Not just going, Being!

"Hanging the greens" - Grace Chapel people decorating for the holidays, 2013

“Hanging the greens” – Grace Chapel people decorating for the holidays, 2013

I recently landed a part-time job at a hardware store.  Like most retail businesses, sales volume is heaviest when customers are off work, on weekends and holidays .

Due to low wages and part-time shifts offering no benefits, most retail workers have other part-time jobs.  That’s the case with me.  My searching for a suitable full-time job came up empty so I pursued a couple of part-time opportunities that surfaced along the way.

In case you are wondering, the income math doesn’t add up but I’m relying on God’s formulas instead of my own. Along that line, I made clear before being hired that I would not work on Sunday until after our church services conclude.  By way of explanation to my new boss, I simply said, “I go to church” but I wish I’d said, “I am the church,”

If saying “I am the church” sounds boastfully audacious if not borderline heretical to you, bear with me a minute.  Going to church, as in a place is NOT, as far as I can tell, even close to what Jesus had in mind when we declared to Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church.”  (Matthew 16:18).

All through the biblical record, church is a people. God’s people don’t go to church, they are the church.

If your experience of church is going to a service attended by hundreds if not thousands of people, grasping the concept of being the church may not come easily.

I grew up in such a large church, not only featuring lots of people but part of a worldwide network of like churches where even the Sunday service format is identical everywhere.

"We" did it!

All decorated.  “We” did it!

Not exactly New Testament as in Paul’s Epistles, letters to various groups of believers, or “churches” in that time.  Not only were churches people but each group was quite unique even though they had in common similar practices like sharing and teaching the gospel, baptizing new believers, re-enacting the Lord’s bread and wine, body and blood offering at his last supper, and serving each other and their communities.

In the little church our family belongs to, being church is easier to grasp because less than 100 people attend our Sunday services and our total 5-person staff adds up to just over 2 full-time equivalents. Whatever is going on with our church is pretty much us the church doing with our beings and our money.

Not too long ago, one of our members, Dave, died unexpectedly.  Even though Dave was a quiet man, not well-known by many of us, Dave was the equivalent of five or six people in terms of the what he was involved with among us.  Likewise with people who leave our church to attend other churches, often much larger ones. If they don’t reconnect in their new, larger church they essentially moved from being the church to merely going to church.

Being the church is a privilege that many people consider too much of a burden to fit into their already over-busy lives.  While that’s understandable, we all have the same 24 hour days to work with so how our time plays out is a direct factor of our choices.

Also consider that declining to be the church is contrary to what Jesus calls us into when we accept his invitation to join his rank of believers. Reflect on what Paul is saying in this part of his letter to the Philippian believers.  Regarding Jesus,

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Do everything without grumbling or arguing,(Philippians 2:9-14, NIV)

“Work it out together…with fear and trembling, without grumbling or arguing….”

Paul is onto them and us about what’s involved but also extends the promise God offered his people down through the ages – When we are the church, His people, and work life out together that way, He (God) wills and acts to fulfill “His good” purposes.

That’s why I am dedicated to protecting the day and time that “my” people convene each week – to be the church alongside my faith family, a tiny little group of people known as Grace Chapel.

I don’t just “go” to church, I “AM” the church.

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Prosperity: Enjoy responsibly

The good life!

The Good Life!

(My apologies in advance for this longer than usual post but I pray you will be as blessed to  read this lesson as I was to learn and write it for you.)

I am blessed to live among prosperous people. Many of my dearest friends and family have  beautiful homes, newer vehicles, second homes, travel, investments, etc.  indicative of attaining success. I especially marvel at younger, twenty/thirty-somethings whose in-demand professions offer earnings more typical of fifty-somethings.

While I’ve enjoyed a modicum of career success, my years of higher earnings came along later and then were cut short unexpectedly.  Unable despite considerable effort to secure a new position that allowed me to restore my earnings momentum, I’ve dialed-down considerably.  Perhaps due to my experience, I marvel at those able to prosper at the level that most others only dream about.

TV commercials suggest that prosperity is readily attainable in our country but the $55,000 median household income in the U.S. only spells prosperity when compared on a worldwide scale – five times the worldwide median and 50 times that of the world’s poorest countries.

Even so, should not prosperity on the level of nice homes, cars, best schools, travel, investments, travel, etc. be appreciated and enjoyed?  Yes, definitely.  In fact, even the writer of Ecclesiastes acknowledges that prosperity is the best that mortal life offers while also cautioning that prosperity be enjoyed responsibly. (See Ecclesiastes 8:15; and Ecclesiastes 5:10-17)

However you define prosperity, handle it carefully because it tends to lull its beneficiaries into a dangerous, dulling state of being.  Better to accept prosperity in stride and recognize it for what it is – from God’s bounty for us to receive with grace, be blessed by, express thankfulness for, look for lessons in, and to bless others with.

God is good and the source of goodness.  (James 1:17). God is also always purposeful in all that he does. Nothing that goes out from him returns void and unproductive.  (See Isaiah 55:10-11)

By entrusting us with prosperity, God expects we handle it responsibly such as not to hoard or be tempted to think we earned it, are entitled to it and deserve to use it only for us and ours.

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:10, ESV; Also see Matthew 6:24 and Proverbs 11:4)

Unguarded prosperity can morph from blessing to curse.  Christians in particular are vulnerable to this danger because we should know better.  Jesus himself warned that to attach in any way to prosperity jeopardizes the joy in life intended for all who are “in Him. (See Matthew 6: 19-34)

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (v. 21)

While succumbing to the complacency of well-being and prosperity will not jeopardize a believer’s salvation, Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians cautions how such dullness will catch many believers unaware when the wrath accompanying Christ’s return occurs.

While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, (1 Thessalonians 5: 3a)

The Bible emphatically and often counsels that believers who stay in the Word and diligently pursue relationship with God will be in tune with the Lord and joyfully prepared when Christ returns even though no one knows when that will be.  However, many in the church will be caught off-guard to suffer collateral damage not intended for them.

So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober….For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5: 6, 9)

As I consider this lesson, I confess I covet prosperity and miss being able to do some of what our higher earnings once afforded us.  However, the Lord has provided and I am learning to be content with what I have and where I am.  My new, dialed-down life is growing on me, allowing me to spend more time in the Word that, in turn, works in and on me in unseen ways.  I find myself looking forward to Christ’s return and to when…

“ at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2: 10-11, NLT)

A new, somewhat alarming revelation for me is that unbelievers will not be the only ones remorseful about confessing Christ’s Lordship with “bended knee.”  While those who refused to believe in Christ will regretfully realize their error and the gravity of their situation the most remorseful may well be believers who are caught up in the wrath because they are needlessly caught unaware.

Any of us believers caught up in the wrath will realize, too late, that we allowed our passion for Christ to lapse. Even worse will be to regret having missed out living the Kingdom life as mortals because we were too caught up in the world that is passing away like the vapor that it is.

So do appreciate prosperity but enjoy it responsibly.

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Media household incomes: http://www.gallup.com/poll/166211/worldwide-median-household-income-000.aspx

Image source: https://dealdashblog.com/2016/10/15/living-the-good-life-with-dealdash/

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Thanksgiving as both privilege and duty

holiday_thanksgiving_dinner-image-2012-hd-wallpaperA Thanksgiving Day “Road Report” message….

Some thoughts about Thanksgiving and thankfulness as both a privilege and a duty.

As recounted in Acts 14 after Paul healed a lame man in Lystra, the people there wanted to sacrifice to him as a god.  Protesting this, Paul insisted they he and Barnabas who was with him were mere men like them. We come, we said, in the name and power of Christ. Explaining further, he explained,

In the past, he (God) let all nations go their own way.  Yet he has not left himself without testimony; He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” (Acts 14: 16-17, NIV)

God’s provision is also his testimony to us about himself as THE provider of all that we have.  Paul later explains in his second letter to the Corinthians,

“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause the thanksgiving for overflow to the glory of God,” (2 Corinthians 4:15, NIV)

and…

You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:11, NIV)

As many gather for Thanksgiving today, many others in our world are in desperate need.  What gives? Paul suggests one intent for such disproportion as both opportunity and duty for those who have to share with those who do not have. And while we are sharing from our bounty, we “testify” WHO we are thankful TO for the blessings we have to share!

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48, NIV)

Some think it’s crazy that God’s blessing is not presently conditioned on  acknowledgement of him as the giver of blessing or even tied to our subsequent generosity. Nevertheless, in these words of blessing is a thinly veiled warning of a day when God’s unconditional blessing will require a condition.

“It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.'” (Romans 14:11, NIV)

On that day, all will acknowledge and bend their knee in honor of the one and only true God but those who failed to do so before that day will not feel very happy or thankful to be doing so then.

God’s desire is that no one praises him reluctantly or regretfully.  Rather, he desires to lavish blessing on us and to revel in our thanksgiving!!! So today, let us be thankful to the Creator (vs. the creation) for our blessings and also share the bounty with others so that they may join with us in thanking our God!

Fear as a symptom

 

See notes for image source

See notes for image source

Is it just me or are people in our country expressing more concern and fear than is customary after a presidential election?

While  people whose preferred candidates lost do generally express discontent and occasionally cry foul, what’s going on now seems more significant than any other time in my 43 year voting memory. While I don’t think human nature has changed much, our ability to express ourselves has changed a lot thanks to the worldwide internet and the plethora and affordability of connectivity devices at our disposal.  We can say whatever we want and, true to our nature, we certainly do just that.

I am particularly interested in how fellow Christ followers reflect about concerns that may give rise to fear.  More importantly, how do Christ-followers engage with fears expressed by others?

Are Christ-followers participating in fear-mongering or are we a voice of reassurance? Is it obvious that Christ-followers trust that God is in control no matter what?

What’s the opposite of fear for a Christ-follower?*  From many definitions I found for “fear,” the one I selected for the post-election variety I have observed is: “an uneasy state of mind usually over the possibility of an anticipated misfortune or trouble.” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/fear )

It seems that those expressing fear are afraid about what they believe may occur under the new administration.  A popular line of comment is to charge that some of Trump’s campaign statements inspire incidents of protest, hate crimes and discrimination reported in the media or personally observed by people expressing these fears..

Please note that I am not excusing any of Trump’s controversial statements NOR am I saying any of these unsettling or retaliatory actions did not occur NOR am I saying that perpetrators would not cite Trump’s statements as motivating their behavior.  Even if all that is true, each person is still responsible for their own actions as well as for the rationale they cite for their actions.  Furthermore, every person is responsible for any actions they take to influence others to believe or act in a certain way.

Think of fear as a symptom rather than a disease. I challenge fellow Christ-followers who find themselves slipping into fear to revisit the premise of our faith. Our Lord emphatically teaches and encourages that we resist and rebuke fear, trust in him and encourage and be an example for others to do the same.

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, ESV)

“…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7, ESV)

When Christ-followers fail to trust in the Lord, we join into the fear and end up promoting  and contributing to the world’s decline when we are supposed to be agents of the Lord’s redemption.

May I suggest Christ-followers dial up “trust” whenever we are tempted to “fear?”

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.” (Psalm 56:3-4a).

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

The Lord assures that if we trust in ourselves and rely on the reasoning of our own minds, we WILL fear AND influence others to do likewise.  Trust God instead and invite others along to do the same.

Want to take me up on this challenge?

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Notes:

*  I use the term “Christ-follower” vs. Christian to get a so-called “Christian” to understand that what that word really means is “a believer in and follower of Christ.”   Get it? Focus on what following Christ means for each of us who profess to base our faith on him.)

Image source: http://www.cjpwisdomandlife.com/fear-not/

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Anti-Social Media?

see notes for image source

see notes for image source

Safe to say that most Americans were shocked by the news they woke up to on November 9 – that Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election against the powerful Hillary Clinton.

The easy answer as to how he pulled it off is that he appealed to Americans disgruntled about a lot of things and fearful and/or distrustful of a Hillary Clinton presidency. Nevertheless, those who supported him had to discount Trump’s many flaws and openly-expressed prejudices during the long and contentious campaign. Furthermore, a frenzied media, the opposition, and even members of his own party pulled out the stops to defeat and dismiss him every step of the way; Not to mention how he seemed at times his own worst enemy with a blunt, unapologetic and crass manner…

Still he won – an imperfect, perfect storm.

I would hazard to guess that many of his supporters are on the one hand relieved by Clinton’s defeat but not exactly ecstatic about Trump’s victory.  May I also suggest that those strongly opposed to Trump are especially distraught since a Clinton victory seemed all but assured? In a few short hours during election eve, her followers free fell from the peak to the pit.

I recall similar sinking dread on other November 9th’s due to unfavorable candidate winning the presidency. However, I do not recall any of my losing candidates going in with the smug assurance of victory.

Are Trump’s opponents justified in their fears about him?.  Based on the “success” of those presidents I feared, I would offer a guarded YES.  However, our country’s decision-making system and the pace of its implementation machines generally keeps in check carte blanche ramrodding of one ideal over another.

Note how social media has turned increasingly anti-social since the election. Supposed “friends” are at each other with name-calling and long, preachy, posturing diatribes to defend their position and discredit all others. Around the country, we are seeing multiple protests and civil unrest.

According to polls, evangelical Christians overwhelmingly supported Trump. A friend who is one of those fearing a Trump presidency asked me, “How do Christians justify supporting such a man?

Good question.  How indeed?

My partial response to her was that Christians (should) readily acknowledge that we are flawed so would our candidates also be.  We also believe God is sovereign, meaning He [divinely controls everything that happens. Nothing is outside His control; not the designs of the wicked (even the plans of history’s most evil dictators), not the way the earth works itself seemingly against the lives of men (such as an earthquake), not the workings of demons (or even Satan), and not my own free will.

Romans 8:26 tells us that all things work together for the good of God’s children and verses 38-39 implies that there is nothing beyond the control of God’s sovereign hand.

God’s sovereignty is a huge source of comfort to the believer, for it helps us to know that no matter how chaotic any situation may seem, we really need not fear for God is still in charge and on the throne (and that combined with His love is unassailable).]*

Given the choice between two, flawed candidates, Christians in good conscience may have peace about choosing either with the assurance that God works everything out in the end.  Nevertheless, deceitful intent is not excusable because God knows our heart, including the true motivations behind our choices. (See Jeremiah 17:10)

As for those who  don’t believe in God, have some compassion because now is all they have.  Expect them to be more distressed about elections gone south and, well, just about everything.  Since now and this life is everything, every decision carries enormous weight and importance.

Do you have some social media friends that have gone anti-social since the election?  Instead of meeting or trying to best their anxious fervor, try some empathy and compassion instead.  Maybe you’ll get them wondering why you are hopeful and not so freaked out about a controversial and clearly flawed man becoming our next president.

...in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, (1 Peter 3:15, NIV)

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* Bracketed content drawn from:  https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/attributes.cfm

Image source: http://quotesgram.com/anti-social-media-quotes/

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Is this the love we need?

all-you-need-is-love-previewIt’s Election Day 2016!  At long last, the debates and mud-slinging are over as Americans cast votes to select our forty-fifth president.

Would anyone disagree that each campaign is more contentious than the last and that this one is no exception?

Even after the result is settled, the smoke from campaign battles will barely settle before the parties reload to take and defend new ground over the next four to eight years that President #45 holds office.  Count on Republicans and Democrats constantly squaring off to thwart each other.

Sad what our country has come to such divisiveness just  49 years after the Beatles reclaimed the solution that Jesus initially espoused 1900 years ago  – “All you need is love.”

Are you old enough to recall the 1967 hit?

Love, love, love;  Love, love, love; Love, love, love

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done

Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung

Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game

It’s easy ….

All you need is love. All you need is love. All you need is love, love

Love is all you need…

“It’s easy,” swooned the Beatles.  “All you need is love”

Love has been around awhile.  In 900 B.C., Solomon claimed, “Hatred stirs up conflict, but LOVE covers all wrongs,” (Proverbs 10:12, NIV).  Jesus later established LOVE as the anchor of the greatest commandment (Matthew 23: 36-40).  The Beatles are only a bit part of a long, long line of subsequent LOVE copiers.

While the Beatles lyrics suggest that love is easily learned, Jesus brand of love can’t be taught or learned because its only source is God Himself.  God’s love is gifted to those who believe in Him.  However, once received, it can be grown through practicing it in how we relate to God and fellow humans.

Take a moment to peruse a little love project I’ve been working on – a recasting of St. Paul’s explanation about love in his first letter to the Corinthians (see below).

what-love-is-1

Gathering an assortment of “love” verses, I included Jesus’ warning about love in the middle of describing to his disciples the state of the times when next he would appear in person.

“Because of the increase of wickedness, the LOVE of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved,” (Matthew 24: 12-13, NIV).

Seems Jesus intends his warning for both believers and unbelievers alike. While no believer’s salvation is in jeopardy if his love grows cold, such a condition will certainly put a serious damper on his faith witness.

Knowing we are susceptible to becoming bitter and cynical in the face of growing wickedness, Jesus further warned that we “ keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” (Matthew 24: 42, NIV)

Not expecting we go it alone, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness. (Romans 8:26a, ESV).

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8, ESV)

So even if we faltered with love during the presidential campaign, we have a chance to redeem ourselves during the upcoming holidays that fill the gap between Election Day and the new president’s inauguration on January 20, 2017.

How are your holidays shaping up so far?  Will your gatherings with family, associates, and acquaintances resonate with “Peace on earth and goodwill towards men” or do you sense that repulsive coldness coming on?

If the latter, time to repent, regroup and WARM-UP!  The holidays are a great time for redemption with the only kind of love that’s true – God’s!

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Retreat to balance

"Retreating" with my guitar

“Retreating” with my guitar

Sometimes I just cannot crank out any coherent thoughts to blend together for a Road Report.  This week was one of those times.

To what do I attribute this incoherency?  Poor life management I suppose – over-scheduled, under-rested, exercise neglect, over-thinking, anxiety about perceived challenges, leaning more on myself than on God…

Balance doesn’t just happen but imbalance happens naturally.  Let life come and don’t pause to sort any of it out and you will soon have plenty of unbalance.

As the pace of life continues to increase, we are tempted to believe unbalance is unique to our  modern age. The problem with that conclusion is that down through the ages, everyone’s time was modern.

How does unbalance happen in your life?  Saying yes to everything is one way my life gets out of balance; or not deciding at all – just waking and going and doing whatever comes next without giving anything much thought.

To achieve balance requires intentionality and effort.  Think of a teeter totter.  Getting just the right weight on each end to achieve perfect balance does not generally happen by chance.

The word “No” is a good tool in your balance survival kit.  There are others too but I want to share from my own re-balancing tool kit. Keep in mind that even the best tools are useless if them remain unused in your tool-belt or toolkit.

  1. Solitude – find a quiet place to settle your thoughts and spirits.  Set aside as much time as you can. At work? Try the restroom…
  2. Prayer – Shift your thoughts to God; Keep a favorite verse or 2 in your wallet or purse
  3. Nature – From simply looking at a beautiful tree or garden outside to taking a short walk in the neighborhood or in a nearby park.  I gravitate to water or listening for the wind filtering through tall grass or trees.  In winter,  strolling through freshly fallen snow is a wonderful retreat or just standing outside on a cold, clear night taking in the moon and stars.
  4. Music – A preferred re-balancing strategy for me – listening or playing.
  5. Journaling – Writing down random thoughts and returning later to reflect on them.
  6. Sharing – Turning to my wife, or calling a friend or family member….
  7. Exercise – Power-walking outside or on our treadmill (while reading) is my favorite form
  8. Reading – fiction, non-fiction, Bible
  9. Creating – writing, composing, crafting, coloring, putzing, fixing…..

Just writing all this down has already helped me to get my balance rhythms humming along more evenly again.  How about you?

Recall the Bible story of Mary and Martha and Jesus.  Most of us would credit Martha for her productivity and diligence so Jesus’ assessment was surprising.

As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village. A woman by the name of Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home. She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word he said. But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen. Later, she stepped in, interrupting them. “Master, don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand.”

The Master said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.”  (Luke 10: 38-42)

Safe to surmise that Jesus would see our busyness in the same way?

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“…with thanksgiving…”

“…with thanksgiving,…” a two-word phrase in a Bible passage that I’ve copied down or printed and cut out or included in various prayer “cheat sheets” I’ve made for myself over the years….

“…with thanksgiving,…” a passage I tried to commit to memory and forgot then recommitted to memorizing and forgot again…

Because of all the above, I run across this passage now and then notated and dated in Bibles and tucked into books, my wallet, under a magnet on our refrigerator, taped to my dashboard, often written about in my journals….

Despite my appreciation for and familiarity with this passage, that phrase, “with thanksgiving” only recently struck me.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

with-thanksgiving“…with thanksgiving….”  Most times, it seems it should be set apart and end with a question mark “… with thanksgiving?”  Like, seriously?

When I’m trying not to be anxious while bringing prayers and petitions to the Lord, thankful is not where I am.  This most recent time, I meditated over the passage and landed where what I surmise Paul had in mind, not to be thankful FOR what I am bringing, or how I am, but thankful THAT….

Thankful THAT I can bring these matters, burdens, despair, failure, disappointment, and  ‘having dones’ …. and also my  joys, triumphs, ecstasies… THAT I can bring my all and myself, “as is”  to the Lord ….

Because He will  always receive without reservation …because he will NEVER hold or count against me whatever I bring, or that clings to me, that I can’t or won’t shake myself from… because  no matter how dark, wretched, or foreboding IT is, no matter how despicable, depraved, dirty, or foul I am when I come to Him, I am able to come…. with thanksgiving….

… with thanksgiving  … because the Lord encourages me to bring and to come as I am, because He pleaded for us to bring and come, with tears even. (see John 11:35)

Thankful THAT because, quite frankly, who else would allow me or receive me to bring and to come? Who else could I bring both my worst and best and be received EVERY SINGLE TIME and with such grace, mercy, acceptance?

I KNOW this because He came FIRST to me, to all of us.  Despite already fully knowing what we did and are, He not only came, he offered HIMSELF to assure us beyond any doubt we could in fact come and be received.  (Romans 5:8)

…with thanksgiving ….. Who else will care so for us? Who else would so readily, willingly, unhesitatingly and without any reservation whatsoever step down from where He was to come to our foul place and show up to the likes of us only to offer release and freedom, to actually pay our price with his VERY LIFE so we would come …with thanksgiving……?

Indeed, who else?

Now I begin to see, even to understand how the …“with thanksgiving”… part is so essential.

…“with thanksgiving”…is to grasp being thankful THAT I can bring and come, not thankful FOR what I bring or am….

….“with thanksgiving”… is to enter into prayer and petition as God invites me to do in His word, how prayer and petition is always to be properly entered into

….“with thanksgiving”… is to separate from, to deny myself while giving myself over to Him and allowing His Spirit access to my being, body, heart….

…“with thanksgiving”.. is to lay myself bare to him and go back figuratively to that place in the Garden where I stand before and with him, naked and unashamed (Genesis 2:25)

…“with thanksgiving”…is to now be properly positioned for a deluge that He opens to wash over me, over us…

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV)

…with thanksgiving, to present my requests to God…for peace that transcends all understanding…

“…with thanksgiving…” Indeed!

 

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Blessing or test?

see notes for image source

see notes for image source

Compared with a few years ago, I would describe my current economic situation as less comfortable but a long way from destitute. Kind of like the Jews when God responded to their hunger pleas with quail and manna as recounted in Exodus 16.

Forty-five days after leaving Egypt finds the Jews on the edge of the Desert of Sin between the lush Elim and Mount Sinai. (Exodus 15: 27 - 16:1). Not very far into the desert, their grumbling begins.

“In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.” (Exodus 16:2, NIV)

Claiming to be near starvation, they whine about missing the ‘good old days’ in Egypt where they had all the food they wanted.

While the situation they claim seems dire, we readers are privy to a lot of the story behind their claims:

  • That they were slaves in Egypt – not so good (Exodus 1:11-14)
  • That everything God did to extract them from Egypt was still fresh on their minds, such as the 10 plagues and that rather dramatic Red Sea crossing that assured their escape and vanquished mighty Pharaoh and his army
  • That they were loaded with plunder (“mula”) given them by Egyptian families (Exodus 12:36)
  • That they left Egypt with all their livestock, flocks and herds (Exodus 12:38)
  • That God was visibly present to them in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13: 21-22)
  • That they just left the oasis Elim noted for its “12 springs and 70 palm trees” and were not likely very far along the thirst or starvation scale. (Exodus 15:27)

Knowing all of this, are their complaints so justified?

Notice a familiar Israelite behavior pattern. 1) God sets Israel up and they are happy and grateful to God for a while; 2) Israel gets comfortable and strays from God; 3) Something they deem as unfavorable happens; 4) Complaining begins; 5) God to the rescue; 6) Repeat step 1.

My view is that God carries out his plans in such a way that any apparent relationship between our pleas and his response is in no way triggered by us as already part of his unfolding program. That way, he is always causing and we are always receiving.

My relationship spectrum comprises mostly white, middle class Americans. I’ve observed that among those I know to be believers, people suffering through trial tend to lean more into God and speak more of him, attributing his hand to guiding their lives.  Believers enjoying well-being, on the other hand, may attribute their good fortune as blessing but too often credit themselves as having earned the privileges they enjoy while dismissing the misfortune of others to error, upbringing, poor decision-making or other controllable factors.

Again, this is how I observe the world that I include myself in.  Care to offer your own perspective?

Lately, I’ve wondered how much God is really, truly behind anyone’s material prosperity. So often prosperity is more problematic than helpful for followers of God.  Look again at the story of the rich young man’s encounter with Jesus. (Matthew 19:16-22; Mark 10: 17-27).  Unwilling to part with his wealth, he instead parted ways with the Lord.

Was this man’s wealth a blessing from God or something else? Likewise with any of us.

Recall my “Truth Test” post last summer about a test author Jen Hatmaker applies to every truth claim: “If it isn’t also true for a poor single Christian mom in Haiti, it isn’t true.”

“If a sermon promises health and wealth to the faithful, it isn’t true, because that theology makes God an absolute monster who only blesses rich westerners and despises Christians everywhere else a sincere believer remains poor..’Theology is either true everywhere or it isn’t true anywhere,’” she reasoned.

What if prosperity, comfort and well-being are not blessings from God at all, but tests?

How much do we attribute our prosperity and well-being to God?  How much of our prosperity and well-being do we invest for His kingdom?  How do you think God would want us to answer these questions?

This as a test. Thoughts?


  1. Image source: http://vineyardworkerschurch.org/bold-and-beautiful/
  2. Middle Class criteria

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The Eye of our storms

Do you have a trial in your life that just goes on and on without any foreseeable end in sight?  Of perhaps the end is in sight but as it approaches, what’s next looks even scarier than now?

Maybe you have not faced such a situation nor can you envision one happening. Life is going good and you can’t see any reason why it won’t continue. Great.  Count your blessings and take the week off from Road Report.  Maybe bookmark this for later?

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Trial is odd as the reality of it settles into your life.  It becomes so weirdly familiar that the prospect of getting beyond it is unsettling.  You see new setbacks ahead that aren’t even there and wonder if you will have the wherewithal to face them.  At least you know the nuances of THIS trial and have some adeptness at deflecting the various twists and turns that arise.

Times like these test our faith in God.  While we cling to belief, our grip seems feeble as doubts arise that rattle our resolve to trust the Lord. Often our vulnerabilities are also exposed, so we keep faltering.  Even though we repent and return to the Lord, we are so wearied by the ups and downs that we wonder how even God can continue to love us.

Right here is where staying in God’s word is essential to learn again and again that we are not alone, that others have negotiated similar perils and that God will see us through.

No shortage of craziness, trials, devastation and temptation in any of the Bible’s “story” books like Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Ruth, and first and second Samuel, Kings and Chronicles.*

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun,” wrote the sage author of Ecclesiastes (1:9, ESV).  Likewise wrote Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man…” (10 13a ESV)

In the midst of all that we find scary, unsettling and diminishing in life, God is calmly and deliberately at work in our lives, all the time urging that we cling to him, believe in him and take him at his word.

Recall one of the Bible’s grandest of all stories, Israel’s exodus from slavery in Egypt. Four hundred years earlier, Jacob’s family fled there to escape famine in their Canaan homeland. When the famine was averted, they forgot to return home, overstaying their welcome. Settling into a foreign land among people who disdained their beliefs and traditions, trouble came when Pharaoh was so threatened by their growing numbers that he forced them into slave labor for his kingdom.

God called the man Moses to lead the Jews return to Canaan, the land promised to Abraham 650 years earlier.  What happens next is typically God, NOT the straightest line between two points.  Ten plaques later, Pharaoh finally kicked the Jews out of Egypt.

For the next 1900 or so years of history until Jesus’ birth, the Jews would gratefully cooperate with their multi-miraculous God only periodically.  Are we post-Christ believers any better?

Seeing God’s hand weaving through this and other Bible stories SHOULD give us hope – if not for HOW God unfolds our stories and his, certainly THAT he is always engaged.

While our impatience, anxiety, whining and doubt doesn’t phase God in the least, he is nonetheless attentive to us and even invites, encourages that we bring our desires to him. While we are frantic, he is calm, the eye of our storms.

I only wished I lived what I write.  Convicted about this recently, I developed the “Daily Living Guide” below that I am carrying around and referring to from time to time.  Try it and let me know if it blesses you.

The idea is to move closer to our Lord, the eye of our storms…where he is calm in spite of how we are.

daily-prayer-guide3

A Guide for Daily Living


Notes:

The 17 story/history books of the Bible are: 1. Genesis; 2. Exodus; 3. Leviticus; 4. Numbers; 5. Deuteronomy; 6. Joshua; 7. Judges; 8. Ruth; 9. 1st Samuel; 10. 2nd Samuel; 11. 1st Kings; 12. 2nd Kings; 13. 1st Chronicles; 14. 2nd Chronicles; 15. Ezra; 16. Nehemiah; 17. Esther.

 

 

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