Thursday, November 26, 2015

Living ThanksgivINg

I’ve always found Thanksgiving to be one of the more “amusing” days of the year. 

We get the day off, we immerse ourselves in good food and tradition...not to mention we have a valid excuse to give sweatpants a workout.

But perhaps you're like me and  have wondered why Thanksgiving is so undervalued in spite of all this.

I mean...yeah, Thanksgiving gives camaraderie and healthy dialogue a platform.

But at the same time...it's still a mere shadow of what it used to be (i.e. a partial celebration of individual fulfillment2...with an emphasis more on what we do for one day than who we are...and have the privilege of being... 24/73 ) when we compare to its original intent.

Thus, I'd submit it's fair to re-evalute Thanksgiving and to consider the day as more than an appreciative celebration over what we have. After all, we call the day Thanksgiving (as opposed to ‘Thanksgetting’; cough, Verizon, cough) for a reason.

And hear me...I'm not saying we can't voice gratitude on behalf of those in our midst, the roof over our head, being in good health, etc.

I'm just saying if our gratefulness is solely content on interim pleasures, then it's probably fair to say our thanksgiving is limited at best.

Consider Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians:

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves…admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peacef himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. Brothers, pray for us” ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:12-25

Note how Paul sets a foundation as to how we’re to live with one another (i.e. gives a template on what profound/other-centered action looks like), integrates instruction on how we’re to build upon it, and uses thanksgiving as a steel rod to uncover some meaningful application.

For instance…often times, we treat thanksgiving as an emotional response to fortunate happenings...or [what we consider] a positive manifestation of God’s will. 

But this isn’t at all what Paul suggests, as evident in v. 16-18 when he says, “Rejoice always; pray continually, and be thankful in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Now...I don't know about you, but I love how Paul combines clear-cut language with his structuring here...specifically, how he uses thanksgiving as a pivot point for the letter's conclusion...and the glue tying his whole point together.

What is the point, you say?

I’d submit it’s this: to be at peace is to be thankful…and to be thankful is to delight in what God desires.

Pretty cool, eh?

Granted...easier said than done, but still…there’s much comfort to be found here.

For there will be times when life doesn’t make sense, when we won’t have explanations or results to justify where we find ourselves.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t be thankful.

Why? Because thanksgiving isn’t defined by our circumstances…or chained to the things solely seen. Rather, it’s a declarative heart response to what God has done, is doing, and will do for us.

Therefore, when we engage thanksgiving, we’re ultimately positioning ourselves to better see how God sees…all the while renewing our motivation to let people see Jesus in us as well.

My encouragement to you, my friends, is to examine the state (and direction) of your thanksgiving…and seek to make it your thanksliving…with the goodwill you employ a consistent outflow of what you believe (see 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4).

After all, who wouldn’t want some a slice of peace to go with their pumpkin pie?

Just sayin’ ;)

Footnotes

1)         Seriously, am I the only one who wonders why we call it Thanksgiving anymore? It's not like our culture truly values the day. I mean…you'd think we would have started calling it "Black Friday Eve" a long time ago.
2)         As opposed to fullness; HUGE difference between the two (see Ephesians 3:16-19; Colossians 2:1-3)
3)         I mean...you talk about irony intersecting sanctity…and Thanksgiving taking home the [pie]. Man…

Photo creds: thisjoyfuljourney.com, free-wallpaper.us, pinterest.com

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Do You [Elihu]?

Have you ever had to “get real” with a friend in distress? Perhaps you’ve been in a situation where saying what needed to be said felt like threading a needle with a haystack...or a roundhouse kick to the trachea.   

No question, we’ve all been there at one point or another. 

But while stirring a storm in [seemingly] tranquil seas is never fun1, there’s something to be said about the willing word spoken at the perfect time.

‘Cause truth is: when verbal courage2 is expressed through patience and fearless articulacy, it carries the power to inspire change.

Enter Elihu, the unsung hero in arguably the most underrated book in the Old Testament (i.e. Job).

While most of the chapter’s content surrounds Job and his three misguided amigos, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, it’s not until chapter 32 until Elihu breaks in and gives them counsel worth adhering to.

For the next six chapters (32-37), Elihu puts on a ‘confrontation clinic’, where he constructively critiques Job’s assessment of his own suffering as well as the faulty theology of his three friends.
Breaking it down...
  • In Job 33 Elihu turns his attention to Job. He declares Job wrong in saying he was without any sin and that God would not answer. Elihu says, “But I tell you, in this you are not right, for God is greater than any mortal” (Job 33:12).
  • In Job 34 Elihu shifts to declaring God’s justice. Verse 12 specifically states, “It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, / that the Almighty would pervert justice."
  • In Job 35 Elihu turns again to Job in condemnation. In verses 13–14 Elihu says, “Indeed, God does not listen to [the arrogant person’s] empty plea; / the Almighty pays no attention to it. / How much less, then, will he listen / when you say that you do not see him, / that your case is before him / and you must wait for him.”
  • In Job 36-37 Elihu highlights God’s greatness. This lengthy portion declares many of God’s attributes. In Job 36:26 Elihu states, “How great is God—beyond our understanding! / The number of his years is past finding out.” Elihu rightly points Job to God’s might, saying, “Listen to this, Job; / stop and consider God’s wonders” (Job 37:14).
After dropping the mic in 37:23-24, note how Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar respond.
For Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, the truth significantly mutes their coerciveness, evident by the fact their speeches shorten (Bildad finishes with six verses in chapter 25), and ultimately die out at the end (Zophar can't even manage a closing comment)3.

As for Job, he not only agrees with Elihu, hence his initial silence, but is spurred to repentance (42:1-6), fittingly concluding matters. And God? Considering Elihu was echoing his sentiments exactly, it should be no surprise God had no direct response for him, though God’s recognition of Job’s godly sorrow (v. 7) is certainly indicative of a job well done on Elihu’s part.

My point in summarizing this random passage of Scripture…?

Though I could settle for…
  • Truth breeds truth.
  • Truth in love leads to repentance.
  •  Truth stands firm.
  •  God speaks to and through man for his highest good. 
…I suppose what grips me the most is the belief that the truth should always point in the direction of God who is greater than whatever we’re going through.

Yes, we can be correct in our theology and speak it coherently…but if it’s detached from God’s fatherheart of mercy…and fails to lead one towards grace…can we honestly say we’re living as God’s mouthpiece?

And look, I know courage doesn’t necessarily imply perfect execution of proactive action. After all, the truth can get messy. But I guess this is why I love the story of Elihu so much.

For starters, Elihu doesn’t look for the platform; the platform finds him. Case and point…Elihu doesn’t speak until the lack of truth compels him to (34:18-20). Thus, before Elihu even utters a word, he’s allowed patience and self-control to brew the truth in God’s perspective4.

Furthermore, Elihu coated his words in humility. For instance, though Elihu was angry against Job’s pride and the deception of his companions, he still refers to them as “wise men” (34:2), though they were anything but in this context. In addition, Elihu establishes his words in confidence knowing they were from God, but also in caution, knowing the goal was not to prove himself right, but to set the table (roll the red carpet, if you will) for God’s opening rebuttal (chapter 38)5. In short, Elihu knew his place as God’s embouchure and didn’t allow himself to swerve off course, despite his arousal…and despite his security in how God was using him. Pretty cool, eh?

My encouragement to you, friends, is to consider how Elihu spoke approached the truth and apply it in your own life, regardless of whose (i.e. Job or Elihu) shoes you’re in.

‘Cause bottom line: whatever sole6 your soul is in, if you walk in humble obedience and the firm belief that God will use it to reflect His very best, then He’ll undoubtedly guide you whenever you have to speak the whole truth…and nothing but the truth.

Footnotes

1) The irony here lies within the heart of the “corrector” seeking the exact opposite (i.e. peace in the place of turmoil, clarity in place of ambiguity, etc.)
2) Both in the giving and receiving of it
3) From Job: Rebuked in Suffering, Desiring God, Publication 1985-07-21
4) Again, the truth knows its time and ceases the opportunity when it arrives.
5) Seriously, how awesome is 38:4-7? To think one day we’ll know how the angelic host felt when they watched God create the universe
6) It’s a pun. See previous sentence ;)

Resources: Desiring God, GotQuestions
Photo creds: www.thebricktestament.com, giving.yale.edu


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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Braking Forgiveness


Have you ever had a revelation shortly after a favorable cinematic or musical experience? Perhaps the delight and insight seemed disjoint at first, but after mulling it over, you realized, ‘Hey, I can string these two together to capture a powerful metaphor?

Well...let’s just say that’s where I am now as I write this.

First, allow me to divulge the insight…

Lately, I’ve been reading about the wounding/forgiveness relationship and how unholy tolerances of [seemingly] minor deceptions can lead to deeper heart issues. As a guide, I’ve been soaking in Terry Wardle’s Wounded: How to Find Wholeness and Inner Healing in Christ, where he not only shares testimonies of people who conquered unforgiveness, but provides a sequential, biblically-based prescription on how to defeat it as well.

His first point, in particular, caught my eye: “Do not move to forgiveness too quickly”.
Now, could Mr. Wardle have been looking for a contrarian perspective to kick things off? Perhaps.

But having pondered the point for a couple days, I believe there’s legit biblical value to be found here.
For starters, we tend to want to heal as soon as possible…which makes sense considering our innate inclination to self-preserve. Just get me a freakin’ Band-Aid and I’ll be fine, we say to ourselves.

But truth is: what we often need in those moments is a willingness to go under the knife.
Yeah, it may string more…yeah, it may take longer. Then again...shouldn’t we want this? To be intentional in fully processing the profundity of what/whom we’re forgiving? After all, it's not like we have anything to lose taking forgiveness seriously.

And hear me: I’m not suggesting we can’t get right in a moment with God…or that we can’t declare mercy from the onset; however, we must remember: forgiving our brother is a marathon, not a sprint…a process, not a destination. Thus, if we’re rushing forgiveness, then chances are, we’re doing it wrong.

To illustrate the fact, I call upon one of my favorite adventure movies: Apollo 13. As some of you may recall, towards the end of the film, as the crew prepares for re-entry, we’re made aware of two obstacles:

1) The lunar module will have to contend with its damaged heat shield (and breakup potential) as a result of the oxygen tank explosion.

2) The module will have to enter the earth’s atmosphere at just the right angle to avoid deflection into space (too shallow) or a total burnout (too steep).

Of course, like any decent ‘90’s action movie, the conflicts culminate into a happy ending (which I won’t “sin” in this case since it stayed true to history). But I suppose my point in referencing Apollo 13 is: forgiveness is like a spacecraft re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. If we procrastinate forgiveness (come in too shallow), we shun mercy in favor of entitlement, self-justice…even withdrawal. On the flip side, if we rush forgiveness (come in too steep), then we empower suppressed emotion and self-preservation, in turn, burning away the opportunity for vulnerability and keeping our insecurities in limbo.

So what do we do when we’re in a forgiveness pinch? Well, if we want to extend forgiveness the way God would have us, then I’d say we must find the balance between patience (strategically seeking the Lord first) and honesty.

You see…in my experiences, far too often, I see people trying to cover up the past, sweeping opportunities for reconciliation under the carpet…basically doing whatever they can to hide and avoid confrontation.

Granted, I believe it’s wise to get away with God to glean His gameplan for reconciliation; however, this doesn’t mean we make quiet time something our forgiveness can hide behind. ‘Cause at the end of the day, extending mercy must be realized internally and externally. So if we’re not willing to live grace demonstratively, then our forgiveness will remain partial at best.

Whatever the situation, forgiveness must be an evident, continuous reality in our lives. I know in this day and age, it ‘s easy to want a clear-cut, 5W1 forgiveness formula. Yet, when it comes to discerning the immediacy of our forgiveness, the best thing we can do is draw closer to God and inquire His timing.

My encouragement to you, friends, is to not rush forgiveness just because you fear the guilt of grudge-holding. Instead, why not reference God first in every challenge, make running to Him a daily habit, and relish the opportunity to empty yourself before Him…all the while, watching His grace permeate the space where unforgiveness once occupied.

After all, you gotta admit…it beats burning up or shutting down, am I right?

Footnotes

1) 5W = What, when, where, who, why

Photo credits: timmilburn.com

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