Enough with the rants and the whining: we have taught ourselves the habit of discontent. We are a people gone crazy with complaints. But the good news is habits can be dropped and new ones can be learned. We can update our software. We can see the world with fresh eyes.
A Month of Thanksgiving is my attempt help reset our baseline and see gratitude as the “normal” God intended for each of his children. I wrote it because I believe our greatest need is to return to a “creaturely” relationship with our Creator. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. Did you know that last sentence is a verse of scripture? Visit our stern brother James and you’ll discover one of his foundations.
It’s a short daily devotional—you can read each one in a minute or two. After the devotion you’ll find a question worth asking, an action worth taking, and a quote worth repeating. Here’s a sample from day one. Get on board for the thanksgiving train: it’s underway in just a few days.
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Paul’s words in Thessalonians have something to teach us about the will of God: he wants us to be thankful from the heart. Why torture ourselves over discovering God’s will when the obvious first step is right in front of us?
The Father knows thankfulness is the best thing for us—if it flows from the heart. When our hearts respond with prayers of joy and gratitude to the situations of life, we are responding out of Christlikeness and not simply parroting the company line. One way to "pray continuously" is to develop the habit of giving thanks in all things. Gratitude is a mighty prayer in the Spirit.
Ask Yourself: Do I believe it is possible to give thanks in all situations? How could every circumstance contain the seeds of thanksgiving?
Live Into It: Each day, identify three thanks-worthy things. Use the notes App on your phone, or the white board on your refrigerator, or your bathroom mirror. It doesn’t matter if you repeat yourself some days—some things are worth giving thanks for every single day.
A.W. Tozer ~ “A thankful heart cannot be cynical.”
This devotional is available at Amazon 99 cents as a Kindle book, or just a bit more in paperback. Gather your wits each morning. Become sane again. Select “Restart” and you will find the world God wants you to see.
The thankful heart is awake to God’s goodness. It lives in the constant wonder of his first judgment about the world: “it is good.”
In our fractured society demographic studies are the sacred scriptures of politics, education, and marketing. The categories of Latino, African-American, Anglo, and Asian are too large: demographics break down ethnicities into subcategories of gender, age, sexual orientation, and coffee-habits. In the church, George Barna has made a career out of demographic distinctions. We live in sociological ghettoes, and those who sell goods, services, and philosophies use demographic figures to target their message.
The Creator has a different demographic profile: oneness—the kind of oneness that spans the gaps and unifies people of every nation, tribe, and tongue. Consider, for example, how Jesus launched his church:
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven . . . Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs . . .
In that moment when God chose to launch his ends-of-the-earth initiative, he chose to bring people together. Jesus indiscriminately poured out a one-size-fits-all solution on everyone: the true demographic of the church is the Holy Spirit.
The earliest Christians learned again and again the work of the Spirit. The Comforter broke boundaries and distinctions worldwide. The Spirit of Christ favored one people, “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female . . . all one in Christ Jesus.”
The Lord’s method was part of his message. He broke down barriers. One faith, one baptism, one hope, one Lord. The book of Revelation, that crazy picture of the moment when time itself is rolled up like a cloak, paints a picture of the Forever Days: there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
God is a sweet community within Himself: Father, Son, and Spirit. Even in the midst of the Trinity’s sharp distinctions and clear identity there radiates oneness. What keeps us from imitating his example?
I’ve decided to do a bit of griping today—but only for one paragraph. Be warned. Here it comes.
The blogosphere is filled with criticism, finger pointing and name-calling between family members. A famous Christian minister says something stupid (and it was stupid) and before you can say “trending topic” he is pummeled by criticism from others within the faith. Someone is hurt by their mistreatment at a local church, so they adopt Lone Ranger status and start a new blog about how the “real” church has nothing to do with organized religion. One faction of believers promotes an opinion and, in response, another faction labels them heretical or dangerous. It’s Jersey Shore for believers, only uglier.
There. I vented for one paragraph. But—no surprise—I don’t feel any better, nor have I changed anyone’s opinion or behavior. We all remain the same.
There’s a more excellent way. In my frustration, I reach for an island of transcendent sanity. I turn the pages until I read:
“The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:7-10)
One phrase shines through the layers of meaning in Peter’s words: “love covers over a multitude of sins.” He is talking about a community of people who have received the great treasure of God’s grace and are called upon to steward that treasure by how they treat one another. This stewardship includes the kind of love capable of protecting others from themselves: love refuses to reveal the sinfulness of others. To publicly expose the sins of others indicates a lack of love.
Who will help me? In my shameful state I need a love that throws a garment over of my ugly nakedness—the nakedness I have put on display by my selfish, egotistical, controlling words and choices toward others. Who will protect me if not the members of my own family?
This week’s meditation is a quiet reflection and openness toward the Holy Spirit. He can help us explore the depth of our love toward others. We can simply ask him: Does my love cover other's sin?
There's a difference between excusing sin and covering it. Can I hold people—especially members of God’s family--accountable without exposing them?
Our call to steward God’s grace goes beyond our personal relationships and extends to everyone with whom the Father has a personal relationship. It means we learn to love others for simply no other reason than that the Father loves them. It means loving all the church. When I rail against the sins of the church I am simply demonstrating my lack of love for her.
We are each given a stewardship of grace. We can be like the man who foolishly held his one talent and chose not to multiply it. We can keep God’s grace to ourselves, or multiply God’s grace by extending it to others.
It was a simple tweet, and not even a new idea:
The difference between ‘everything happens for a reason’ and ‘God brings reason out of everything that happens’ is superstition and faith.
As the day ran on it was retweeted again and again, by people I’ve never met or followed.
Then last night I heard a gentle and godly woman reflect on the loss of her 18 day-old baby: “The Lord has the power of death and life, he gives and he takes away.” It was a comfort for her, but it left me wanting.
Every word of the Biblical narrative is inspired, but they are not all inspired in the same way.
When that guy in the Parable of the Talents tells the Master, “I knew you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed,” we know he has it all wrong. Our Lord’s inspired story invites us to consider how a flawed picture of God causes us to make poor choices. Instead, Jesus tells the story to invite us into the Master’s happiness (Matthew 25:14-30) No one would seriously maintain this one man’s description of God was “inspired and true,” would they?
Or consider Job--the book, and also the man. The scripture assures us Job was a righteous man, and so he was. The scripture tells us he did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. Too true. When we read the Book of Job, we discover that Job’s friends bring a skewed picture of God, His love, and His justice. We take their words as part of a larger story, not as gospel truth. We know they are wrong. But what of Job?
I wonder if every word he says gives us an accurate picture of God, especially those very famous words:
“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised”
These words are beautiful. Job worships in the midst of heartbreak. But I wonder if we should trust his picture of God.
Did the Lord really take away? Did the Lord inflict suffering in order to win a celestial wager? We do not accept the counsel of Job's friends as godly wisdom. Why should we automatically believe Job that God "gives and takes away?" Today’s post is not an argument--it's a genuine question. Questions like this are the soul of meditation.
I invite you into the discussion--what do you think of Job’s assessment? He is a picture of humility and trust. He ordered his life around the reverent worship of God. I would love to have Job's humble heart and dedicated practices, but perhaps not his theology.
As you join the conversation (leave a comment, and help me meditate), consider two final points. First, when the Lord shows up at the end of the book, he says to Job, “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?” and begins to paint a cosmic picture capable of blowing anyone’s mind. Second, Job finally concludes, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” and “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.”
What do you think? Come meditate with me.
William Blake, both his life and his work, is enough to freak out even the most open-minded Christian. For example, C.S. Lewis titled his book “The Great Divorce” in part to refute Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” which was Blake’s brilliant—and almost indecipherable—comment on the church of his day.
Blake is another example of a Christian artist who forged his own path, fusing his unique verse with his own illustrations. He was an artisan as well as a poet, producing detailed engravings to accompany his work and the work of others.
His contemporaries thought him mad. He wondered himself. He had visions and dreams. Over the last two hundred years his reputation has grown. The ground-breaking Blake was willing to suffer the critique of his countrymen in hopes of eternal praise. It was a good trade.
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England's pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green & pleasant Land