Gratitude, Day 4—Play


I have a neighbor who has a young dog, about two years old now. Another neighbor just recently got a puppy, and those two hit it off. They love to run and chase and play tug of war and wrestle, and then run some more. I have to say, it’s really entertaining to watch.

I remember a time when I was young that our cat had a litter of kittens and as they grew, they loved to play with each other. We used to sit in the living room and just watch those kittens jump and chase each other and wrestle.

Recently I heard someone describing a cruise they went on and this person said a school of dolphins chased them. Well, not chased, I thought. But play? No doubt.

And then it dawned on me. Animals of all kinds play. Mostly their young, but even older pets can play. In other words, play is something God built into His creation.

No wonder we humans like to play: board games and card games and video games. We like to horse around. We invent games like Mother May I or Kick The Can or Hide-and-Seek. We play games we turn into sports like skate boarding and skiing. We play because . . . we were made to love play.

I’ve wondered off and on if play is good. I mean, what does play accomplish for the kingdom of God? Aren’t we to be good stewards of our time?

Well, yes, we are. But “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” or something like that. Yeah, not from the Bible, I know. And I might be tempted to think play is something we should outgrow, except for those dolphins chasing the cruise ship. And the dogs frolicking in the snow. And kittens chasing rainbows. In other words, God gave the instinct to play.

Sure, just like anything else, we humans can misuse God’s gift. We can turn it into an idol. We can become addicted. We can spend time playing when we are supposed to be working or worshiping or serving.

But play when we don’t use it in the wrong way, is a great gift from God. It adds enjoyment and relaxation to our days. It takes our minds off problems and heartaches. It gives us opportunities to laugh and to celebrate and to make memories.

And like all God’s good gifts, He reveals something about Himself in them. God shows that He has a sense of humor, that He laughs. There are some verses in Scripture that back this up. Sarah, when she learned that in her old age she would give birth to a son, said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.”

In Proverbs, this: “A joyful heart is good medicine.”

God shows a sense of irony, too, which is actually a type of humor. Take the Apostle Paul, for example. He was bent on chasing down Christians and doing away with them one way or the other. But God, in a great ironic twist, says, No, no, no. I want you, the Christian hunter to be the greatest evangelist FOR Christ in the first century.

There are others. Haman, for example, showing up in the palace to ask the king if he can hang Mordecai, and the king calling Haman to him to ask what he should do for the man he wishes to honor . . . which turns out to be Mordecai! Ironic twist.

One thing I know for sure from the book of James:

Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises.

Praises. Sort of like thanksgiving. So, how grateful I am to God that He has given us play, which leads to laughter and cheer.

If you’re like me, you get a kick out of watching animals play, so here’s a video you might enjoy.

Advertisements
Published in: on November 6, 2018 at 5:48 pm  Comments (5)  
Tags: , , ,

Gratitude, Day 3—The Kindness Of The Lord


As you may (or may not) remember, I am doing a series of Thanks posts, sort of in protest to the fact that Thanksgiving here in the US is being squeezed out amid the candy and costumes of Halloween and the presents and lights, carols, nativity scenes, and Santas of Christmas.

I actually love Thanksgiving. It’s a holiday that hasn’t been overly commercialized. It can’t be confused with any other holiday, the way Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans’ Day, and Flag Day can be confused with each other. But the greatest plus is that the origins of the holiday have a spiritual foundation. The Thanks in Thanksgiving, is directed to God. And that fact gives me a good reason to love this particular day above other celebrations.

So, today, I am particularly grateful for the kindness of the Lord. A particular verse from the Bible came to mind when I thought of God’s kindness:

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-5)

Clearly, God’s kindness is connected to His work of salvation—something another verse of Scripture spells out:

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)

So, yes, God’s kindness and love save us, but a great part of the process is His kindness leading us to repentance.

Repentance?

Isn’t that connected to an awareness of our sin? I mean, how can someone repent if they don’t actually think there is something in their life for which they need to regret, to be remorseful about, to wish were different in regard to their actions and/or character? I mean, are people who can only see their strengths ever going to repent?

No.

And that’s actually the human condition. We want to think better of ourselves than we are, but when we can’t avoid the problems, we tend to blame others. It’s society’s fault. I didn’t get a good education. My parents didn’t love me the way I needed them to. It was the snake who deceived me. The wife You gave me tempted me.

All those things are true or might be. But that doesn’t change the facts: whatever the conditions, we gave in and sinned. We made the decision to do what we knew we should not do. We stand guilty. Condemned.

And it is the kindness of God that brings us to that point. Kindness. Because once we’re aware of our need to repent, we can repent. We don’t need to hide any more, to blame others, to carry the guilt.

God’s kindness brings us to the place where we can deal with sin once and for all. Not through works we do. But by accepting the washing, the cleansing, the being made new provided by God.

God is actually kind in so many other ways. He is kind to give us friends and family, jobs and meaningful activity, churches and Bibles, homes and entertainment. But His kindness is greatest when it leads us to Him. Because nothing is more important. Our lives in the here and now are, as James says, a vapor. The Psalmist and Isaiah talk about our lives being like a flower—here today, and tomorrow gone with the wind or the scorching sun.

But only the here and now part. The eternal part of our lives stretches out before us. Nothing could be more important than that we live that eternal part with God our Savior. So how kind of God to invest so much into directing us to repentance for our sin.

He could ignore our need for repentance and make sure that these brief moments are nothing but pleasure-filled. I mean, it isn’t comfortable to think about our sin, to admit that we are the ones responsible, that we have gone our own way and ended up in a mess of our own making. But God’s kindness won’t let us delude ourselves into thinking that we’re OK in spite of our sin.

He is too kind to let us live in that delusion. He’d rather lead us to repentance.

Photo by Valeria Boltneva from Pexels

Published in: on November 5, 2018 at 5:10 pm  Comments Off on Gratitude, Day 3—The Kindness Of The Lord  
Tags: , , ,

Gratitude, Day 2—For The Beauty Of The Earth


As I said on Facebook today, the holiday that is getting squeezed out of existence is Thanksgiving. I want to keep the focus in November on what God has given, what I’m thankful for. So here’s the second installment in the Thankful series.

And today I’m mentioning something I think we can easily take for granted—the beauty of this home God has given us. I mean, all of it. Not the broken parts that sin has ruined, but the parts that allow us to see the beauty of God’s original design.

I’ll start with mountains because I love them so much. I don’t think there’s a better place in all the world than the land above timberline.

Maybe flatlanders don’t know that at a certain elevation, trees stop growing. That’s timberline. What does grow is grasses and wildflowers. But there’s also lots of rocks and glaciers and pools of icy blue or icy green water from melted snow. I’ve never, never seen anything so purely wild and beautiful.

But the ocean comes close. I love the ocean when there aren’t any people around. That’s usually in the winter or toward sunset.

And speaking of sunset, that’s another thing I am so grateful for—the colors of the sky. I love the oranges and pinks and yellows, but I also love the blue and whites and the black and dotted whites with the silver white peeking over the horizon. Yeah, I pretty much love the sky. Angry gray clouds are beautiful but so is misty fog.

But since I mentioned color, I’ll say, I’m really, really grateful for flowers and leaves that change colors. I mean, the wealth of color here is SoCal is off the chart. We have trees that blossom, bushes with flowers, and of course flowers themselves of every kind. Walking in SoCal is like walking in a rainbow.

So, yes, rainbows are certainly on the list of things for which I’m grateful. I mean, have you ever seen an ugly rainbow? Even a stubby piece of a rainbow is beautiful. The rainbows that come from the sun shining on the water spraying from a hose are beautiful. The prism rainbows flashing against a wall from a piece of jewelry are beautiful. Rainbows caught in the break of a wave, those are beautiful too.

But of course, saying rainbow makes me think of rain. I’m grateful for rain. So very grateful, and so longing to have a few days of much needed rain come our way. I don’t get to see it much any more except in pictures, but I also love snow. I mean, what renews the world better than a coat of new-fallen snow?

Obviously I’m not going into details about, say, the moon, or the beauty of the desert, which I rarely see, or any number of animals which are truly beautiful. The point is, I could put many, many more things on this list—things for which I’m grateful, and which illustrate just how beautiful this world is that God gave us to live in.

Above all, the beauty He created tells me a little about His own beauty. I’m grateful God showed us Himself through the beauty He created.

Published in: on November 2, 2018 at 5:01 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Gratitude, Day 1—The Books Of The Bible I Used To Skip


A number of years ago, I began reading through the Bible from cover to cover. When I first started the process, I’d inevitably bog down when I got to certain parts that seemed . . . well, boring. I thought they weren’t relevant, didn’t give the spiritual nourishment I needed.

So one year I got the idea to skip the parts that were too hard, that I didn’t find engaging.

But since then, I’ve changed.

As it happens, the Bible is constructed in such a way that one passage builds upon another, and before I realized it, I was reading the hard passages and even taking notes and asking questions.

Specifically I’m referring to the books of Leviticus and Numbers. There were other passages—a portion of 1 Chronicles, for example—that dive into genealogies, and they were on my “To Be Avoided” list, too, but primarily, I dodged Leviticus and Numbers.

I’m not at all sorry I did because I’m convinced that decision kept me from quitting my reading plan, as I tried to work my way through the entire Bible.

The amazing thing is that God has turned around my attitude toward those books. I realized it some years ago when I felt a sense of sadness that I was finished with Leviticus. When did that happen? And how?

God did His work, is what happened. How? By the power of His Spirit and the incisive word that cuts to the heart. I don’t honestly remember when I decided to keep going when I finished Exodus.

To be honest, there are big parts of that book that are not your edge-of-the-seat fare, either. It’s there that God gave the specifics of the tabernacle—its construction and furnishings—as well as the Ten Commandments and a variety of other laws.

Leviticus, then, sort of slides right in behind, carrying on where Exodus left off. The thing is, the more familiar I become with the rest of the Bible, the more these books of law and records make sense to me, and the more they help me understand other parts of the Bible. Cyclical, I know.

Not that I don’t also have questions about them. I do. Questions and observations.

Here’s one note, for instance, across from Exodus 21:16—“He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.”My note:

By this law, Joseph’s brothers would have been put to death.

Joseph’s brothers—the patriarchs after whom the twelve tribes were named. Their sin against Joseph was of the nature that would have cost them their lives under the Law. Instead, they were forgiven and given places of prominence among the nation of Israel for all time. Who could do that but a God of grace?!

Or how about this note next to Leviticus 17:11-12—“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘No person among you may eat blood, nor may any alien who sojourns among you eat blood.’ ” My notes:

How radical was Jesus’s statement “This is my blood . . . drink this . . . ” ! The blood is the life, so Jesus’s blood spilled for sinners was His life spent for the atonement of sinners. And the cup of the Lord’s supper? His life in us symbolized by our drinking of the cup.

These notes were compiled over at least three different readings of the passage. Each time something new about the verses came clear and one thought built on another.

Or how about Numbers 7. It’s 89 verses long, but most of it is repetition, enumerating the dedication offerings for the altar. Each day for twelve days a leader of one of the twelve tribes brought the exact same offering, and these are listed throughout the chapter, one after the other. All twelve of them:

On the [__ numbered] day it was [name of tribal leader] the son of [tribal leader’s father], leader of the sons of [name of tribe]; his offering was one silver dish whose weight was one hundred and thirty shekels, one silver bowl of seventy shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; one gold pan of ten shekels, full of incense; one bull, one ram, one male lamb one year old, for a burnt offering; one male goat for a sin offering; and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, five male lambs one year old. This was the offering of [tribal leader] the son of [tribal leader’s father].

I don’t know why God repeated those lines twelve times, inserting, of course the different tribal names and their respective leaders and their fathers. But what I’ve noticed is that the margins of my Bible are covered with notes here (mostly questions). This was a passage I once skipped, then skimmed, then tried to memorize, then began to ask questions about and notice details.

For instance, the order in which the tribes presented their sacrifice is not the same as the order of birth of the patriarchs or their listing by the name of their mother (the two most common ways they are listed throughout the first five books of the Bible). Instead, they’d been grouped in companies, three tribes to a group, each under the leadership of one particular tribe. By the order of these companies they were to camp and by the order of these companies they were to travel. It is this order, then, that they presented their sacrifices.

Significant? In thinking about the dynamics of the nation, it’s interesting and informative, especially in relation to its division into two kingdoms later on.

Back to the sacrifices: part included flour or incense offered in 12 bowls, 12 pans, and 12 dishes. Only the pans holding the incense were to be made of gold. The others were silver. Is there a reason for that? Was the incense a particularly important part of the worship or was it a practical matter—the blend of burning spices would have tarnished silver?

I don’t know, but it’s interesting to note that in Revelation the prayers of the saints are referred to as incense.

When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (Rev. 5:8)

All this to say, there are all kinds of interesting connections, some literal and some symbolic, that I am beginning to see, especially in the New Testament, as a result of reading Leviticus and Numbers. I understand the book of Hebrews better, for instance, and a number of things that the gospels chronicle make more sense.

I have to mention this one: one of the laws in Leviticus was that a person with an “issue of blood” would be unclean—i.e. not able to join in the worship ceremonies and feasts. Furthermore, anyone that person touched would also be unclean.

So in the New Testament when the woman with the “issue of blood” touched the edge of Jesus’s clothing, she didn’t want to touch Him to cause Him to become unclean. He, on the other hand, didn’t rebuke her, but had compassion on her because her suffering had been much deeper than the physical. She’d been ostracized and separated from worship for all those years. And still she believed.

So today, I’m especially grateful for the books of Leviticus and Numbers and for the way God makes His word come alive. He is a faithful God.

Much of this post is a revised version of one that appeared here in September, 2014.

Published in: on November 1, 2018 at 4:59 pm  Comments Off on Gratitude, Day 1—The Books Of The Bible I Used To Skip  
Tags: , , , ,

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: , , ,