Monday, April 30, 2012

The Cure (1)

This week, I spent a little time reflecting on the following passage in Proverbs: 

He who oppresses the poor reproaches his maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him (Proverbs 14.31). 

This led to 1 John 3:17.  But whoever has the worlds goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in Him.

No matter how I turned the phrase, the truth of it boils down to this: if the love of God dwells in us, we live generously. We respond with gracious giving. The needy (no matter the reason of their need...whether its because of wise choices or otherwise) are taken care of - by me. Now, I'm not responsible for all the needy in the world, nor am I responsible for all their needs. However, the point is I help where I can among those who are in my world.

But, I don't. Something I know about me is that I ignore things that are hard to deal with emotionally. I don't deal well with my own pain, let alone someone else's. So, what I don't like, I avoid. My city is filled with hurting, needy people. My life is comfortable. I have food in the fridge. Clothes in the closet. Shoes. Stuff. A house full of stuff. If the love of the Lord is in me, well, I share with those in need. Why, then, don't I? What is the real reason?

As I asked that question, I remembered another passage about the children of God bringing gifts to God to be used on his behalf for his glory. The Word says they gave out of their abundance. Abundance? These were folks who lived very simple lives. These were people who paid huge taxes. These were people who lived during the worst of times economically. These were people who barely got by, but they saw themselves as having ABUNDANCE.

This speaks to the cure for my problem...gratitude/thanksgiving (eucharisteo). Here's how I know. The more I focus on what I have and respond to it all with a heart of thanksgiving, the more I realize I DO HAVE.  My focus isn't on what I lack, it's on my abundance. Out of my abundance, then, I want to give. Out of my abundance, I learn generosity. Out of my abundance and thanksgiving, I allow the love of the Lord to cast out my fear of facing someone elses pain, and, consequently, I am free to become the hands and feet of Jesus.

The cure to a lack of giving is gratitude. Plain and simple.

Monday, April 23, 2012

This is God's Will.

Another look at 1 Thessalonians 5:17.  As we’ve unpacked this verse, we’ve already learned that we are to be thankful at all times, in all circumstances (Eph 5:20 re-affirms this!), and “in” all places.  However, there is one last phrase in the verse that cannot be overlooked.  Here’s the verse in its entirety:
“...give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

This is God’s will.   There it is.  If we’re to answer who (all of us), what (develop an attitude of gratitude), where (everywhere), when (at all times), now we come to why (being thankful is God’s will for me).  Just what does this mean?  We talk a lot about God’s will.  I think most of us really want to follow God’s will.  Sometimes, it’s really difficult to know what God’s will for my life is.  Often, following God’s will is like driving in a blinding snow storm, and feels a bit like how I felt as a child at an Easter egg hunt (everyone hit the ground running at the sound of the whistle, and I froze –  hence, everyone else got to the eggs before I did – so I always ended up disappointed).  God’s will is “out there,” but it seems to be clearer to others than it is to me. 

When it comes to the subject of whether I should be thankful or not thankful – there is no question.  God’s will is already established.  I don’t have to search for it.  I don’t have to worry that someone else will “get it” before me.  It’s pretty clear from the get go.  Of course, I had to check the Greek definition of the word transliterated “thelema” in my Lexicon (you didn’t think you could get away without a little word study, did you?).  Here’s the definition...the purpose of God to bless mankind through Christ ;  what God wishes to be done by us (synonyms:  command, precept, will, choice, inclination, desire, pleasure). 

With this in mind, let’s rephrase the verse:
Give thanks ALWAYS for this is God’s desire – and it will bless you.
Give thanks ALWAYS for this pleases God – and you will find blessing in doing so.

I’ve re-read (several times now) those two simple statements and some warning bells have sounded in my head.  My human nature automatically focuses my eyes on the second part of that sentence.  I want I can easily add “be thankful” to my spiritual to do list.  If the act of being thankful brings blessing, then I can muster up plenty of thanksgiving.  Whoops!  At that point, my thanksgiving becomes performance based legalism.  It doesn’t spring out of a heart filled with the knowledge of the grace and goodness of God.  It’s not an overflow of gratitude from one who is so in love with the One who first loved her that she longingly submits to His pleasure...His will.

I’ve said enough – ponder this with me. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

In All Places Give Thanks!

Thinking more about last week’s “thought”...  Look at the places people have been when they gave thanks (keep in mind this is as random as my brain):
  • Paul gave thanks in palaces before kings, in the depths of the ocean, seated before a fire on an unplanned island destination, and chained in prison.
  • David gave thanks while hiding in a cave, on the run, in the midst of battles, in the camp of his enemies the Philistines, and living in a luxurious palace.
  • Moses gave thanks in a dry desert, while walking in circles.
  • Abraham gave thanks in a tent.
  • Adam gave thanks in a lush garden.
  • Samuel and Solomon gave thanks in the temple/church.
  • Many of the prophets gave thanks while in slavery to their captors.
  • Daniel gave thanks in the den of lions.
  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego gave thanks in a fiery furnace.
  • Jesus gave thanks in solitary places and on his journey to Calvary.
  • The apostle John gave thanks in exile.
  • Jonah offered a song of thanks in the belly of the whale.
  • Jeremiah gave thanks while in stocks.
  • Mary, the mother of Jesus, sang her Magnificat in her cousin’s home.
  • Mary (the “other” Mary) gave thanks at Jesus feet.
  • Stephen gave thanks while being stoned to death in a pit.
  • The disciples gave thanks in an upper room.
  • Peter gave thanks in the middle of a city square...and before the Sanhedrin (the same ones who had Jesus crucified).
  • Cornelius gave thanks in his home.

Seems like at all times and in all places, thanksgiving is a very good thing!

Monday, April 9, 2012

In All Things Give Thanks

Dear Paul,

As I’ve reflected on the words regarding the giving of thanks as you penned them, I find myself a bit frustrated.  You so easily indicate that an attitude of gratitude is a choice.  Yet, I don’t always feel like giving thanks.  There are times when the circumstances just don’t warrant a thank-you!   As I write this, a dear friend is caring for her mother in her last days; three young moms, whom I’m closely connected with, have recently been diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer; the five year old son of another acquaintance has leukemia; another friend has lost her job and is the sole supporter of her family; a young woman suffered a miscarriage this morning; and news just came across my desk that one of our students, fortunately, failed a suicide attempt (but, what brought her to that place?).  I’m having a difficult time being grateful.

Desiring a heart of thanks, 
Dear Peg,

You have correctly discerned my intentions with four words:  gratitude is a choice.  Obviously, you aren’t going to feel like giving thanks for the situations that are difficult.  I never ask you to do so.  Hear what I do say:

In all things give thanks... 1Thessalonians 5:17   (In the middle of all things... give thanks.  In spite of the things...give thanks.  In the process of...give thanks.  Whether you feel like it or not...find ways to give thanks.)

I would never ask you to do something I didn’t model for you.  So, in Acts, chapter 16, you read the story of how Silas and I were thrown into prison for helping release a slave-girl from the captivity of divination.  Her masters didn’t much appreciate our brand of help, so they tore off our clothing and beat us with rods, and if that weren’t enough, threw us into prison.  There, beaten, bloody, bruised, we were chained with our feet in stocks to the wall.  There was nothing to do but pray.  Praying reminded us that we serve a God who is bigger than our circumstances, who has a Sovereign plan for everything that happens, and that, in comparison, our prison was a very small thing.  Praying turned to thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving turned to praise.  Praise turned to singing.  As Silas and I plowed through our prison praise list, God responded with an earthquake.  Our shackles fell off, and the prison doors flew open.  We could have run, but we remembered God had us there for a reason.  He wasn’t through with us yet.  Long story short, the result of our grateful hearts led to the salvation of many souls that night. 

When you remember that with me, nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37)...When you remember that all things do work together for good to those who love the Lord (Romans 8:28)...When you remember that I will use all things to conform you to the image of my son (Romans 8:29), it’s easy to give thanks, not “for”, but “in.”

With love, 

PS.  You might consider a prison playlist on your phone for just such a time as this...

Monday, April 2, 2012

Thanking God for My Smell?

But thanks be to God who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.  For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; - to the one an aroma from death to life, the other an aroma from life to life.

2 Corinthians 2:14-16

For what do I give thanks?
Blessings (this is fairly obvious, and goes without saying, really)
The greatness of God
Death’s victory
Victory in the process of living (even in the now…) - The Win!
My aroma: J  (and I’m not talking about the Estee Lauder kind)

The first picture that came to my mind when I wrote the word “aroma” brought a smile and a chuckle.  During the years that Bay and I were dorm parents at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya, I used to get a good laugh watching the guys in our dorm.  Inevitably, they’d come in late from some sports practice, and have to rush to dinner before the cafeteria closed.  Their answer to their sweat-stink was not a rapid shower, but to run upstairs, douse themselves in some kind of cologne, and sprint out the door.  Cologne only covers stink for so long…  This passage doesn’t refer to the temporary aroma that covers a bad odor.  It refers to an inside out aroma that draws others close.

Last weekend I made a quick run to my favorite antique mall.  I arrived as the doors were opening, and before long the aroma of bacon frying inside the little deli permeated the entire building.  Even though I had eaten breakfast prior to my arrival, it wasn’t long before that smell had my stomach growling and my mouth watering.  I was a classic example of Pavlov’s dog, simply reacting to an aroma. 

That’s the type of reaction we should receive to the glory of Jesus, Christ in me, the hope of glory.  An aroma of peace.  An aroma of love.  An aroma of joy.  An aroma of hope.  Of patience.  Of kindness.  Of gentleness.  Of self-control.  An aroma that causes others to react in hunger for what I have that they want, in spite of my life circumstances.  Those perishing are drawn from death to life.  Those who have life, desiring deeper life. 

That aroma seems to be connected to the “knowledge of him”…The more I know him, the more his aroma is released in me.  Perhaps that is why Paul fervently prayed, “Oh that I might know him and the fellowship of his suffering.” 

Knowing you, Jesus
Knowing you.
There is no greater thing…
You’re my all; you’re the best; you’re my joy, my righteousness…and I love you, Lord.

Know Him.  Release a sweet smell. People come close.  Recognize it as Jesus in me.  Want the same. Find life. Thankful for the possibility.