?

Paul’s answer was natural: “Who are you, Lord?”

Then, The Call: “And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” (Acts 9:5b-6)

I suppose Paul could have said no. After all, Jonah did. Balaam and an unnamed prophet also resisted God’s directions. But the fact is, Paul obeyed. He did exactly what he’d been told.

And though the men with him saw the light (not in the way Paul did—they weren’t blinded by it), and though they heard the voice (not the way Paul did—they didn’t understand what the Speaker said), this call was for Paul alone.

It was dramatic. It was personal. It was convincing. We don’t have any record that Paul ever looked back from that moment on. He had been pursuing Christians to arrest them and bring them to judgment which would lead to their executions. Now he was a Christian who other zealous Jews were trying to put to death.

Despite his calling, others questioned what he was doing. Ananias, the man God sent to heal Paul, was the first one. God told him who he was to go to, and Ananias answered, Really, Lord? This man has been actively seeking to KILL Christians.

How like so many of us. We act as if we need to remind God of the dire circumstances we’re in or the offense against us or the plans we’d made, as if God had forgotten or maybe wasn’t aware. In reality it was Ananias who wasn’t aware:

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15).

I still marvel that the “before the Gentiles” part didn’t throw Ananias, but to his great credit, he obeyed God.

He wouldn’t be the last person to doubt Paul’s calling, though. When this new, enthusiastic convert arrived in Jerusalem, “he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.” (Acts 9:26b)

Can’t blame them really, but I think that’s typical. We don’t know what the calling is that others have received. Really? we say; you’re going to be part of a prison ministry? or an unwed mother’s Bible study? or a medical ministry to Russia? or a missionary to … shhh . . . a Muslim country.

Even more, we might say, What? You’re giving up your writing to take care of your disabled sister-in-law? Or, you’re giving up your stable job to become a writer? Or, you’re turning your back on that great guy who loves you because you feel called to the mission field?

The part that’s inexplicable is the calling. Paul knew he was called, though no one else heard what he heard, and he acted accordingly. Eventually others realized he was serious, though they may not have understood. And certainly his old Pharisee buddies did not get it.

In fact, later in Paul’s ministry when he was called to Jerusalem, a number of his Christian friends and disciples, including a prophet, tried to dissuade him. Don’t go, they said. If you go to Jerusalem, you’ll be arrested.

Paul had listened to those warnings before. After his conversion, in Damascus, when the staunch Jews were planning to kill him, his disciples lowered him in a basket outside the city wall so he could escape. Another time, when there was a near riot because of his preaching, he wanted to enter the arena to speak to the crowd, but the other Christians told him no. He left Philippi because of death threats and traveled by himself to Athens to wait for his companions. So Paul was not a stranger to heeding the warnings of others.

But he’d been called to Jerusalem, so to Jerusalem he went, regardless that this calling didn’t insure a happy end or many converts—at least not in the short term.

That’s also true about following God’s call. There is no guarantee that there will be fruit from your labor. Jeremiah, in fact, knew going in that no one would listen to him. Yet God called him to warn the people of God’s judgment.

In other words, the veracity of God’s call can’t be confirmed by results that people here and now can see. The widows of the men martyred with Jim Elliott may well have thought initially that their calling had ended in fruitlessness. It hadn’t, but they couldn’t know that at the time.

But it can be “confirmed,” I guess you’d say, by Scripture in the sense that God isn’t going to call a person to do something contrary to His written word. He isn’t going to “call” someone to have an affair, for instance, or to preach a different gospel from the one Scripture teaches.

I’ll be honest—I don’t like this notion of God’s call. I know it’s easy to act on our own, to be deluded by our own desires, to want something so much we talk ourselves into believing God wants it for us too. I feel on shaky ground when someone else says they’ve been called. But the few times I’ve known God’s call in my life, it’s been clear—convincingly clear. But maybe not necessarily to everyone else around me. Undoubtedly there are some still saying, Really? I get that. I wish I had a bright light to point to.

Or not. Some scholars think that perhaps the thorn Paul wanted removed was his poor eyesight which, though restored, was never as good as it had been. Of course his poor eyesight could just as easily have come from one of the beatings he took or the times he was stoned and left for dead.

Either way, it’s clear callings come with a cost—people not always “getting it,” some even opposing it, and lots of people doubting you ever got such a calling in the first place. That’s OK.

Like Lucy in Prince Caspian, we can respond to the call of Aslan, even though others don’t see or hear, or we can fall in line and go the way everyone else is going. It’s a matter of trust.

“Yes, wasn’t it a shame?” said Lucy. I saw you all right. They wouldn’t believe me. They’re all so—”

From somewhere deep inside Aslan’s body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl.

“I’m sorry,” said Lucy, who understood some of his moods. “I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?”

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “You don’t mean it was? How could I—I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that . . . oh, well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you.” (pp 135-136)

Published in: on June 16, 2014 at 7:21 pm  Comments Off on The Call Of God  
Tags: , , ,

Was Frodo Called To Be The Ring-Bearer?


Frodo, Sam, GollumI’ve been thinking about God’s calling, in part because of recent fun-poking at Christian writers who believe God has called them to write fiction. I am one such writer.

The question often arises, How do you know? Does God call audibly? Is it something forced upon you? Does it fall into your lap? Does God wire your DNA so that you create with words whereas others create with paint or clay?

As I’m finishing up Lord of the Rings, I’ve considered that the protagonist, Frodo, felt called to his task of bearing the One Ring, even as his faithful servant and friend Sam Gamgee felt called to go with him.

Frodo, of course, initially inherited the Ring. He actually tried to get rid of it, first offering it to Gandalf, then proposing that they throw it away or try to destroy it. Finally he agreed to take it to the wise elf in Rivendell who, he believed, would know what to do with it.

Once he reached his destination, however, he learned that someone would need to take the Ring to Mordor and throw it into the Crack of Doom to unmake it. And he volunteered to be that someone. He felt it was his job to do. He felt … called.

This week I read of a group of real-life people who took up a calling, too. Persia’s king Cyrus issued a proclamation that whoever wanted to go up to Jerusalem to rebuild the house of God, could go, with his blessing and aid. A group of exiled Jews responded and went.

But here’s the significant thing. Scripture says that “the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia” (Ezra 1:1b – emphasis mine) to make that proclamation. Further, it says that the people went “even everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up and rebuild the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:5b – emphasis mine).

Might not this “stirring” be the best way of understanding a calling from God? According to Strong’s lexicon, the word for “stir” means “to rouse oneself, awake, awaken, incite.” In context, then, God awakened or incited Cyrus to act and He awakened or incited the people to go.

Why is it a stretch to imagine that He still stirs people today to do things He wants us to do?

Back to Frodo. When he made the decision to head off to Mordor bearing the One Ring, no one told him to do it. He knew within his heart that it was his job. It is this knowing within the heart that I think God puts into a believer from time to time. Not always, certainly. And not everyone.

The prophet Samuel anointed David as king over Israel, but not every king was so anointed. I’ve wondered as I’ve read 2 Chronicles how some of these kings were chosen. Often they were not the oldest son, so it wasn’t because of a traditional line of inheritance. With an exception or two, no mention is made of them being anointed by God. A couple were made king by the people, and Egypt once removed a king and put his brother in place. Babylon also removed a king and put his uncle on the throne.

Clearly those people who had the office thrust upon them could know their calling. But what of the others? Absalom wanted to be king and died trying to usurp the throne. He was not called to be king. Solomon clearly was.

All this to say, I don’t think we can know today who God has called to do what–apart from what He calls us to do. And even that will have its moments of doubt when we might try to give the job to someone else or extricate ourselves some other way or if we simply doubt whether or not we can get it done.

Gideon felt that way. He couldn’t understand why God was calling him to lead an army against Israel’s oppressors. He asked for confirmation, and asked for confirmation. Then God said, if you’re afraid, sneak down to the enemy camp and I’ll give you more confirmation. Gideon went–which meant he was afraid. But sure enough, God gave him yet more confirmation.

In the end, he led that army. His doubts about his calling didn’t stop him from doing what God wanted him to do.

For David, it was Saul’s opposition, not his doubts, that interfered with his calling. Because God called David, Saul tried to kill him. Despite his anointing, David obviously questioned his calling, or else he would not have left Israel to live with the Philistines.

We can look at Gideon, David, Solomon and know they were called because we have the end of their story. It’s another thing to recognize the stirring in our own hearts.

Frodo knew he was the Ring-Bearer, that the job was his to do, though he might perish in the attempt. He had no assurance of success simply because he had assurance of his assignment. That I think is the true picture of someone called of God. Writers included.

Tornadoes, Drought, Fire, And Death


Some years ago, a handful of Christians infamously claimed that hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment on New Orleans, or later that the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti was His judgment on the culture of voodoo and the occult practiced there in times passed.

What are we to make, then, of the events in Mid-America this year? That would be the area of the US famously known as the Bible Belt. This spring tornadoes, numbering more than a hundred strong, tore through Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas, over to Nebraska and Missouri, and up into Indiana, killing and destroying.

At the beginning of this summer, wildfires devastated Colorado, and drought has consumed crops throughout the Great Plains and over to the Appalachians. In fact, the USA Today reports that 64% of the US is experiencing drought conditions.

If all that isn’t bad enough, the Denver area experienced another horrific shooting event last night. Some reports say more than seventy people were hit and twelve died.

All this, of course, comes in the midst of the feeble recovery from the Great Recession that has our spend-happy nation reeling.

In the after-math of the natural disasters, news cameras caught survivors picking through the ruins, thankful that they had lived and vowing to keep going. Some way. Some how.

After last night’s shooting, there’s talk of the gun culture and insane people trying to grab the spotlight so that the world will look at them for a few fleeting days. Undoubtedly gun legislation is on the horizon.

All of it is white noise to the real issues that we need to talk about. God works in the world today, as He has throughout history. Because we understand and can predict weather patterns does not mean God has no part in them. Because a psychotic killer picked up a gun and attacked a theater full of people does not mean God is indifferent or uninvolved.

These events remind me so much of the things Job experienced, all engineered by Satan, but permitted by God, used by God. Why do we think He has changed?

No, He did not cause the shooting suspect to open fire on those theater-goers last night. That was an act of evil, and God doesn’t tempt anyone to do evil (see James 1:13). But He works His will in and through these circumstances. And He does so in order that we will look to Him rather than to our own supposed strength and goodness.

God allows fires and floods and wind and drought so that we can see we are weak, not strong. He allows evil men to kill and steal and destroy so that we will see, Mankind is not good.

Only God is strong. Only God is good.

When will we look to Him instead of looking to ourselves for answers?

We are so much like Israel of old. They were a religious people, keeping their feast days, offering sacrifices in their holy cities, and God said, I’m not interested. Instead He brought war and famine so that they would turn to Him.

Offer a thank offering also from that which is leavened,
And proclaim freewill offerings, make them known.
For so you love to do, you sons of Israel,”
Declares the Lord GOD.
“But I gave you also cleanness of teeth in all your cities
And lack of bread in all your places,
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.
“Furthermore, I withheld the rain from you
While there were still three months until harvest.
Then I would send rain on one city
And on another city I would not send rain;
One part would be rained on,
While the part not rained on would dry up.
So two or three cities would stagger to another city to drink water,
But would not be satisfied;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.
I smote you with scorching wind and mildew;
And the caterpillar was devouring
Your many gardens and vineyards, fig trees and olive trees;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.
“I sent a plague among you after the manner of Egypt;
I slew your young men by the sword along with your captured horses,
And I made the stench of your camp rise up in your nostrils;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.
“I overthrew you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
And you were like a firebrand snatched from a blaze;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD. (Amos 4:5-11 – emphasis mine)

Are we somehow beyond God’s reach, that He would not be at our shoulder, calling to us, telling us we need to return to Him? Are we so oblivious to our egregious behavior, putting to death thousands and thousands of unborn babies year after year; calling evil good and good, evil; giving credence to false prophets who lie about God and His character, that we think God is pleased with us and will continue to bless us as a nation?

What will it take for us to realize, God might be trying to get our attention because He wants us to look at Him, listen to Him, bow before Him, and recognize that He is God and we are not.

Prayer for Our Pastors


Scripture is full of counsel, not the least of which is to pray. I’m becoming more aware how powerful prayer is. I mean, I have a chance to tell my woes to the Person most interested, the One who loves me most, and the Individual most capable of doing something about my concerns.

There’s just one little catch. God wants my requests to be aligned with His will. So how do I know if it’s God’s will for me to do this or that, go here or go there? I found myself tacking on, “if it’s your will,” to many of my prayer requests, which gave me an out for believing that God might or might not answer when I asked Him stuff.

But my new understanding of the power of prayer has directed me toward praying for things I know TO BE God’s will. The Bible is packed with stuff I can pray for with complete confidence that my requests are aligned with God’s will. For example, is it His will for a Christian to be salt in the world? Then why don’t I pray for my fellow believers to be salt? More to the point, why don’t I pray that I will be salt?

When it comes to pastors, there’s a couple really cool verses in Ephesians that guide my prayers these days. After telling the believers in Ephesus to pray for all the saints, Paul goes on to say this:

and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
– Eph 6:19-20

Why am I zeroing in on pastors? Because the church seems to be taking a lot of criticism of late. The world has a low view of Christians, and many Christians have a low view of themselves, or at least of the church.

Add to the mix that more and more false teachers are going about saying they have a new twist on the old gospel message. Or they have a better understanding than what Christians have had for the last two thousand years.

How, I started to wonder, have churches that once preached the gospel become nothing more than social clubs advocating some kind of moral tolerance or ethical righteousness? How have so many watered down Scripture? How is it that a growing number of professing Christians no longer read the Bible any more, apart from a few favorite passages around Easter time or Christmas?

Could it be that the problem starts with our preachers?

Actually no. I suggest it starts with lay people who do not pray for our pastors and teachers. What if we pray that God would give our pastors pronouncements or proclamations when they open their mouths to preach so that they boldly disclose to us the mysteries of the gospel? What if we claim them as ambassadors and ask God on their behalf to enable them to speak as they ought to speak?

My guess is, those pastors would not succumb to false teaching or trade in preaching the Word of God for some other gospel. My guess is, all of us in their congregations would hear revealed truth, delivered with power, even if it makes us uncomfortable. No more “preaching to the choir.” Not if we pray for our pastors according to God’s will.

Published in: on July 5, 2010 at 2:39 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , ,
%d bloggers like this: