Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Virtue of Vertical Gratitude

I don’t know about you, but this time of year can be complicated. On one hand, you have Thanksgiving with its communal/perspective perks; on the other, you have those pesky holiday blues that just won’t go away.

Granted, abiding in the splendor of selfless tradition with friends and family is a wholesome recipe. But perhaps you’re like me in the sense you’re physically and emotionally exhausted wondering how you could be even the slightest bit down in the midst of an amazing year.

If you can relate, let’s cut into this conundrum, shall we?

For most of us, it’s fair to say Thanksgiving has horizontal value in the sense we look around and find reason to express gratitude. After all, we only need a breath and a pulse to be thankful, right?

At the same time, I can’t help but wonder if thanksgiving if really thanksgiving if it has a slopeless trajectory. Yes, we can most certainly be grateful for what is tangible, be it the mash potatoes and gravy, a dominating performance by Ezekiel Eliott, and/or a nice, comfy couch on which to take a turkey-induced nap.

Yet, if our thanksgiving has no vertical value in the sense we forget to look up and declare our praise to God, it makes sense why we may be closer to thankless than thank-full.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul gives us one of the greatest definitions and applications of thanksgiving: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in ALL circumstance; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

For me, a couple things stand out…

1) You gotta love Paul’s savvy in further establishing Thanksgiving as both a Trinitarian and vertical concept (i.e. deep crying out to deep - the Spirit in us declaring thanksgiving to God the Father through God the Son) with his integration of Colossians 3:16-17:

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

2) For thanksgiving to be thanksgiving, it must worship in and through ALL things, even the crazy, turbulent moments/seasons of life. Why? ‘Cause God made us this way! Yes, suffering sucks. I get it. But when you consider God established rejoice-based perseverance as an escape route from joy-depleting circumstances, you essentially position your thanksgiving to have increased trajectory. Pretty cool, eh?

3) When you rejoice and give thanks in ALL circumstances, not only will your vertical thanksgiving take off, but your horizontal thanksgiving will take off as well given both components can’t be mutually exclusive with God the Lord of both. With that said, while a gift can surely inspire one to give thanks to the Giver, it’s only when we give thanks to the Giver purely out of who He is (as opposed to what He gives) that we see our gratitude reach the next level.

4) Finally, the will of God in Christ Jesus can be experienced not only as conforming into the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29), but also meditating on the sovereignty of God and what its sovereign over. For instance, when I focus specifically on God's sovereignty, not only do I find greater joy in acknowledging God's faithfulness, but I also find my thanksgiving to mature in consistency and intentionality over time.

*Selah*

Regardless of what your plans are tomorrow, I encourage you: make it a point to look up and to declare your thanksgiving vertically as much as you share it horizontally. You'll find the more you commit to this as a daily reality, the more you'll be able to rejoice and give thanks in ALL things.

And of course, I wish you all a blessed Thanksgiving and look forward to rejoicing in all circumstances alongside you in the days ahead.

~ CF





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Monday, November 21, 2016

LEGACYouth: Desperation

LEGACYouth Message Notes: Wednesday, November 9
This morning, as I was considering what the Lord would have me share tonight, the first thing he told me was, ‘Why is it more people are desperate for change than they are for me?

In other words, why are so many people more desperate for what I can give than they are what I am yesterday, today, and tomorrow?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized the problem is not a lack of desperation in our hearts (after all, we were hardwired with this from the beginning); rather, it’s the misplacement of desperation that is the real hindrance.

For most, when we misplace something valuable, we're like woman with the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10) in the sense we tear up the house until we find what we’re looking for. Unfortunately, when it comes to desperation, we’re far too content in it being there or not. Is it just me or do you find this ironic? The idea we’re not desperate to be desperate…the notion that we’ll continue with our own coping mechanisms, wishful thinking, and thought patterns to get us through the times when we’re the ones who are lost.

So having received this download on the morning commute, I was pleasantly amused when I sat down at my work desk, pulled up John Piper’s ‘Desperation D’, and noted something similar:

Desperation: Whatever it takes, Lord, decrease my proneness to wander from you by keeping me desperate for you.

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.” (Psalm 119:67)
Note how with this D, we have a ‘decrease’, not an increase. I suppose it could have been written, ‘Lord, increase my desire to be close to you’; however, when you consider God is always near (we’re technically always close to him in some way), it makes sense to specifically ask the Lord to decrease our wandering tendencies.

The questions then are: Why do we wander? And how do we overcome?

When you wander, do you find its predominantly distraction-based? Is it because you’re so easily dissatisfied, enough to the point you inadvertently carry that over into your walk with God?

Personally, when I wander, it’s because I’m trying to find something I feel God can’t provide. It’s like I want God to be who he says he is, but when I start to doubt he’ll come through for me, I preserve my idea of him by not giving a chance to come through for me.  

I believe when we talk about overcoming, it goes back to what we were talking about a few Sunday’s ago. When we wander in search of 'self-something', it’s at that point we must fall back on God even if we’re unsure if he’ll catch us or not.

‘Cause truth is: not only will he catch us, but he’ll fuel our desperation for him; we just got to let him.

As far as other ways we overcome, I suggest embracing the following trifecta as mentioned earlier in Psalm 119:14-16
  • Rejoice in following God's statutes (joy in obedience)
  • Meditate on God's precepts and consider His ways (joy in understanding)
  • Delight in God's decrees and hold tight to His word (joy in trusting)

Of course, this is just an outline. How we do these things is something I want to circle back to at some point. But for now, I want to emphasize the fact we must decrease in our wandering if we want to increase in our desperation for God, to be like Christ, and to be greater filled with the Holy Spirit.
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Content inspired by John Piper; Photo Creds: Highland Park Presbyterian Church
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Friday, November 18, 2016

4 Family & Budget Friendly Ways to Enjoy the Holidays

We all know Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year wrapped with opportunities to live like no one else by giving like no one else; however, when it comes to our wallet and debt snowballs, it’s often far from the happiest season of all.

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to give cheerfully while remaining frugal. Here are 4 family friendly ways to enjoy the holidays without breaking the bank.
  1. Go Christmas light hunting
While cutting outdoor Christmas lights from Christmas décor may be a solid way to trim holiday spending, this doesn’t mean they can’t be enjoyed. For those who prefer decking the halls without extra power strips, consider taking a family outing to a Christmas drive-through light show, a downtown square, a fancy hotel, or even a reputable neighborhood known for its Christian light displays.



2. Sing loud for all to hear

Remember the scene in Elf when Buddy admits the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear? Well, he’d be correct. Caroling can only be caroling in the context of community. For some, singing may not be a forte by a long shot; nevertheless, it’s still a costless way of livening up the Christmas spirit among those most dear to us or those less fortunate. Whether this involves writing your own Christmas carols, partaking in a family sing-off, or scheduling an all-family caroling session at a local assisted living facility, you’ll find there are many fun ways to partake in caroling around the holidays.



3. Use cash…and customer loyalty reward points

Whether you’re a spender or a saver, having a set ceiling for your holiday budget is important. Yet, when it comes to debit cards, no question, the temptation to overspend is real. If bursting your budget bubble is a concern, why not set up a cash only spending system while using Every Dollar to fine-tune your budget? That way if you’re tempted to go over, you can’t because once it’s gone it’s gone. Problem solved. Plus, if you run out of cash prematurely, you can simply re-direct your giving focus. For instance, you may have redeemable customer loyalty reward points like a free local coffee shop beverage you can use to bless someone else. Bottom line: You don’t have to always buy something to give something.



4. Host a fun family Christmas party

While attending or hosting formal gatherings have their place around the holidays, often times the best Christmas parties are the ones you can enjoy with family in the cozy comfort of home. If you’re searching for a new family tradition, try throwing your family a DIY gift making party. This may include dressing up as your favorite Christmas characters and making baked goods as gifts for family friends. Or you could choose a party theme from Pinterest and create it into an open house for your neighbors. The possibilities are endless.




Then again, that’s the joy of having a merry budget: being outrageously generous, enjoying the process, and intentionally living it all year round.

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Friday, November 4, 2016

Fly the W: Cubs Win, Cubs Win!



I remember the summer of '95 like it was yesterday.


A doughy little lad of 9 years, fresh off a mission trip to Seoul and a series of doctor’s appointments in which I was literally told to stop eating seconds, I was all about two things: 1) Jim Cantore/John Hope on The Weather Channel (very active hurricane season…look it up) and 2) Chicago Cubs baseball.

like most mid ‘90’s southside converts, I couldn’t get enough of the legendary Harry Caray, his underrated partner in ‘prime’, Steve Stone, the pre-steroid Sammy Sosa, the consistency of Mark Grace, the defensive reliability of Brian McRae, the sage shortstop play of Shawon Dunston, home runs hit to Waveland Avenue, and the goosebumps every time I heard, ‘This is America’s #1 sports station, WGN-TV…Chicagooo…


To put in perspective, an afternoon of Cubs baseball, for me, was the equivalent of going to Six Flags during a severe thunderstorm watch. Each week, a fresh slate of opportunities to watch my favorite players go up against the game’s greatest.

I remember every Sunday, I’d run out to the driveway, collect the morning newspaper, pull out the TV guide, and circle all the Cubs telecasts. And if the Cubs were off, I’d simply pop in ‘The Rookie’, ‘Major League’ or ‘Angels in the Outfield’ to hold me over. 
I remember my first Cubs game. Fulton County Stadium. August 24, 1996. Cubs built a 5-2 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth. The future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg had homered in the 4th inning. And now Turk Wendell was out to seal the deal. I was on cloud nine, which on this day, was behind the plate in the upper deck. I could see everything…and I gotta tell ya…it was absolutely glorious. Forget the fact I was a copout trying to blend in with my tomahawked Fred McGriff sign in a place where signs didn’t belong. I honestly couldn’t care less. I was just a kid at a baseball game in love with his team.

So picture this: we’re in the bottom of the ninth. Lemke strikes out. Mordecai grounds out. And just like that…we’re just one measly out away from upsetting the big, bad Braves.

Then the skies start to darken. Grissom singles, Pendleton walks. Bye, bye, Wendell. Enter Larry Casian. Chipper Jones hits a RBI single to right scoring Grissom and sending Pendleton to third. Up next? Fred freakin’ McGriff.




From my view, he was a peanut, but down on the ground, 1996 McGriff was legit S.I. cover material fresh off a 1995 World Series win. The guy was loaded and everyone knew it. So when he stepped into his stance, I was dropping back in my seat.

After all, I may have been 10, but I was old enough to know what happens next…

First pitch…low and away. Ball one. Second pitch…down the middle. Strike one. Third pitch…foul ball. Strike two/ Oh, my ‘lanta. Just one more strike. One more swing and a whiff for Fred McGriff. We can do this!

Fourth pitch…Casian winds. I close my eyes. Suddenly…*CRACK*. The ball is up, it is high…it is gone.  

Game over.

Braves win 6-5 on a three-run bomb by McGriff. The crowd is going bananas. Strangers are high-fiving. Tears of joy and secondhand alcohol are flying across the stadium. But there I was…crushed like the day my fourth grade teacher gave me my first C ever in reading comprehension.

And it was at that point…that specific moment in time when I realized why they called the Cubs, ‘lovable losers’. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. But after all that, I was well on my way…

For the next decade, I stuck with my Cubs through all the ups (’98 home run race between Sosa & McGwire, 2003 NLDS revenge series win vs. Braves (again gotta love the irony)) and downs (Bartman, 2001 & 2004 late season collapses, playoff futility/wasted seasons of mid ‘00’s), bleeding red and blue at every opportunity.

But after the team was blown up in the mid/late ‘00’s, my fandom luster couldn’t help but fade some. Trust me… I wanted to root for the Cubs. I wanted to remain diehard. But when your new favorite player is wearing the red and white under the arch (i.e. Albert Pujols), anyone can tell that’s a tough predicament. Kinda like watching late 2000’s post-Tina Fay/Jimmy Fallon SNL hoping it could be as funny as the Farley/Spade/Kattan/Ferrell era.

Still, there was always a special underground undercurrent of devotion to Cubs nation. Once a Cubbie, always a Cubbie, I guess.

Flash-forward twenty years after the Fulton County collapse of ’96 and I’m lying in bed next to my wife watching last night’s game 7 on my iPhone, where once again, the Cubs are blowing a sizable lead. Chapman is doing un-Chapman like things. The momentum is rapidly shifting. And the spirit of McGriff has apparently penetrated the bat of Rajai Davis. I look over and tell Lyssah, ‘This is the part when the Cubs blow it. I’ve literally seen this before.’ Even she understands the magnitude of what’s going on.



Bottom of the eighth…and I’m sweating more bullets than a Metal Storm. ‘Can we just get through the inning tied, please,’ I say to myself.

Well, it’s at this point the baseball gods must have heard me because not long after they send a reverse-jinx rain delay to stall the Indian’s rally. Meanwhile, I’m closing my eyes once more, praying for mercy to merge with history in a way my grandparent’s generation never knew.

Unfortunately, I’m no match for a super long day’s work as I fall asleep as the tenth begins. One more hour to dream of what millions upon millions have long anticipated.

Around 12:48 am, my tummy wakes its master. ‘You didn’t eat enough dinner. Feed me ‘Cinnamon Toast Crunch’! As I make my way to the kitchen, I grab my phone and wouldn’t you know it…two texts, one from the Italian Stallion (i.e. Joel DiModica) and one from my little couz. I open the latter, note a Cubs logo sent with fireworks, and suddenly I’m nine years old again watching the end of my first Cubs game, caught up in the splendor of knowing…

… ‘Cubs win! Cubswin! Cubs win! Holy Cow’
Cubs are 'lovable losers' no more...






Photo creds: 2016 Chicago Cubs Hype Video; gettyimages

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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

LEGACYouth: A Dive into Mark 5

So yesterday I’m reading Mark 5 and it hits me: Why does Jesus tell the once demon-possessed man to go home to his people and tell them how much the Lord has done for him (v. 19), but gives strict orders to the ‘sleeping’ girl’s family not to let anyone know (v. 43)?

At first glance, Jesus seems inconsistent. Why tell one party one thing only to contradict it with another?



I mean…yeah, we can settle on the fact Jesus was always following the Spirit’s lead. Fair enough.

Still, I can’t help but want to dig a little deeper.

Let’s dive in…



In 5:1, we find Jesus, fresh off of calming a tempest (4:35-41), crossing the lake to Garasenes, a country region lying on the east side of the Sea of Galilee. Upon arrival, Jesus is immediately approached by a demon-possessed man decked with torn chains coming out from the tombs. So right away, it’s interesting to note not only is this the ultimate Halloween Bible read, but also this man comes to meet Jesus, not the other way around.

Moving on, we note the demon reveals itself as Legion (“for we are many” – v. 9), begs to be cast into swine, Jesus grants the request, and ultimately the stage is set for the man to go into ‘woman at the well’ mode (i.e. go into town1 , proclaim the good news of what Jesus has done, and watch as everyone is amazed).

Now, check out v. 21 – “When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake.”

Again, we see life flocking to Jesus upon arrival. Coincidence? I think not considering the west side is more populated plus Jesus’ reputation has already gained momentum by this point. Yet, it’s here I want to pause briefly to highlight a key contrast.

When Jesus arrives at Gerasenes, how many people come to him? At least one that we know of, right? How about the flip side? ‘A large crowd’, you say? You’d be correct.

Granted, the population difference may seem like a subtle detail; however, when we stack it against proceeding context, we ultimately see how it’s a microcosmic glimpse into part of the answer.




What is the answer, you ask?

I’ll get to that in just a sec. For now, it’s important we understand the correlation between Jesus being closely tethered to the Father and how this enabled him to know the best way for the truth to get out. In the case of Mark 5, Jesus, having already revealed his nature on the west side, knew the best way for the good news to spread at Gerasesnes was for the ex-possessed man to ‘go tell it on the mountain’ per se. So in essence, what occurred at the Decapolis post-healing centered on the truth of Jesus’ identity being made known.

Yet, going back to the west side, the truth of Jesus’ identity was already being made known. Thus,  it’s fair to say Jesus’ ‘cross-country’ trek  was just as much about making the truth of his power known as it was confirming the truth of his identity (see healing of woman with bleeding problem (‘discharge’ meets discharge) – v. 25-34).

Selah.

Before I forget, I find it amusing how ‘crowd’ is mentioned not once, not twice…but five times between v. 21-31. If in fact the author intended the reader to grasp the chaotic backdrop, mission accomplished. Yet, the point here, I submit, is not so much Jesus having to endure uncomfortable circumstances as much as it is he loving in spite of them. Imagine having zero personal space, teaching to the culprits responsible, then being interrupted mid-sermon, and thrust into a hot-mess commotion where people are crying and wailing loudly (v. 27). I’d probably lose my mind and grey my hair all at once.

But not Jesus. Instead, look at how incredibly unruffled he is, first in v. 36 when he says, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe’ in response to the disciples telling Jairus’ people, ‘Why bother the teacher anymore?’ and second in v. 39 when he says, ‘The child is not dead but asleep’ after the entire house thought Jairus’ daughter was dead.

Seriously…it’s like Jesus is calming a second storm here2



Now for most, the story ends here, but the truth is Jesus had one more thing to say before peacing out, which in my paraphrasation3, goes something like ‘Shhh! What happens here, stays here.

But again, why would Jesus demand this? What’s the big deal?

Well, go back to v. 36 - ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’

Throughout this whole chapter, we’ve seen three miracles, three transfers of power; however, this doesn’t mean Jesus was on the ‘power play’. Rather, Jesus was on a mission to inspire belief in people’s hearts. Therefore, it’s safe to say what mattered most to Jesus more than signs, more than miracles was the truth of his word.

In this context, Jesus knew if he allowed the news to break in ‘synagogue central’, it would lead to a major distraction. Remember there was already enough pandemonium leading up to Jesus’ encounter with the little girl. Any more attention would likely cause an uproar and reduce Jesus to the role of ringmaster4.

So it’s interesting to see how silence was sometimes part of Jesus’ strategy to further the Gospel. 

Selah.

Bottom line: While Jesus was definitely Spirit led in all he said and did, he was also able to discern the theology of the land and time he was in since he was constantly yielding to the Father.  As a result, Jesus was able to reach more people with the love in his heart and teach them with the truth of his word.

Footnotes

1) In this case, the Decapolis – the Ten Cities
2) Seriously…imagine what Peter, James, and John must have thought. Something along the lines of déjà vu, eh?
3) Yes, I know this isn’t a word, but I couldn’t help myself
4) Obviously, Jesus wouldn’t want this to happen given the potential for people to be led further from the truth, not towards it.

Photo creds: Harmony Bible

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