Monday, November 30, 2009

Why should we be grateful?

Perhaps, you may think why should I be grateful when my life sucks or when things do not go my way? Because, we already have more in Christ than most people realize. Consider that the Jews in concentration camps under Hitler who survived, who were not killed outright, found reasons to be grateful to help them focus on God in their heinous situation, to make it bearable, and not become bitter when it was all over. The celebration of Thanksgiving comes from the American Puritans, who survived formidable persecutions in England and then in Holland, sold all they had, were swindled in the process, to risk coming to the barren wasteland they called America. They experienced a severe, relentless voyage where they were crammed in a smelly, overly-crowded ship with bad food and constant illness, almost perishing in the storms. Once they landed (in the wrong location), they had no food or living quarters; then there was trouble with the local Indians because of misunderstandings and the difficult process of building a community in the harsh winter. Then that harsh winter killed nearly half of them. But with little food and extreme hardship, they came to God and expressed their gratitude with a celebration of the last of their food reserves. They realized they had a problem with apathy, bitterness, and ingratitude, so they prayed and recommitted their faith. Once their attitudes changed, they became more industrious and God blessed them with plenty. These groups thrived when they realized their need to be grateful, not because of the plenty they had, or to stay stuck in their situation, but rather, to focus on who God is!

As mentioned before, we are grateful when we realize who our Lord is and what He did, when we realize our depravity and our past hopelessness and now, the great wonder we have. Our gratitude will come when we fully understand that we have been rescued from sin and darkness and from hopelessness and despair. This has to hit home deeply in our hearts and minds. To venture beyond our saving faith, we have to take heed and be encouraged that God is our rescuer! Therefore, we are to respond in gratitude for His provision and gifts. We should be literally overwhelmed—consumed with extreme joy and gratitude—because of what God has done for us. This should also allow us to feel that thanksgiving that sets the life theme and tone for our personality, actions, and reactions. Then, we can turn and spill gratitude onto others around us. If this is not true in your life, then read Romans 1:21!

Another aspect we need to realize is that we are rescued from the pound; we were the stray headed for the “putdown” and then the oven. Now, our place is secured in eternity; if we have a Savior in Whom we can have faith and trust—and we do—then our gratitude will help us lead a life of fortitude and distinction no matter what is thrown at us. These are things we cannot accomplish by our own means, and thus why we need Jesus. He needs to be placed first! For gratitude to function as Paul demonstrated, we are to put Christ first, and then move on to spiritual maturity. From this perspective, we know His Truth so we can still be triumphant in Him during the time we have here on earth (Col. 2:7; 3:17; 4:2).

Gratitude shows us that God is the One we should honor. This helps us to have an “attitude of gratitude” which is so essential for our faith and practice no matter what we have been through or have lost. Being thankful also helps us to have hope, and to forgive and live and have joy by which we display God's goodness. Without gratitude, we are ungrateful people—ingrates; this is an insult to God and as a result, we will live a self-inflicted, miserable, hopeless life no matter what we have or could have had. Thus, God's goodness that is to be shown through us is veiled by our contempt (Rom. 1:8; 1 Cor. 1:14; Eph. 1:6; Phil. 1:3-4; Col. 1:12; 2:7; 3:15-17; 4:2).

Questions to Ponder:

1. How can an attitude of thanksgiving set the tone for your life and relationships? What do you need to do to set this life theme and tone for your personality, actions, and reactions?

2. What can you do to be more grateful—not just for things and stuff, but for whom our Lord is and what He did?

Read more here:

Monday, November 23, 2009

How is your “Dwell?”

Before electronic ignition systems, you had to fine-tune the timing of your car to control the firing of the sparkplugs, and the “dwell” was the tiny screw you turned to accomplish this. The “dwell,” a small component inside of the car’s distributor, would cause the very powerful engine in a very large car to run smoothly and well or else harshly or not at all. All it took was a fraction of a turn of a small screw. Have you considered that you have a “dwell” too? The Bible says so (John 5:37-39; Eph. 3:17; Col. 1:9-14; 3:15-17; Rev. 12:12)!

What dwells in you when your life has its ills? What controls your thoughts and rules your will? What are your responses and attitudes? If you are a person created, bought and paid for, forgiven, and then saved by Christ, you should be extremely grateful. A deep-seated gratitude should be the central theme of your life, flowing from Christ's love, principles, and character and the Holy Spirit's leading. What comes from us in good times and bad should be indicated by what goes in us. Being led by God and His Word and motivated by our appreciation of His work will enable us to be more filled with the Spirit of God to do the work of God. God’s principles and our reverence and thanks are all needed and essential for the healthy Christian and church; they all go together. One cannot be an effective Christ-follower without gratitude or without His lead. You cannot say the Spirit fills you by being emotionally ecstatic while you ignore God's Word or move closer to Him or lead others when you are a person who is ungrateful. Christ must be our “dwell;” our indication gage will be our thankfulness.

Think this through: what (or who) gives you hope, reason, purpose, meaning, and motivation in life? This will be what you plant, cultivate, and grow in your mindset that influences your attitude, outlook, and actions. This will be your theme in life. You will either have a life filled with hope or one of despair; either joy or dissatisfaction, and either contentment or dissatisfaction will spew out from us—all dependent upon how you respond and resound to His giving. Is it gratitude or ingratitude? A real Christian is someone who is being filled and managed by Christ and not by apprehensions, selfishness, turmoil, damaged past, or uncertainty. These things will be a part of our past and we may face them now and/or encounter them later in life; the question is, how will you deal with them (Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 6:3; Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 5:8-6:9, Col. 3:19-4:1)?

This Thessalonians passage concludes Paul’s remarks in a letter to a church where he reminds them of what is important and how one should be in order to live a life that reflects our Lord’s life as He desires and calls us to magnify. In so doing, joy and thanksgiving can be our “dwell,” our life themes, for these are essential for us to express our faith and hone our attitude. This does not mean we wear a fake smile and/or pretend to be happy when our world falls apart; rather, it is a mindset and a reminder to keep us centered on our Lord (Psalm 28; John 11:35-38).

We are to have Christ as our Supreme Lord, living in us so He can also guide us, tune us, and help us run smoothly. Otherwise, we would run roughly—or not at all. This helps us comprehend our abundance in Christ and His promise to reside in and guide us. We need to know that when we realize that Christ Himself is dwelling in us, we are then motivated by Him to bear and take Him and His precepts of fruit and character, joy and contentment wherever we go. This is a powerful, convicting tool and is to be our prime motivation as we realize He is our blessing. Then, we can better live out our Christian walk with His power, conviction, clarity, and truth, because He is not in heaven, aloof, or just watching. He resides in us now (Psalm 119:11; Matt. 13:9; Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 1:30; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 3:17; 5:18-19; Phil. 2:16; Col. 3:3; 2 Tim. 2:15)!

How do we do this? Set our “dwell!” As Hebrews tells us, fix our eyes on Jesus; we are to look to Him, concentrate on Him, and focus on Him. When we concentrate our prayers, thoughts, and attitudes on Jesus and not wander from Him, He becomes our goal and reason for all we do in life. Just like in any sports event, we have to keep our eyes on the ball to play well. For Christians, Christ is the target; He helps us persevere and gives us the empowerment and encouragement we need to do so. He is our main trainer and equipper. His is far greater than any mere encouragement from either outside or inside the church—after all, He is God who loves and lives in us. Thus, when we look to Him as our motivation and not circumstances or obstacles, we become grateful. If not, we become bitter (Isa. 53: 10-12; Phil. 3:10-14; Heb. 1:3; 2:10; 12:1-3).

Where is your “dwell” set; how does this affect your thanksgiving?

More here:

Monday, November 09, 2009

Where are the Nine?

Read Luke 17: 11-19

I have studied and pondered this passage for years. In fact, this was the very first Bible passage that I taught over thirty years ago to a youth group. This has perplexed me; why did they not go back? It was not far or out of their way. They did not just get over a cold; they were healed of a stern, life-ending sickness that cut them off from society, from family, from work, from living, yet 90% made the choice—no, we will not give our gratitude. This was a slap in the face of our most Holy God who gives and condescends to give us the mercy we do not deserve. At the same time, He gives us the faith and tools to make life work. It is our duty to receive them and grow and give them back so we can give more. Gratitude works the same; we are given a gift, that of salvation that we do not deserve. So then, how do we live our life in response? Do we make it our duty to give and be appreciative to the One who has given us so much? Or do we recoil in our condition and fears and remain in our pride so we do nothing of Kingdom value?

Here are some plausible reasons I collected over the years…

10. Perhaps one was scared; he was not sure what happened, but knew of Jesus’ popularity and was too bashful to present himself to Him.

11. Perhaps one was offended and saw the journey to the priests and the admission of his disease to be overwhelming and too much to bear. The way of Jesus was too hard to be real.

12. Perhaps one was offended because this was too easy. What about all the gifts to the Temple his family had made, or his fasting and devotion to the rules of the Pharisees? The way of Jesus was too easy to be real.

13. Perhaps another saw this as too little, too late. After all, he prayed fervently about this for years, and his family had rejected him. He was now old and had nowhere to go. His leprosy was his only identity and comfort in life; now he had none.

14. Perhaps another leaper just forgot. He ran back to his family so ecstatically, and in all of the commotion of shocked relatives and following the priestly requirements, he simply forgot.

15. Perhaps one of the lepers was so jaded by years of begging only to be an outcast and receive scraps that his bitterness consumed him, so being thankful was no longer in his mindset or capacity. He felt no one deserved his gratitude, even the One who healed Him.

16. Perhaps one of the lepers was a woman and she rushed back home to her kids like a caged animal released back into the wild. So, she was unable to ever leave them again, even long enough to say thanks to the One who made her reunion possible.

17. Perhaps the eighth one thought that this just happened, that Jesus did not have anything to do with it. He did not believe in miracles anymore, so His healing was just a coincidence.

18. Perhaps the final and ninth leper did not believe he was healed. He looked into a pond and saw his fingers and toes restored, his skin back to its healthy olive color, but he was in shock and did not know what to do. He might have thought this was just a dream, so he did nothing.

These are classic excuses of our fallen sinful nature for why we do not like to give thanks. Perhaps, you see yourself in one or more of these excuses. I know I do sometimes. But, we have to know who our Lord is and what He has done for us, and out of that response, offer Him gratitude that is overflowing from us to all those around us! Our Lord is there giving us His mercy, standing and telling us to arise to our faith (This list is inspired from Rev. Martin Bell and a sermon he did at my church, All Saints Carmel, when I was a kid in the early 70’s. I still remember it!).

Gratitude will enable us to live out our lives centered upon His glory, so our lives are inspired to personal growth and thus “spray out” Christ-like thanksgiving an essential aspect of good character. We will be able to strive for greater heights, good works, and personal growth, the things that are important. So, our goodness by what He has done for us will become intertwined with distinction for one another. It is not because we earn anything, but because we are filled with gratitude, which translates into compassion and friendship with others.

When we learn and apply the attitude of gratitude, then Christ is glorified; moreover, quality relationships are built: us with God, us with one another, and us with the world as influencers! This happens best when we realize that Christ paid our debt in full! We will become living signposts for our Lord—considerate, appreciative, and never critical to others.

Where is your thanksgiving?

More here:

Monday, November 02, 2009

Feeding on Christ?

Read John 6:52-71

This is one of the famous “hard sayings of Jesus.” Many great philosophers and pious Jewish teachers would intentionally make their lessons hard to understand to weed out the pretenders and prideful. Jesus was and still is seeking genuine followers, not shallow consumers! This passage centers around Jesus’ great miracles of the feeding of the multitudes and then His walking on water. Now, He gives a teaching that seems repulsive or impossible.

Jesus is using an illustration to get them to think and go beyond their literal understanding to make a deeper existential connection with God. The meaning here was that to grow in Christ, we have to move from what we perceive in the concrete, what first comes to our minds, or is found in our own ideas and experiences, and move to the abstract, making a deeper connection with the principles of God’s Word to our lives, thinking, and behavior. We are enabled to grow when our lives are transformed because we feed off Christ’s precepts and life and get away from our self absorption and distractions to apply ourselves to Him as He applied Himself for us. Whereas, if we remain in the concrete thinking, only seeing what affects us personally or what hinders us or not seeing above and beyond were we are, we will remain in the world of selfishness and absurdity, as life will not make sense so that all we retain will be stress, despair, anxiety, and boredom. All this will be attributed to our alienation from God and/or our refusal to put our faith into practice when we do know Him. When we feed on our Lord, we will live an abundant and fulfilling life; then, we can cross the obstacles and overcome life’s ills and sin.

Feeding on Christ means we consume His work and principles both for living now and for eternity. This helps us have real meaning and a purposeful life. The Romans and other groups would also misinterpret this and use it to persecute Christians, but Christ used these situations to prove faith. We have a call to heed the simple message of the Gospel. Jesus also helps us infer indirectly who and what He is and does directly. That is, that we capture a parable, then ponder on it and then see how our lives can conform to His Truth. All too often, we can’t understand or we confound the simple or fail to see what is important because we do not want to in our overly busy and what we think is important lives.

Our sinful nature hates and fears true Truth, loves what feels good and is easy, and has a hard time trusting what is not tangible and believing in what is not clearly seen, which is what faith is all about. Yet, God demands a belief that is trusting and that is followed by obedience so we can overcome sin and receive His Redemption. Ironically, what Christ offers is the easiest of all; He does all the work and we respond with our trust. The hard part is our pride (1 Pet. 2:6-8; 1 John 2:19).

For us to develop trust and break down those barriers that hinder us, we must grow deeper in Christ; we have to realize what He is doing and trust Him. We have to see that His truth, which is for us today, and His work, will continue; allow it to give us hope. God is working; He is willing and able to work in you! He is working in our internal lives and external events; He is working through the pressures and problems that come to each one of us; He is working in the very circumstances in which you find yourself today, whether at home, work, school, or in relationships. What you need to know is where God is moving in your life, and then work with Him. Allow Him to carry you over your pride, hurts, fears, circumstances, anxieties, or any other barrier so you can be His instrument to yourself and others. Then, allow this choice to endure—to be in line with what God does. Only God's work will last. He desires for us to become good and to grow, and He provides the means for us to do so!

Questions to Ponder

1. How has Jesus challenged your faith and loyalty? If he did now, what would He find? What do you need to do?

2. How one thinks and processes information will help his or her understanding and growth in Christ. Why is there no excuse for not understanding and applying God’s Word? How would this help you build a better faith and life?