A Caution At Thanksgiving Time

When I was in school, our teacher would inevitable give us an assignment as Thanksgiving approached that required us to write down all the things for which we were thankful. From what I remember, I put the big things on my list: my parents, God, my home, my brother and sister, our cats and dog, my friends, school and teachers (OK, maybe I didn’t put those on the list. 😉 )

The point is, I was thinking of all the good things I had, in particular the ones I took for granted, but when I paused, I really was glad I had each one.

Never once did I think that Thanksgiving could be a day for digging deeper. In fact, this “count your blessings, name them one by one” approach to Thanksgiving trained me to think of the good things I was thankful for as the tangible evidence that God cared.

I didn’t stop to think that He might also care just as much for a little Christian girl in an orphanage in India who had no parents or home, and sometimes went to bed hungry.

I also didn’t realize that many, many of the people recorded in Scripture who started well, who said they would obey God, turned from Him on the heels of receiving His blessings.

King David comes to mind. He’d survived Saul’s attempts to kill him, ascended to the throne, and led his people to victory after victory. Then, as he enjoyed the fruit of his labor, he decided to stay home while his commander led his army into battle. And that’s when David saw Bathsheba, ignored the fact that she was married, and committed adultery with her.

David repented, but others never turned it around. King Asa, for example, ruler of the southern kingdom of Judah, walked with God and experienced great success against the enemies because he turned to God for help:

Then Asa called to the LORD his God and said, “LORD, there is no one besides You to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength; so help us, O LORD our God, for we trust in You, and in Your name have come against this multitude. O LORD, You are our God; let not man prevail against You.”

God answered that prayer, and for thirty-eight years Asa ruled as a man dependent upon God. But there came a day when he decided to buy his way out of trouble instead of pray his way out.

His scheme worked, but here’s what God told him:

At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you have relied on the king of Aram and have not relied on the LORD your God, therefore the army of the king of Aram has escaped out of your hand. Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim an immense army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, He delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars.” (2 Chron. 16:7-9)

Asa could have repented too, but instead he threw Hanani into prison and he oppressed some of the people. He ended up sick, alone, and bitter. He had the blessing of answered prayer and God’s protection and power, and he turned his back on the Giver of all those good gifts.

I could go on and on. Solomon, Rehoboam, Jeroboam, Uzziah, Miriam, Nadab and Abihu, Jonah, Gehazi, and many more.

It seems as if the good things either became an idol that moved in front of God as the most loved, or the individual took credit for the good things and moved himself in front of God as the most loved.

When the people of Israel were in want, they turned to God. When they experienced His abundance, they turned from Him.

So it seems to me, having a thanksgiving day in which we simply tick off the good things we have is a way to set ourselves up for failure. Not that we should deny the good things, but it seems to me the true approach to Thanksgiving should be an enumeration, not of our stuff, but of God’s attributes–the things He’s revealed about Himself that give us a look into His character. And not just an enumeration, but an all out face plant at His feet, thanking Him for who He is and what He’s done.

After all, who God is lies behind what He’s given us and why. Who God is will outlast any of the stuff we enjoy today. Who God is, is a treasure that outshines any other.

It’s certainly not wrong for anyone to celebrate a national Thanksgiving Day as we are here in the US this coming Thursday, or for anyone to have a personal day of giving thanks. For myself, though, I want to change my focus. I don’t want this to be about the good things our God gives but about our good God Himself.

I wish I was clever enough to make a video that would go viral or savvy enough to get this trending on Twitter. What I’d like to see is believers unite to say, I’m thankful because God is merciful. I’m thankful because God is just. I’m thankful because God is generous. I’m thankful because God is my salvation. I’m thankful because ___ Your turn! 😀

This article originally appeared here November 2013.

Published in: on November 21, 2017 at 5:31 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , ,

Truth And Love

Instead of starting with Love or even with Truth, I want to start with a discussion of post-truth.

Post-truth: adjective

Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.

‘in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire’

‘some commentators have observed that we are living in a post-truth age’ (English Oxford Living Dictionaries)

As it happens, the Oxford Dictionary picked post-truth as their Word of the Year for 2016. Fitting, some might say. Truth is having a hard time because so many politicians and media people and Washington insiders lie regularly.

But there’s more to that definition: in place of facts we’re apparently forming our opinions based on our beliefs. Which implies that our beliefs are already divorced from facts. So we’re believing something because . . . ? What’s the basis for our beliefs if not something we can label as True?

Are we believing what makes us feel good? I believe I’ll win the lottery. I believe it will not rain this weekend. I believe the Dodgers will win the World Series this year. I believe I’ll sell my fantasy series for a six figure advance. Silly stuff, that. Those aren’t beliefs, though they’ve been framed as belief statements. They would more accurately be called wishful thinking or pipe dreams—unattainable, unlikely, or fanciful desires.

Truth is not part of that kind of wishful thinking.

But clearly our society has moved belief out of the camp of truth and into the camp of post-truth.

Yet Jesus, standing with his disciples turned to Thomas, the doubter, and said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6; emphasis mine) He went on to say that if they’d seen Him, they’d seen the Father. So Jesus is Truth, ergo, God is Truth. Essentially He said, You’re looking at God, who happens to be Truth.

But God is also Love. As it happens, Jesus is the proof, the evidence, the tipping point that demonstrates God’s attribute of Love:

The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:8-10; emphasis mine).

In other words, when God sent Jesus, He demonstrated to the world that He is Love.

How so? Because He stood in the gap for the world, according to John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” We on our part must do nothing but believe. God, manifesting His Person as Love, sent His Son to do what we could not do for ourselves.

We could not deal with the sin in our lives and in the world. We could not bridge the gap between us and God. We could only suffer the consequences for sin: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

So why the big deal that God is Truth and that God is Love?

In our post-truth culture, we live as if the truth and love are mutually exclusive. If I have the truth and you disagree with me, then you are engaging in hate! Of course, my truth might not be your truth unless you say that your truth is absolute and unshakeable and eternal. Such a statement marks you as a hater because the only truth we can know for sure is that there is no absolute truth. How we know this has never been explained, but our post-truth society embraces it.

But what if we Christians step out and do the ministry of reconciliation in our communities and families—what if we Love in Truth and what if we speak Truth in Love? What if we show by our lives that God is Truth and God is Love; what if we, His children who house His Spirit, reflect His qualities by what we say and do?

Too often people look at Christians and see us at war with our culture. Or they see us withdrawing from our culture. We either embrace Truth and seek to stand by it or die trying. Or we embrace Love and shy away from anything that could offend or stir up ill will or that could be misunderstood. We want above all to clasp hands with our neighbors in hopes that they realize we love them because of God’s love (which we never talk about because *gasp* we might offend someone) in us.

Or we retreat into our own. We trust Team Jesus, and we’d just as soon keep all our dealings with the home team. No offense. We’d just rather not have to deal with, you know, The World. That’s one of the enemies, right up there with The Flesh, which we pretend has disappeared when we became Christians, and The Devil, which we must guard against. So, to avoid fighting battles on two fronts, we’ll separate ourselves from The World.

It’s not quite that simple.

The World doesn’t refer to the latest movies or songs on iTunes. It doesn’t refer to today’s fads and fashions in clothes or piercings or tattoos. It refers to the system by which the world operates. The system that opposes God, that denies The Truth about God, that lies about who we are and how we got here and why we exist.

We can only counter The World by submerging ourselves in The Truth and engaging those who need to hear it with the same love Christ had for us while we were yet sinners. In other words, we must be proactive, not reactive.

We must not play favorites with God’s nature. His Truth can’t be ignored. His Love can’t be ignored. Otherwise we’re representing a God who doesn’t actually exist. He’s not a kindly grandfather trying to give every boy and girl a lollipop and a pat on the head. His Love is radical and dangerous and transformative.

As is His Truth. But His Truth does not make God hard-nosed, unkind, or insensitive. He isn’t a drill sergeant waiting for recruits to mess up so he can send them on a night run as punishment. He isn’t playing some game of “gotcha.”

No. His Truth is fueled by His Love. And Jesus exemplifies both.

Now it’s our turn—those who believe in Jesus—to go out into the world and preach Jesus as The Turth which the post-truth generation needs, and to do so in The Love that will enable them to hear what we’re saying.

– – – – – –

For more on Truth and Love see this RZIM article, “Truth Or Love: What’s Your Choice?”

Published in: on March 13, 2017 at 6:26 pm  Comments Off on Truth And Love  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

‘Twas The Night Before Thanksgiving

Sunset on Fields near CityThanksgiving Eve, someone called it. And here we are: the guest list is complete, the house clean, the laundry out of the dryer and neatly folded. The grocery shopping is finally complete and the menu finalized. Everything’s ready for The Dinner. Now on to plans for Black Friday!!

So it seems to go in many households. Of course for those visiting, they have travel plans to take care of—last minute packing if it’s an overnight stay, food to prepare if it’s local. And then there’s calculating the drive time and the best route. Aren’t smart phones great for this kind of thing!?!

Amid the hustle and hurry, Thanksgiving waits.

A time set aside for us to . . . do what? Thank who?

Millions of people this week will be thanks-givers, without slowing to ponder the identity of the Thanks-Receiver. We are temporarily thankful for the turkey on Thursday that will fuel our shopping sprees on Friday. We will buy more things at the suggestion of a consumer culture that tells us we actually do not have enough. We have thus commercialized the antithesis of the meaning of the holiday and distracted ourselves from asking the big questions of life that derive from being thankful. (“A Prelude to Joy: A Thanksgiving Meditation”)

The big questions like, Who do we thank?

A number of years ago, my friend Mike Duran wrote a blog post about atheists and Thanksgiving” “Can Atheists Really Give Thanks?” He concluded by saying, “Perhaps it’s an advantage we believers have: Not only can we praise the hands that made the meal, we can praise the Hands that made the chef.”

Mike has a point. Thanksgiving is rooted in the idea that Someone has provided us with something we cannot provide for ourselves. As a child, I had no problem with Thanksgiving. I didn’t work for the food I enjoyed, so giving thanks seemed natural. But as an adult, do I still understand that I have been provided good things that I myself have not and cannot provide?

Like the air I breathe? Or the sun that warms me. My family heritage. My race.

It seems to me so much of our angst, even our racial angst, would disappear if we saw all that we have as gifts from the hand of a good and loving Father. Yes, even an inherited disease or a birth defect or learning disability.

God has the big picture in mind for each of us, not the short term. We can trust Him to do good, even if our school of hard knocks seems harder than what others are going through. David addressed our tendency to look at what others are getting, particularly others who do not love God and do not live in a way that aligns with God’s desires for us. Here’s one passage he wrote:

Do not fret because of evildoers,
Be not envious toward wrongdoers.
For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb.
Trust in the LORD and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the LORD;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday.
Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.
Cease from anger and forsake wrath;
Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing. [Psa 37:1-8 NASB]

Envy, fretting, anger—these seem to be the antithesis of Thanksgiving whereas trusting, delighting in the Lord, committing our way to Him seem to be action points that stem from a heart of thanksgiving.

I mean, is it realistic to wait for someone who has failed you in the past, who let you down repeatedly? No! We wait for He Who has proved Himself faithful, Who provides what we need, Who deserves our praise for what He’s done and for what He has promised to do.

If we grumble and complain about what we have now and where we are in life at this moment, how can we stop on the fourth Thursday of November and say we are giving God thanks? Unless, of course, Thanksgiving Day turns us right-side around and reminds us that God has given us good things to enjoy. He is the Creator and Sustainer of our world, of our lives.

Perhaps the best thing we can do, on the night before Thanksgiving, is to prepare our hearts to give thanks to the One who truly deserves our thanks.

Published in: on November 23, 2016 at 6:07 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,

Sacrifices Of Thanksgiving

NOT the drive thru I was at

NOT the drive thru I was at

On another site I’ve had a discussion with an atheist about the context of Scripture—for instance, how God gave the Mosaic Law to the Jews because they lived in a theocracy. These same laws, then, are not intended for Christians to slavishly obey. In fact, the Law shows us we cannot please God by trying to do good and obey, primarily because . . . sin.

Then what’s the point of the Mosaic Law? Why are those chapters describing the sin offering and the guilt offering and the peace offering and the thank offering in the Bible?

Undoubtedly there are many reasons, but one certainly is that an understanding of the system of sacrifices gives us a picture of offering up to God that which pleases Him.

Always the requirement of sin has been shed blood. Adam and Eve sinned, and God covered their nakedness with the skin of an animal—an animal that had to die. From that point on, men offered sacrifices to God. Spilling the blood of an animal was part of worship. Noah, Abram, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, and on, the people of God built altars and made sacrifice to God.

And then Christ.

Jesus died once for all, the just for the unjust. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. As a result, we’re free from the need to offer sacrifices over and over so that we may be in right relationship with God. Because of His grace and forgiveness, Jesus became the final sacrifice. His blood is sufficient to save, and no other sacrifice is necessary.

Then what are these sacrifices of praise and thanks? I wrote a post on this topic back in March entitled “Praise Is More Than Positive Thinking” but I think the topic is worth revisiting.

Scripture makes a case for the fact that God is delighted by our sacrifices. Paul equates the monetary donations he received from the church in Philippi with “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice.” Not to him. Their giving to Paul was a form of worshiping God.

The writer of Psalm 107 said

Let them also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
And tell of His works with joyful singing. (v 22)

Because he coupled “sacrifices of thanksgiving” with telling of His works through song, I suspect the former isn’t referring to the animal sacrifices but actual verbal expressions of thanks.

The writer to the Hebrews clearly was referring to words:

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. (13:15)

Paul identified thanking God as something consistent with His will:

in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess. 5:18)

Amazing, isn’t it, to think that we can be sure we’re praying according to God’s will if we’re thanking Him. I mean, how many times do we think, if only I knew what God wanted me to do. Well, there it is. God’s will is for us to thank Him.

I was feeling a little peevish this morning. I was on my way to the grocery store and stopped for some breakfast at a fast food place. I decided to treat myself to a combo! But the attendent was trying to over charge me and couldn’t seem to understand what I was ordering. I got a little brusque with her and even said I’d leave if they didn’t have the combo I requested at the posted price.

When I reached the window I was starting to wonder if she might not be new to the job. She kindly asked me how many creams and sugars I wanted for my coffee, but when she brought them, I had to request a stirrer. She came back with one and apologized, “All I could find was a straw.” Well, the stirrers at that restaurant do have straw-like properties, but now I was sure she was new. So my peevishness turned into guilt. And as I was eating, I wondered why I hadn’t at least apologized for being short with her.

What a bad morning!

Except, not really. I started thinking about events that had happened before I reached the fast food place, and I began thanking God for them. And as I type, I can thank God for His forgiveness for my shortness with that fast food server. How kind of Him to not treat me the way I treated her.

Sacrifices of thanksgiving?

One more point. I posted on Facebook just this week how much I appreciate people who share my posts. If I feel that way, why wouldn’t God? When we praise Him or thank Him, we are recognizing who He is and what He’s done.

Without question, what we do can please God:

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. (1 Thess. 4!)

So too, our words, our praise, our thanks can be pleasing to God—a fragrant aroma, an act of worship, a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

Published in: on November 19, 2015 at 6:07 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , , ,

If We’re Thankful, Why Aren’t We Content?

pumpkin-patch-3-1367968-mNext week those of us in the US will celebrate Thanksgiving Day. It’s a little harder to get in the holiday spirit this year, what with Starbucks red cups and terrorist attacks in Paris!

Still, it is Thanksgiving. It seems quite common to hold a genuine feast on Thanksgiving Day, even pause to pray and thank God for the bountiful blessings, then scurry out the next day and shop to the dropping point.

So how thankful can we actually be if we must always buy more? Granted, I realize much of the after-Thanksgiving shopping is connected with Christmas, but the American way of life has become that of the consumer. Once, not so long ago, we made things. Now we consume things.

And what’s more, that’s considered the good life. During the Great Recession, the powers that be seemed to believe the solution to righting the ship was to get America away from saving and back into spending.

While I’m not saying that spending is “bad” or that our spirituality should be measured by how much we save, I do think there’s a point where we should evaluate our attitude to see if we care more about living the life of abundance rather than living the abundant life.

Not long ago I read the Biblical account of the exodus—God’s people leaving Egypt for the Promised Land. On their journey God provided their food—manna:

The house of Israel named it manna, and it was like coriander seed, white, and its taste was like wafers with honey.
– Ex 16:31

Wafers with honey. Yet a bunch of people who enjoyed this gracious provision as they traveled across the wilderness found fault with it.

The sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.”
– Num 11:4b-6

For the moment, give them the benefit of the doubt—they were tired of the same diet meal after meal, day after day. But look what they were doing—remembering what they’d enjoyed in Egypt. Never mind that Egypt had just experienced devastating plagues that had wiped out virtually all vegetation. Between the plague of hail and the plague of locust, were there any cucumbers and melons and leeks and onions and garlic for them to go back to?

The locusts came up over all the land of Egypt and settled in all the territory of Egypt; they were very numerous. There had never been so many locusts, nor would there be so many again. For they covered the surface of the whole land, so that the land was darkened; and they ate every plant of the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left. Thus nothing green was left on tree or plant of the field through all the land of Egypt.
– Exodus 10:14- 15

Granted, the hail did not fall in Goshen where the people of Israel lived. Let’s say for the moment that the locusts didn’t go there either, though the text doesn’t specify this. How was it that Israel had the food they remembered so fondly when the rest of Egypt was decimated? Obviously the answer was, God.

What they had in Egypt, then, came from the hand of God, and what they had in the wilderness came from the hand of God. Consequently, when they cried discontentedly against the manna they were “forced” to eat, they essentially were telling God He wasn’t doing a good job of caring for them.

In other words, discontent is actually an accusation against God.

Yet our entire existence seems to be made up of striving and struggling and trying and working. Oh, wait. Wasn’t that what God told Adam life would be like outside the Garden?

So the striving and all isn’t the problem per se. That’s the condition into which we’ve been born. But responding with discontent seems to me to be a choice—one that clashes with a genuine spirit of thankfulness.

Minus a few changes, this post first appeared here in November 2010.

Published in: on November 18, 2015 at 5:54 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Packing It In Or Tossing It Out

Traditional Thanksgiving dinnerThough it might not seem like it at first, this post is related to Thanksgiving Day.

Airplane travel has become … an adventure. Never mind the body scans and “pat downs.” Many airlines now charge a passenger for each suitcase he takes with him. How do you fly somewhere without taking a change of clothes or basic toiletries, I wonder.

The “pay per piece” policy has a lot of people thinking twice about what exactly they must take along on their trip. Perhaps a second sweater isn’t necessary, and buying gifts upon arrival seems like a better idea than bringing them from home.

The new goal is to pack only the necessities. But on occasion something else important must be included—a special dress and shoes for a wedding or gloves and knit hat for a snow trip. In this new flying reality, however, adding something to our “pack it” pile means something else has to be left out.

Imagine if someone told you to chuck it all, save one thing. Only one thing. Or how about this. You could take anything, no extra charge, but you’d have to leave out your most prized possession.

Let’s up the ante. An overbooked airline tells you you can take as many pieces of luggage as you want as long as they can have your second ticket back—you know, the one you bought so your wife could go with you on your business trip. But if you opt to keep the ticket so your wife can fly with you, neither one of you can take any luggage, at any price. Not even your laptop or the briefcase with the notes for the business meeting you’re to conduct.

Those are interesting hypotheticals, I think—pondering what one valuable thing we’d take if we could take only one, or considering a trip with a spouse and no belongings.

It’s not quite comparable to what Paul experienced in life, but I think it sheds a little light on what he said in Philippians 3 about ringing up his valuables only to toss them aside in favor of Christ.

Paul had it made. He was in an exclusive position among an exclusive people—God’s people, the nation He chose to be the apple of His eye. Paul made sure he covered all his bases. Parentage, check. Legal status, check, Attitude, check (anyone could see his zeal by tallying up the destroyed lives when he left town). He was one righteous dude.

And he tossed it all in the trash.

Why? For the sake of Christ.

pumpkins-912529-mAs we approach the Thanksgiving holiday in the US, I can’t help but wonder if we who count our blessings, and name them one by one, would be willing to throw them away if it meant we could gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of our own.

Would we give up being American, with our Constitutional rights, to be part of the kingdom of God? Would we leave our family to be part of God’s family? Would we give up our chance to earn a living in order to be called a Christian?

In short, would we embrace the sufferings of Christ and be conformed to His death if it meant attaining the power of His resurrection?

In so many ways, we live in a world that lets us eat and keep our cake at the same time. We get to do ministry, openly, publicly. Out of our abundance, we get to give generously. And when Thanksgiving rolls around, we pause to consider all the good things and wonderful people we enjoy. If we go a little deeper, we count all our spiritual benefits and thank God for each one.

But I’m wondering if this year it might be informative to approach Thanksgiving with an opposite mindset: what am I willing to give up for the sake of Christ. Are the things I usually give thanks for on this special day of the year so very dear that I would hesitate to count them as rubbish?

I know, Paul wasn’t exactly stacking up his possessions next to Christ. Or his family members. Or his job. Or his citizenship. Was he? Or might not the things he could have put confidence in, be considered his Thanksgiving list?

If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
-Phl 3:4-7

This post originally appeared here November 2010

Published in: on November 16, 2015 at 6:50 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

What I Wish I Were Thankful For

Amy_Carmichael_with_children2I wish I were thankful for trials. I know James says we are to count them as joy. I know that trials produce endurance and end up shaping us into the likeness of Jesus Christ. And I’m thankful for the trials I’ve gone through that are over, not just because I survived them, but because I see God working in my life because of them.

But I’m not a fan of trials. I don’t eagerly long for or look forward to the next one or the one after that. I’d much rather hear good news and have things go my way.

I’d rather see the US experience a great revival. I’d rather see the health of the people I love improve. I’d rather get a big book contract. I’d rather my church had a perfect staff and perfect congregants and did ministry perfectly.

It would be so much easier to be thankful, wouldn’t it?

But the reality is, I’m not perfect, the US may not see a revival, my family and friends will struggle with health issues and one day die, my church doesn’t have perfect people at any position, and I may never see that big contract.

So what?

Is God greater if everything goes the way I want it to or is He the same, whether I suffer or not?

This is a critical question, because thanksgiving can’t depend on what we have. If I have plenty, I’m thankful and if I have less, I’m not? If that were true, what would be the line of demarcation indicating when we needed to be thankful and when we could start complaining?

So if thanksgiving isn’t about “counting our blessings, naming them one by one,” what is it?

I suggest it is above all a focus on who God is.

Recently I heard a poem entitled “Flame Of God” written by Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India who opened, then ran an orphanage for fifty-five years. The poem is such a rich, reverent piece, I think it gains strength by repetition. The point for this post is that Amy Carmichael clearly saw God in a way that made her want to give Him her all.

She wouldn’t have created a thanksgiving list that included stuff that made life easy or comfortable. She’d thank God for Himself, His word, prayer, His redemption. But she’s mostly thank Him for the privilege of serving Him, for the opportunity to give her life to care for the least and lost.

When asked once what missionary life was like, she wrote back saying simply, “Missionary life is simply a chance to die.” (Wikipedia)

The words of “Flame Of God” inspire me and convict me at the same time. Above all, they make me want to see God the way Amy Carmichael did.

Flame Of God

From prayer that asks that I may be
Sheltered from winds that beat on Thee,
From fearing when I should aspire,
From faltering when I should climb higher
From silken self, O Captain, free
Thy soldier who would follow Thee.

From subtle love of softening things,
From easy choices, weakenings,
(Not thus are spirits fortified,
Not this way went the Crucified)
From all that dims Thy Calvary
O Lamb of God, deliver me.

Give me the love that leads the way,
The faith that nothing can dismay
The hope no disappointments tire,
The passion that will burn like fire;
Let me not sink to be a clod;
Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God

Suffering is a part of life. I don’t think it’s wrong for the sick to pray for healing or the unemployed, for a job. I think it’s good to pray for God’s comfort in the face of grief. But should I pray for “softening things” or for “easy choices”? I think too often that’s what I do.

What I want to do instead is learn to use suffering for an occasion to thank God—for His presence, His strength, and whatever else He shows me. I’m most often mindful of His omniscience—that the things which surprise me, are no surprise to Him. That He knew all along what would happen and what I’d need. And of course that reminds me how trustworthy He is.

I don’t know that I’ll ever have the spiritual maturity Amy Carmichael displayed when she wrote “Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.” But I’m convinced thanking God, no matter where He puts me or what He takes me through, draws me into a deeper relationship with Him.

Published in: on November 12, 2015 at 6:34 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Holiday Coffee Cups And Being Thankful

Starbucks cupsAs many know, Starbucks has brought out their holiday cups which do not mention which holiday we’re celebrating. A former pastor named Joshua Feuerstein, who now seems to make his living, according to the Washington Post, by making video rants and DVDs for which he accepts donations, posted his infamous complaint of this year’s cup:

Feuerstein claims that Starbucks wanted to “take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new cups” because, according to the caption on his video, “they hate Jesus.”

Feuerstein goes on to explain that when he visited a Starbucks store, he told the employee making his drink that his name was “Merry Christmas” so that his cup would read “Merry Christmas.” He later says “Guess what, Starbucks? Just to offend you, I made sure to wear my Jesus Christ shirt into your store (“Why #MerryChristmasStarbucks is Everything Wrong with American Christianity” by Nate Lake)

Apparently a good number of Mr. Feuerstein’s two million Facebook followers punched the “Like” button, and he, who would “stick it to Starbucks” appeared on CNN.

Sadly his complaint now stands as representative of Christians. Except, any number of believers (like Nate Lake in the article I quoted above) have taken issue with what he’s trying to accomplish, and more importantly, how he’s going about it. There’s also the push back to the idea that this rant against Starbucks is a Christian complaint.

All well and good until some people started complaining about those who were complaining about Mr. Feuerstein’s complaint.

And we haven’t even celebrated Thanksgiving yet.

In fact, I wonder if all this complaint leaves room for us to celebrate Thanksgiving. Are we Christians indeed a thankful people? Or are we an entitled lot who think a secular company owes us a holiday cup that acknowledges Jesus Christ? Or that secular media owes us a correct characterization of who Christians are and what we believe? Or who think we should, like the secularists, be guided by all that is politically correct.

It seems a little silly, but the core issue seems to be, I love Jesus and you should too, but because you don’t, I’m going to boycott you. Or rant against you. And purposefully offend you.

The counter then became, I love Jesus and you’re sullying His name by your offensive tactics and giving the media and all secularists an occasion to mock Christians.

Which then engendered, Why are you making an issue of something so trivial? Stop protesting so much.

Mr. Lake’s article, with which I agree in principle, is a call for Christians to treat those in our society who don’t believe as we do, with meekness.

I read another article by Pastor Kevin DeYoung, with which I also agree for the most part, entitled “Christmas Is Not For Cranks.” The call here is to see the light in our society and not just the dark:

The same malls that may wish to rid their public space of the most innocuously “Christian” greetings, will pump out the most blatant Christian propaganda from their loud speakers by playing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Silent Night,” and “Joy to the World.” Let’s not curse the darkness when there is still much light for which we can give thanks.

Well, yes.

But maybe we should first realize that Christmas actually is for cranks. We, cranks and offended alike, are sinners standing in need of the Savior whose coming we ostensibly are celebrating.

I think there’s one way we can check our attitude about Christmas: by first celebrating Thanksgiving. I know as a holiday here in the US it’s been reduced to a big family dinner (usually, but not always, with turkey), football, and, of late, shopping, or at least plans for shopping.

Don’t get me wrong. I love seeing my family, I love turkey dinners with all the scrumptious dishes I never make any other time of the year, and I love football (shopping less so! 😉 ). But lost in all the plans and preparation and travel and conversations and hilarity is a time of actual thanksgiving. In my family we still pray before our meal, and we do thank God for what He’s given, but when we stack up all the other things we do, thanksgiving gets a mighty small sliver.

Of course, I can’t say what others do apart from our time together. What I’m really concerned about is what I do, in my heart, as I approach Christmas and celebrate Thanksgiving. There’s a line in Psalm 84 about singing for joy to the living God. Every time I come to it, I think, I want my life to be filled with joy so that it overflows in song.

I don’t think I get there by complaining.

Not that I think we should shut our eyes to offenses. But there are ways to address offenses that aren’t offensive.

In this regard, I think Mr. Lake is right that Christ’s quality of meekness is a great guide, but I think it should apply to our treatment of the cranks as much as it should to those who ban Merry Christmas.

Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love isn’t a plastic smile on Sunday morning. Rather it causes us to listen to others, to ask God how we should respond, to put the needs of others first.

I’m speaking to myself here and feeling very convicted. But I’m also understanding something in a new way. The fruit of the Spirit, as I’ve heard before, encompasses love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These are not “fruits” but “fruit.” It’s a package deal.

In other words, my desire to have a life filled with joy can’t happen in isolation from love and love can’t happen if it’s cut off from gentleness, which in turn is connected tightly to self-control. It’s a package.

Interesting, though, that thankfulness isn’t on the list. Yet Scripture commands us to be thankful any number of times. And to rejoice.

I’m thinking now that thanksgiving should not be something we wait to incorporate on Thanksgiving Day. And yes, I’ve heard over and over the charge that everyday should be thanksgiving day. But really, there is a time to celebrate. God instituted feast days for the people of Israel. It’s good and right and proper to think specially about what God has given us for which we can be thankful.

But maybe we should have the twelve days of thanksgiving. Or the thirty days. I know some people have determined to express gratitude for something different every day of the month. I like traditions and even some ritual. Maybe this is the time to employ it, at least a little.

Maybe between now and Christmas, I’ll employ a little ritualistic thanksgiving as part of my preparation to celebrate God giving the world His only begotten Son.

Spiritual Disciplines

prayerThe jargon in Christian circles changes. Years ago, we talked a great deal about spiritual disciplines. Today we talk about spiritual formation and being missional. I’m not sure I see a great deal of difference in any of it, as long as it is Biblical. What we name things isn’t really the important thing as much as is our obedience to what God calls us to.

There are a few things that once were known as spiritual disciplines—largely because they required self-discipline to develop the habit of doing these particular things that would enhance spiritual growth—i.e., a closer relationship with God.

They really were no-brainers. Like any relationship, our relationship with God depends on communication. So the spiritual disciplines were things like spending time every day reading Scripture and praying. In other words, communicating with God.

I don’t recall ever seeing a list of spiritual disciplines, but they would undoubtedly include meditating on God’s word, going to church regularly, telling others about Christ, fasting, and serving others. What we rarely talked about then or now is memorizing Scripture.

We didn’t talk much about praising God or thanking Him either. Oh, we sometimes included praise and thanks in our teaching about prayer. There’s the cool acronym ACTS that serves as a “what to include in prayer” guide. If I remember correctly, A is for adoration—another word for praise. C is for confession, T for thanksgiving, and S for supplication, or asking God for the things we perceive as needs.

Still, praise and/or thanksgiving never seemed to get their own special place among the other spiritual disciplines. I suppose many people assume that praise is taken care of if a person goes to church because there’s “a time of worship,” which generally means singing. Sometimes singing does involve corporate praise, but I don’t think it’s a substitute for praising God personally.

It’s kind of like the difference between sitting in an audience and applauding a performer versus going up to them afterward to tell them how much you enjoyed what they did. Both are good, but the personal “why I liked it” or “what it meant to me” or “how it affected or influenced or changed me” goes deeper. I think that’s what individual praise of God can do.

Back to memorizing Scripture—when I was in school, memorization as a learning tool was in disgrace. I think that idea carried over to the Church until we pretty much stopped emphasizing it altogether.

The thing is, Jesus said the Holy Spirit would bring to our remembrance His words. But how can He bring to our remembrance what we’ve never learned?

He’s God, so He can work around our own failings, but if we are serious about our relationship with Him—if we truly want to hear His voice, we need to draw near to Him, as James says (“Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” James 4:7).

Of late I’ve been working harder at memorizing Scripture, and one thing I’ve noticed: verses I’ve read any number of times suddenly have greater meaning. I “get” them. I suppose it’s really that I personalize them because I’m thinking about them so much more and repeating them more often. Because that’s the secret to memorizing verses or passages of Scripture: repetition.

That’s the secret to memorizing anything. I use the times tables as my measurement of memorization. In school I needed to memorize the times tables. I had a teacher who tested us on our times table over and over. At some point, even though I wasn’t reviewing the times table or being tested on it, I could still pop off and answer, Whats 5 times 6, without a pause.

In other words, I own the times table. I know it as well as I know my own name. I have it memorized.

In contrast, too often in the past I would memorize a verse or a passage of the Bible and then go on to something else. At some point I would realize that I no longer could quote that verse by heart any more. That was true of something so well known as Psalm 23. I knew it as a child, knew it into adulthood, but at some point, I could no longer call it up like I could the times table. Why? because I hadn’t repeated it any time in the last decade or so!

I’m not good at memorization. We all have different learning styles and one model identifies some learners as “global,” meaning we grasp the big picture over and above the specifics. Consequently, I learn concepts more easily than I learn particulars. I could tell you, for example, the causes of the Civil War more easily than I could tell you what general fought in what battle on what date. Other people have no problem learning the particulars. They come easily and they stick. Me, I have to work at it and work at it and work at it.

In fact, I’ve figured out that I need to learn a verse at least three times before I have it actually learned. I mean, I can say a verse word perfectly in the morning. I mean, I’ll say it, check myself, say it in context. I have it. Until the next day. Then it’s like I’ve never seen the verse before. So I start over. I may remember some parts of the verse, and re-learning it isn’t as hard as the first time, but come day three, it’s like I never even looked at the verse. So I re-learn it once more. By that time, I’m making connections and figuring out key words that can cue me to the next phrase. Generally by day four I can struggle through, but I need to keep reviewing.

There are some verses or passages I’ve left too soon, and when I go to review them later, I have to spend considerable time with them because I make so many mistakes.

And yet, as much as it’s work for me to memorize Bible verses, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s one of the coolest disciplines that draws me closer to God. And, get this, it doesn’t take as much time as you might think. Consider this. Once you have a verse memorized, it doesn’t take any longer to say it than to read it. How long does it take to read John 3:16? Maybe 20 seconds? Probably less.

So if I’m memorizing a verse, and I say it over and over and over and over and over—if I break it into parts, as I do, and repeat a phrase three times, then do the same for the next phrase and then add them together until I have the whole verse, that’s what, 20 seconds multiplied by maybe 18 repeated phrases, or six minutes to memorize a verse. Six minutes. I can think of a lot of six minutes I waste, even though I say I’m oh, so busy.

The key for me is . . . well, discipline. I have figured out a place and time that works for me to spend time reading, praying, whatever. Eventually, after repetition, these disciplines aren’t actual disciplines any more. They’re habits.

Now if I could just get in the habit of cleaning the house. 😉

Published in: on May 8, 2015 at 7:23 pm  Comments Off on Spiritual Disciplines  
Tags: , , , , , ,

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! 😉