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: , , , , ,

History In The Hands Of The Ignorant

The_First_Thanksgiving_Jean_Louis_Gerome_FerrisI saw a news item some years ago. Supposedly a Hollywood star came out saying she hates the US holiday of Thanksgiving (the Los Angeles Times published a rebuttal article calling into question Fox’s motivation and journalism for drawing their information from popeater.com, though the Times failed to mention that sites like the Huffington Post also carried the story).

The “news event,” generated by second-hand reports, explained that this star was boycotting Thanksgiving because she didn’t want to be a part of rewriting history or commemorating “what the white settlers did to the native Indians.”

I’d like to rail a little against this one ignorant woman, except I saw something eerily similar from someone in my Facebook network.

YIKES! 😮 How gullible are we? Because some actress supposedly says this horrible thing about Thanksgiving, we rush out and start parroting the sentiments ascribed to her?

Never mind that there are primary historical documents—journals by the pilgrims who actually celebrated that holiday, such as Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford and Mourt’s Relation by Edward Winslow and others—that make it clear Thanksgiving has nothing to do with any of the activity that forced the native Americans off their land.

The event that Americans commonly call the “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated to give thanks to God for helping the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony survive their first brutal winter in New England. The first Thanksgiving feast lasted three days, providing enough food for 53 pilgrims and 90 Native Americans.

In what way would a gathering that included on average two Indians for every pilgrim settler be reprehensible? Especially when the settlers were thanking God for His provision—not merely for the food, but for the Indians who taught them how to survive.

In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims reaped a bountiful harvest. To thank God for their deliverance and the help they had received from the Indians, Bradford held a three-day Thanksgiving feast inviting the Indians to join them in their celebration.
“Strangers, Saints and Indians” by John A. Murray, Wall Street Journal

For the next fifty years, the pilgrims and the neighboring native people groups lived in harmony. And Thanksgiving feasts took place in response to the blessings they enjoyed. Not every year, but with more and more frequency.

So who actually is “rewriting history”?

Certainly not the people who are reading the original source material. And not those of us who celebrate God’s goodness, as the pilgrims did—recognizing that God’s hand preserves and protects and provides.

Think about it. What were the odds that a native American, fluent in English, would “happen” upon this colony of pilgrims so in need of help?

But I’m getting sidetracked.

This well-documented story certainly can be interpreted from a number of angles (for example, by focusing on the English speaking native Americans, by looking at the political developments within the colony, by exploring the relationships of the various native people groups with each other), but it cannot be painted as the beginning of hostilities, pilgrims with Indians.

At least as long as we’re not rewriting history.

And as long as ordinary people don’t start parroting the ideas of the rich and famous who have not done any actual scholarship.

The whole thing is made more ludicrous by the idea that the news article quoting unknown friends of the said Famous Actress might not be factual. So someone repeats the idea that Thanksgiving is celebrating murder because an online news source printed the story that this Star Actress said she’s boycotting Thanksgiving for a reason without any basis in fact.

Are we so ignorant that in this Age of Communication, people will believe something so easy to debunk? The sad part is that believing it turns into repeating it, which soon hardens into rewritten history.

Published in: on November 17, 2015 at 8:17 pm  Comments (8)  
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.

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: , , , , , ,

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing you all a joyous day of rejoicing and giving thanks to God our Savior.

Published in: on November 27, 2014 at 9:51 am  Comments (2)  

And The Most Thankful Person Is . . .

First_Thanksgiving_in_AmericaJesus told a story once about two people who owed money. The first was in the hole for the equivalent of 500 days worth of wages and the second a tenth of that, but neither could pay what they owed.

The thing is, the moneylender forgave both their debts. Jesus then asked the key question: Which of the two will love him the most? The man Jesus was talking to answered, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”

Bingo! Right answer.

A person who’s drowning and the person who’s arms are tired but who is still a mile from shore are both in need of rescue. However, the former will be overwhelmed with gratitude because he knows how truly great his need was. The second guy still had options. He could float on his back for a while, for instance, or ride a wave or rest his arms and simply kick. He wants to be rescued; his glad, relieved even, when he is. And thankful.

But the guy overwhelmed by the waves and on his way down for the last time, with no more strength to fight—well, there’s no end to his gratitude when he’s rescued. He loves much.

Here in the US we’re approaching Thanksgiving Day, but you’d hardly know it. On Twitter and Facebook the topics that are trending are Black Friday and Ferguson. The latter refers to the center of unrest generated in response to the grand jury deciding not indict the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown last August. Black Friday refers to the day-after-Thanksgiving sales that will help retail stores finish the year in the black.

Happy Thanksgiving, but first let’s loot and burn stores that had nothing to do with the events last August.

Happy Thanksgiving, now excuse me while I rush to the story to push and shove my way to the best sales I can find.

I’d say off hand, Americans as a group don’t love much. We’ve been given so much, but we’re blind to the freedom and opportunity we enjoy. We think we’re oppressed and disadvantaged, but few of us are. Our thanksgiving is cursory, more like lip service than genuine, heart-felt gratitude.

Those who love much are likely those who have lived in want or in fear. When someone gives them a job or gives blood to help them survive Ebola or gives their son a soccer ball and a note when they can’t do so themselves because they’re in prison—these people love much. They know what thanksgiving means.

Thanksgiving is a mindset. We can choose to be thankful or we can choose to take what we have for granted and focus on what we want instead of what we have.

Much of this choice depends on our view of God and His goodness and sovereignty. If God is good, then the gifts He gives are good, though we may not always realize in what way they can be so classified.

As it happens, I don’t believe all things are good. They aren’t. When a surgeon working in Sierra Leone contracted Ebola and died, I wouldn’t categorize that as good. When Jim Elliott and the missionaries with him were killed, that act was murder and evil, not good.

But God is bigger than the circumstances and He can make from the evil that which is a good beyond our comprehension. Consequentially we can always be thankful—not for stuff but for God who is faithful, who loves righteousness and justice and lovingkindness.

So who is the most thankful person? I think the person who sees and understands who God is and what we have when we have Jesus Christ who came to save us. When you’re rescued, eternally rescued and safe, you have a lot to be thankful for.

Published in: on November 25, 2014 at 7:13 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Giving Thanks For The Fleas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God sends an earthquake that opens prison doors.

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

You have got to be kidding me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All because of fleas. Thank God for the fleas!

Christians And Immigration

Tijuana-San_Ysidro_border_crossingFrom time to time I think Christians get on the wrong side of certain issues, not because of our theology but because of our opposition to those who typically take positions we disagree with. Take environmentalism, for example. Apart from the ridiculous extremes that put Humankind as subservient to nature, Christians should be doing all we can to preserve and protect creation. That’s the job God originally gave us.

Immigration is another such issue. Christians are taking an unbiblical stand on immigration much of the time. Here’s what God’s position on immigration is:

For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. (Deut. 10:17-19)

No bribes? Good, good. We’re all for no bribes. Justice for orphans? Absolutely! Protect the orphans! For widows? Well, OK, though it sounds a little like welfare. But aliens? Love for aliens? Come on, don’t you realize . . . They might be here illegally. And we can’t condone illegal behavior. We simply have to maintain the rule of law.

I get the illegal issue, but I think that’s perhaps secondary. I think first Christians need to be front and center loving aliens and strangers—especially in America where we or our ancestors were most likely at some point aliens and strangers.

In fact, we celebrate and give thanks for the love our forefathers received when they were aliens and strangers in a holiday called Thanksgiving.

Now we’re in position to welcome, to show love toward, people who are new, who are learning the language, who . . . OK, I heard that . . . something like, But they AREN’T learning the language. Well, just maybe if we talked to them, we’d give them a reason to learn the language.

But think about being in a foreign country, where you don’t know how things work exactly, where you might be ridiculed for no other reason than that you came from somewhere else. Immigrants need love. They are precisely the neighbors Jesus said Christians are to love.

Yes, I think illegal immigration has muddied the waters. I do think we should be a land that believes in the rule of law. I do think people entering the country illegally should face some consequences.

But first, what we’ve been doing, isn’t working. Too many people who are sent back across the border because of their immigration status find a way to return.

Then, too, more and more people who have grown up in the US and who know no other home because they came here with their parents illegally as children, are facing the consequences of a decision they didn’t make and over which they had no control.

So what are we to do? I think Christians should become the vocal minority pushing for immigration reform. We need some brave lawmakers to step up and work out a fair law that will bring illegal immigrants the hope that they can become naturalized citizens without discouraging legal immigrants and without encouraging a new flood of illegal border crossings.

We also need to reach out to immigrants without worrying whether or not they are illegal. We should offer English as a second language classes and we should offer mentors who immigrants can go to when they have questions.

I’m sure there are many, many ways Christians can reach out to immigrants. My church makes a concerted effort to contact foreign students who are studying in our local universities. They are away from home, in a foreign country, adjusting to a different culture.

Sound familiar? Immigrants are going through those same things, so why shouldn’t we reach out to them in the same way, or more so? I mean, they’re staying, so we have a chance to build into their lives on a long term basis.

There are so many good things that would come out of Christians taking a stand to love immigrants. But above all, we’d be following the dictates of Scripture, and that ought to be enough.

It ought to be.

– – – – –

Photo credit: © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons