Monday, March 26, 2012

Giving Thanks in Life

But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ….
(2 Cor. 2:14a)

Last week we began exploring the different arenas for which we have cause to give thanks and we discovered the first road of thanks led us to “death.”  Exploring another avenue, we discover another category of victory, and the motivation behind the gratitude is that God, in Christ, ALWAYS leads us to triumph.  I find myself asking this question often:  Really? ALWAYS?   While last week we discovered victory over the grave, this week God graciously offers us consistent victory on the journey of life.  I sit here exploring this statement of fact thinking I haven’t ever fully capitalized on this promise.

I know a lot of folks looking for triumph.  I am one of them.  Over the years I’ve come to realize that I’ve often wished for a magic wand that would accomplish the “win” quickly without the work.  This passage assures me the win will come, but it’s a process of following Jesus to get there.

A little over a week ago, while on a trip to South Africa, I woke one morning following a series of three very haunting dreams.  I won’t go into detail, other than to say, each of these dreams led me to a realization about parts of my life with which I continually wrestle: fear (especially of the unknown), placing too high of expectations on others, an inability to “let go” and give God room to work, and anger.  Then I read the above passage.  Give thanks – right now.  Even though the victory hasn’t been delivered, it’s assured.  God faithfully and always comes through to bring us the win.  There’s one other key to finding personal triumph (besides thanksgiving):  follow the leader. 

I appreciate the fact that the Lord leads the way.   Since he’s out in front, he takes the brunt of the battle.  He takes the initial blows, where the fight is the most brutal, and the bloodiest. He wars against the very things we fight against – our own nature and the unseen world (see Colossians 2:15).  In fact, he’s already made the charge and prepared the way.  I just follow his lead – walk in his steps – and submit to his direction.  If I give him that place of authority, and quit trying to charge ahead in front of him, I have a guarantee of victory over the things I struggle with the most.

What a promise!  What grace! 
Yes – overwhelming gratitude:  for the win and the warrior!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Giving Thanks Even Unto Death

 Recently, another celebrity passed away too soon, too young.  The world mourned the loss of a great talent; the TV media consumed the hours with speculation of cause and details surrounding the preparation of, as well as, the entire funeral (one news station stopped a critical political interview just so we could see the plane descend from the night sky as it brought the body back home).  The world seemed to halt at this passing.  Grief consumed Americans.  Will there really be life and entertainment after the fact? 

Yet, we will all die.  This truth has certainly become more verified as each birthday passes, and the more frail this earthly tent gets.  However, as I study passages of Scripture around my theme of gratitude, my mind is shifting with a new paradigm of thought regarding death…well, the death of those in Christ Jesus.

Here are Paul’s words concluding a lengthy expose on death:
…but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
(read 1 Cor. 15:50-58).

Paul seems to say, “There’s no need to mourn.  Instead, give thanks!”  This is contradictory to all we know.  Oh, we’re willing to focus on celebrating the life -absolutely!  Yet, the last thing we “feel like” doing when a loved one dies is expressing sincere gratitude for death, or living out of a thankful spirit.  It’s difficult to ask a mourner to have a pervading spirit of thanksgiving.  Yet this is what Paul is suggesting should be our mantra at death.

Don’t get me wrong; Paul’s not saying to stuff the feelings.  Death brings grief, loneliness, worry about the future, and, often, anger.  Paul’s not telling us that we should numb out and not process these emotions.  What he is telling us is that in spite of our loss, we can have an internal heart of appreciation – for what the Lord gives the believer at death!

Here’s what:  1) those in Christ are now in a position to inherit the Kingdom of God.  Usually, it’s the ones left behind that are given an inheritance.  But in God’s economy, it’s backwards.  When you die, you receive the gift – the place Jesus has gone to prepare, our marriage to the bridegroom (Jesus), and the joyous celebration feast.  I think of all the young women on our campus at ACU about to be married – the sparkle in their eyes as they prepare for their upcoming day shines their enthusiasm.  That is our attitude toward death – a marriage takes place.  This is real victory!

2) This body (that tent I just mentioned) is changed from perishable to imperishable, from mortal to immortal, from corruptible to incorruptible.  Praise the Lord!  This is real victory!

3) Jesus swallowed up sin and the grave – the sting, the power, and the consumption of death has been abolished.  Death is now LIFE!  This is real victory!

Monday, March 12, 2012

This Do in Remembrance

We can’t talk about entering into communion with the Lord without at least turning to the New Testament accounts, Jesus’ own word’s and Paul’s writing regarding the Eucharist.  There are three statements that stand out (well, to me, at least0.

On the night Jesus served the Passover meal with his disciples, he said, “I greatly/earnestly desire to eat this...before I suffer.”

Paul’s words, “On the night in which he was betrayed…he gave thanks…” 

Then Jesus broke the bread and offered the cup and said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” 

I am struck by the intentionality of Jesus instituting a ceremony of thanksgiving in lieu of what he knew would follow.  God, the Son, fully understood what was about to happen: the fulfillment of the Passover, the final slaughter and sacrifice of the Lamb of God whose blood would cover the sin of our homes (hearts) one last time for all time.  Here’s what our Savior was giving thanks for in the midst of that moment:
God on trial
Rejection and betrayal
Scorn and mocking
Sneers and derision
Crown of thorns
The weight of sin he would carry
Condemnation and crucifixion
His own Father turning his back on his only Son
Helplessly watching his own mother’s suffering
Broken heart
Wrestling of acceptance to final resignation
Facing hell in the face

He received the gift – the black box with the black bow of grimness – with thanks!  I know my heart – a little annoyance and I complain; a little frustration and I whine; a bit of rejection and I’m angry…  But, in the stillness of my heart, if I really stop to listen, I hear these words crying out:  “This do in remembrance of me.”  This what?  Give thanks.  Live thanks…and commune.  This do – and rise above!  This do – and be well!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Every Good and Perfect Gift

I can’t seem to move past the concept of giving thanks and the connection to Eucharist (communion).  Here’s the full definition of Eucharist:  a sacrament of thanksgiving, an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual divine grace, a thing of mysterious and sacred significance.

Of course!  When we experience grace, the undeserved goodness of God’s hand, a gift of pure unconditional love, we’ve been invited into a moment of mystery.  Anything that blesses us, or continues to bring us into complete wholeness (the present-tense of salvation) is a gift:  a thing of mysterious and sacred significance.  That “thing” is holy – no matter how it comes wrapped (whether in a bright cheerful package that makes us smile, or a black box topped with a black bow of grimness).  That moment is God’s divine, personal touch on my very mundane, normal life.  If I recognize it, I have to pause before the sacred, for the Divine has chosen to enter into my world. 

In that recognizable moment, how can I not give thanks (eucharisteo)?  How can I not respond as the one leper who returned to Jesus, and bend low, to loudly, excitedly, and vibrantly, glorify Him and give grateful applause for all he’s done? For when I do, I truly experience Communion with him.

Question:  How has the Divine entered your world over the past week?  Do you see him in the big, obvious blessings – but have not learned to acknowledge him in the small and the insignificant? Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Lights.  May I highly recommend keeping a "blessings book?"  The more we see our blessings, the more our hearts fill with cheer...and, as we all know, a cheerful heart is VERY GOOD medicine!

Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you ___________________!
Deuteronomy 8:18a