Ever Thankful

Thanksgiving is different this year. 2016 has been a rollercoaster both personally and professionally for me. It has seen amazing things happen in God’s church, teens step up on missions trips, in their personal growth with God. It’s also been a year of great heartache and personal loss for myself, but it has seen me lean on God in ways I have never had to before.

With the loss of livelihood, relationships, separated from friends by distance and circumstances, it has been very difficult at times to be thankful for anything. But, I am ever thankful. In the midst of everything, I can hold on to this beautiful truth from the Psalms;

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

I’m not even sure how many times this phrase appears in Psalms, but it’s a lot, a constant and steady reminder. God is good, His love is steady, there in times of need and plenty. Times of great happiness and deep sorrow. When life is going according to plan, His love is there. When life goes off the rails, His love is there. His steadfast love endures forever.

That is why even now, I can be ever thankful. But I still have to be intentional for what I am thankful for, so here it is, a short list of things I am thankful for. I already mentioned God, so here is the rest of the list.

FAMILY. Specifically, my Father. I have been far from a perfect son, but when I needed him the most in my life, he has been there. Despite our differences and difficulties in personalities,  I am ever thankful for my Father.

FRIENDS. I am thankful for friends, I have needed space, you have given it to me. I have needed encouragement, you have given it to me. I have needed love, you have given it to me. I am ever thankful for my friends, both old and new.

COFFEE. Working wonky shifts, staying up late, getting up early. Coffee… you are my only hope. I am ever thankful for coffee.

WORK. I have not had an ideal work situation in the past few months, but I have been able to pay my bills, live life, and have the distraction of everyday life. For the 4am closes to all the crazy drunks I have to deal with, I am ever thankful.

TRADITIONS. I have been able to continue on with traditions in my own life. Reclaiming some, restarting some, and continuing on with some. Thank you JRR Tolkien for always being there in October when its time to read the Hobbit. Thank you Northern Michigan for being blustery and unpredictable as always in October, and thank you Silver Bells in the City for almost happening (not thankful for the thunderstorm). I am ever thankful for life and the parts that make it worth living.

CHURCH. I have been silent, I have been almost invisible. But I am thankful for my church. It has been a safe space to corporately engage in worship, to hear the Word of God preached, and to feel loved. I am ever thankful for my church.

It’s not a long list. But it’s what I have today. I am ever thankful, because His steadfast love endures forever.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

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Suffering & The Christian Response

A couple weeks ago in response to fellow workers recent loss, a co-worker said to me and those within earshot, “Humor equals tragedy plus time.”, a statement that I told him was probably one of the most ignorant things I had ever heard. I know that he was quoting Mark Twain, that doesn’t change the way it made me feel about what he said. Days after a co-worker lost a grandparent it was tasteless and rude to say. What bothered me the most is how un-shocked and desensitized he seemed to have become to other peoples sufferings.

Last Sunday I spoke about Nehemiah, specifically Nehemiah’s response to the destruction and ongoing state of Jerusalem. Jerusalem had been in a state of ruin for hundreds of years, but time didn’t separate the grief that Nehemiah felt when presented with the truth of it’s ruin. In Nehemiah 1:4 (ESV) it says

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.

Nehemiah was deeply affected by the tragedy of the city of his fathers, he wept, fasted and prayed for many days. He was wrecked by the grief and sadness. But his sadness would not fix anything in Nehemiah 2:5 he dresses the king and says

“If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.”

Nehemiah didn’t stop at sadness, he took action. He asked the king if he could go and do something about it, and even asked for all the materials needed to complete the task. Nehemiah saw a need, was moved to grief by it, and moved into action about it.

Sorrow, tragedy and suffering are parts of everyday life, some more poignant than others, but all weigh heavy on God’s heart.

In his 1943 novel Perelandra, C.S. Lewis writes of a mans journey to Venus, where he finds a perfect Eden like environment, no death, no evil, no sin. It is all interrupted when another visitor comes with the express purpose of introducing sin and corrupting the Queen of this innocent world. The main character, Ransom, humble upon a horrifying sight. A frog, brutally injured and left to suffer. The first evil done in a sinless, innocent world, Lewis writes this of Ransom’s thoughts at the time:

“It would have been better, or so he thought at that moment, for the whole universe never to have existed than for this one thing to have happened.”

Ransom was so devastated by the brutality and suffering he sees, that he wishes that nothing had ever been created, if it meant that this heinous act could have been avoided.

Sometimes, I think the same thing. Sin has brought such pain and suffering into our world, sometimes it seems it would be better if God had never even created us.

In 2015, there were for 14 recognized military conflicts, and 396 recognized terrorist attacks. 783 million people on this planet do not have access to clean water. 795 million people do not have access to food to maintain proper nourishment. Sin has brutalized this world, sin that mankind brought into it.

As Christian’s we have two possible responses to this. First, we can be sad and bemoan the state of the world and its godlessness, casting all blame on those who don’t believe, Satan, or even the government. Secondly, we can do our part.

In Perelandra, Ransom doesn’t stop and sit in a quiet puddle of his tears. He gets up and moves on, finding more and more of the same brutal work, until he finds the man responsible talking to the Queen, trying to convince her that his ways are better. Ransom steps in, and does what he can to remind the Queen that the innocence of life, and the wishes of her Creator are far better.

You don’t have to go around the world to know people are suffering and have it break your heart. Nehemiah had never even been to Jerusalem, yet he mourned over it. People are hurting in your nation, your city, your church, even in your own homes. What is your response going to be?

#day2: Response

  
What’s your response? When you approach the King how do you respond? The wise men were filled with joy as they drew near to Jesus, joy that turned to worshipful adoration. As we approach Jesus daily do we do it in joy? Do we fall down in adoration? The presence of Jesus brought rejoicing and worship from many. Our response should be equal to His presence.

#day1: A Gift

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A child is born, a son is given… a gift. Jesus was exactly that, a gift from the Father to all of humanity. The perfect King to rule and reign over an imperfect world. The prophecy that Isaiah wrote was meant to show us all that God wants for us, fairness, peace, to be our Father, for all eternity. How exciting to think that this one little baby, unremarkable, just a normal human baby, would hold such power,  majesty and mercy in it’s tiny body. God was showing us that you don’t have to be mighty, don’t have to be of proud state, that even the greatest gifts can come from lowly, small beginnings. A baby, wrapped in clothes, the fulfillment of a promise God made… a gift to us.

 

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Red Cup Heart

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

Two things you need to know about me. One, I love coffee. Like really love coffee. I used to drive 35 minutes in traffic to get the best cup of coffee I could find. LOVE coffee. 

Second, I have worked my entire adult life, 18 years, in the retail and service industry. I have seen some pretty rough Christmas shopping seasons. But I still love Christmas, and coffee.

At the beginning of November an alarming thing started creeping across my social media feeds. The Starbucks holiday red cup had come out, and to much dismay it was exactly that… red.

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No snowmen, no snowflakes, not even a cheery holiday phrase. Just red. The Christian twitter-verse exploded. People were upset at the lack of holiday cheer, some people were upset at people being upset at the lack of holiday cheer.

It made me stop and think for a moment. Do we as Christians truly display a spirit of thanksgiving? Even if the red cup controversy didn’t upset you, think about how many day to day trivial things we get fired up about. I would daresay that many of us have had our spirit of thanksgiving replaced by a spirit of offense and worry.

I am guilty of this too. As I enjoyed my latest Starbucks skinny peppermint mocha, in all of its offensive redness, I made a choice not to be offended. Not to be upset over things that don’t matter for eternity. To not be upset when lost people act lost.My worry, angst and graceless response to things needs to change and be gone.

Thanksgiving cannot just be a holiday, it has to reflect in the condition of our hearts.

The Apostle Paul says to us,

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again – rejoice!

It says in The Message for to “revel in Him”. That tells me we should be singing, dancing and shouting for joy! But we can’t revel if we are too busy worrying. This is not just Paul’s suggestion for a holiday. He is telling us to live a joy filled life;  so full of the joy of the Lord, that it splashes out and touches those around us.

But how? Rejoice? In a world full of violence, anger and fear. We should rejoice?

Yes. Even in the midst of fear, hatred and sorrow. Rejoice. Why?

Because it is NOT rejoice in the fear. Its NOT rejoice in everything. We are not to rejoice in the positive, or in spite of the negative. BUT we are to rejoice in the Lord, because He is the unwavering constant love in a world full of fear and hate and worry.

Back to those red cups. My local Starbucks gave me a few to play with. And I got a great idea. How we respond depends how our problems and offenses look to us. Check this out.

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View things through a lens of love. Our offenses, our troubles our issues. A few cheap stickers on a cup added some Christmas flair. But when we look at things through the joy of God, our problems also appear smaller, not gone, but under His control.

I want to challenge us all this season of joy and everyday after, to rejoice in the Lord. Choose to respond in the Spirit, in love. Let all fear and worry go, rejoice in the unwavering love of God.

The True Gospel

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Galatians 1:6-10

I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed.

Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.

Last night I asked the students what the word gospel meant. We got many answers, some of them close, some of them way off. I told them that gospel means good news, and it is not a strictly Biblical word. It can be applied to any “good news”. In fact we live in a world and society that routinely substitutes “good news” for the truth of God. Let’s take a quick look at 5 false gospels that teens are often confronted with on a daily basis.

  • DRUGS & ALCOHOL – Good news, you can escape all your hurts and pains!

The truth is that drugs and alcohol are merely band-aids for our hurts and pains. They don’t make them go away, and any temporary escape from them is only compounded by our reawakening to reality when the effects wear off. Quite often the choices we make while under the influence of this false gospel can make our hurts and pains even worse, and add even more problems. This is a false gospel.

  • PORNOGRAPHY & SEX – Good news, you can have pleasure without sacrifice and commitment. All that matters is you!

Pornography is a filter that will warp your sense of relationship, love, passion and sex. Trying to find joy in an act that was meant by God to be between a husband and wife, will only leave you emptier and wanting more. Pornography also devalues our humanity and has been proven to lead to abuse and relational troubles. It is also one of the leading drivers behind the sex trafficking trade. There is no good news that comes from pornography.

  • MONEY – Good news, money can provide security, and can provide status.

Money is not all bad. It pays for my house, puts groceries in the fridge, and helps us support missionaries across the globe. But saying that money will bring security and status is putting trust in something that is fragile and temporary. We are not beings tied to this earth and this life, we are meant to live forever. Money, possessions, and status are all things that fade with time. The only lasting thing we can put our trust in is the love of God.

  • POPULARITY – Good news, being popular means lots of friends, fewer problems and less confrontations.

Being popular is something that many students deal with on a daily basis, in fact it will continue to be something that we all deal with in our adult lives. But it doesn’t ease our problems. Having friends is wonderful, in fact it is necessary in order to navigate this life. But striving to be everything to everyone only diminishes our selves. Be who God made you to be, don’t worry about everyone, make friends, and keep them close.

  • GOOD DEEDS & SOCIAL JUSTICE – Good news, being a good person and fighting wrongs is enough.

Doing good deeds and fighting against the injustices of society in this world bring a smile to God’s face. Part of our calling as Christ followers is to help the hurting and the poor, and to protect the powerless. But to think that this alone is enough to make up for our sinful nature and bring us in sync with God the Father is false. We need to do good, and help those who can’t help themselves, but what we really need is the TRUE gospel.

  • THE TRUE GOSPEL – Good news, Jesus came, died and rose from the dead to give you life, a life filled with the joy of God and built upon the security that He will never fail or abandon you. All you have to do is confess, believe and live.

The true gospel is that all we need is God’s grace. We can’t work hard enough, can’t own enough, can’t have enough friends, or find our joy and hope in sex. What we need is what we don’t deserve, the grace of God.