Tuesday, November 3, 2020

The Doing and Being of Thanksgiving

 ‘Tis the season…to give thanks.  Thanksgiving is the time when we are reminded to give thanks, though giving thanks is best practiced as a daily exercise in our lives year round.


Why do we give thanks?  In The Book of Common Prayer, used by the Episcopal Church, congregants are exhorted to give thanks unto the Lord because it is meet and right so to do.  King David exhorts his readers throughout his writings to acknowledge the greatness and goodness of the Lord and offer Him praise and thanks.  The Apostle Paul instructs his Thessalonian readers to rejoice always and in everything give thanks.


So is giving thanks a duty that we do as a perfunctory matter of obedience?  Certainly, there are challenges to gratitude in our world and lives today; we may not feel grateful, may not feel like giving thanks.  We are living in a pandemic, with its associated anxiety, grief, and relational and economic pressures.  But just as certainly, there were challenges to gratitude last year, before COVID-19 was a thing.  King David faced his share of challenges to gratitude as he places complaints and cries of distress right alongside his offerings of praise and thanksgiving.  And the Apostle Paul reminds his Corinthian readers that he had been beaten with rods, stoned, and shipwrecked three times.  Neither man of God minimizes or denies his hardship and pain.  And yet, there is not the slightest hint of obligation in the expressions of gratitude and thanksgiving offered by David and Paul.  It very much seems that thanksgiving need not be particularly dependent on or reflective of our circumstances.


James encourages his readers to Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  James reminds his readers—and us—that even trials can be cause for thanksgiving when we remember that our faithful and redemptive Lord will use all things for our great good.


And yet, it seems to me that giving thanks must also reach beyond our circumstances.  When we cultivate a grateful heart and persistently exercise our thanksgiving muscles, we are changed, transformed.  We become grateful people who reflect the goodness of the living God abiding in us in the presence of the Holy Spirit.


In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis observes that “We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules: whereas He really wants people of a particular sort.”  As we consider this season of Thanksgiving and holiday celebrations in the midst of pandemic struggles, we may begin to give thanks out of a desire to obey or a sense of duty.  But let us not stop there!  May we follow the model set by King David and the Apostle Paul and become genuinely and deeply grateful people before the Lord.


Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Thought For The Day: Faith, Hope, and Love

 "Faith goes up the stairs that love has built and looks out the window which hope has opened."

                                                                                                               Charles Spurgeon

Saturday, October 3, 2020

In Our Back Pocket

 As we negotiate the transition to a new season of weather, activities, and commitments in the context of a continuing pandemic, we face multiple, often overlapping challenges.  And although we can’t change our challenges, the way we respond to these challenges has a tremendous potential to change us.  Indeed, the way we respond to our challenges will determine the way we experience our days. 


I am an enthusiastic advocate for a redemption mindset, one that depends upon Paul’s reassurance in Romans 8 that our Lord will work all things in our lives for our good.  I will add a Biblical postscript to this verse and remind us that the Lord’s redemptive purposes work not only for our good but for His glory.  


There are limitless ways the Lord can do His redemptive thing as we walk through our days.  I would like to focus on one of them that applies to all of us: the way we interact with others.  Social distancing and COVID restrictions do not eliminate many of our interactions, but they do generally make them more challenging.  And this is exactly where Christ wants to do His work in us and through us.  As we allow Christ to do His sanctifying work in us through His Holy Spirit, we partake in the nature of Christ and become His ministers in a needy world.


In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul has this to say: Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.  (Colossians 4:6).  And in his letter to Titus, Paul instructs Titus to remind his congregation to be ready for every good deed (Titus 3:1).


So how do we do this in the emotional and stressed interactions that are becoming more and more common?  There is the certainty of the abiding Holy Spirit.  Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would give them the words to speak in the midst of persecution, and while we may not be in exactly that position, we have every reason to believe that the Holy Spirit is continually at work in us.  Beyond that, as we take responsibility to be ready for every good deed and to speak with grace, I think the concept of “pocket phrases” can be extremely helpful. 


Solomon, in Proverbs 15:1 exhorts us with this truth: A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  A pocket phrase is a thoughtfully-prepared, gentle response that we can pull out of our pocket, so to speak, when we are taken by surprise or in the emotional heat of a moment.  This does not mean that we follow a script or a flow chart.  Nor does it mean that we suspend boundaries and enable destructive behavior.  But if we have a small collection of gracious phrases at our immediate disposal, we will be able to meet the demand of the moment while allowing our mind to manage the emotion and give the Holy Spirit a chance.


Here are a few pocket phrases that I have used and recommend to others:


·      I’m sorry; I did not mean to offend you.

·      I am sorry you feel that way.

·      Please let me think about it.

·      Is there a way for us to work this out?

·      I am afraid you may have misunderstood me.

·      Do you mind if…?

·      Is there something I can do to help?


Multiple Gospel accounts remind us that not everyone responded well to Jesus’s words, and it would be unrealistic to think that our experience will be different.  We need not belabor unconstructive conversations.  Sometimes, we need to simply wish the other person well and walk away, allowing the Judge to rule according to His character.  When we do have a negative encounter despite our best attempts to manifest Christ, we can take consolation that we are experiencing what our Master did and be encouraged by the truth that the way someone treats us (or the way someone speaks to us) says everything about him/her and nothing about us.  Our identity and value remain firmly grounded in Christ.  Regardless of the outcome of our efforts, we can praise the Lord that He is doing His work in us and giving us the incredible privilege of communicating His truth and grace.  


Saturday, September 19, 2020

Therapists and Counselors

 “Therapists aren’t people who you ‘pay to pretend to care about you,’ therapists are people you pay to teach you how to care for yourself.”

                                                                              Author Unknown

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

An Issue of Vision

 I needed eye surgery recently.  The surgery was an unanticipated event to correct a problem that I had never heard of.  I learned that the sudden distortion that was affecting my ability to read represented what is known as a macular pucker.  

 I have learned that a macular pucker is the result of damage to the retina.  As we age, the vitreous, which is a jelly-like substance that fills the inside of our eyes, often pulls away from the retina.  This detachment can damage the retina.  In my case, I noticed a sudden onset of multiple “floaters.”  And even though I did not experience a retinal tear or detachment, there was enough damage to marshal my body’s healing forces.  Over the course of a few years, scar tissue built up and began to pull on the vitreous that remained intact, causing the macula—the central part of the retina that is responsible for close vision—to wrinkle.  And so whenever I focused on small print, I found that the word was distorted.  It was quite alarming to realize that I was unable to read confidently.


Fortunately, a macular pucker can be treated.  A delicate, sophisticated surgical procedure removes the offending vitreous and scar tissue, reducing the stress on the macula and offering some level of improved vision.  And although the improvement can take as long as three months to be realized, I am most grateful to report that my ability to read fine print was largely restored a week after the surgery.


It has occurred to me that the phenomenon known as a macular pucker in the physiological realm has something to teach us about the spiritual realm.  As sinners in a sinful world, we sustain a good bit of internal damage to our hearts and spirits.  Some of this damage is of our own doing; a good bit of it is inflicted upon us by other sinners.  On this side of God’s kingdom, it is unavoidable.  


Sometimes, the damage we sustain is so painful that we avoid dealing with it, denying or minimizing the pain.  We “let it go” and move on without genuinely resolving the issue.  Over time, emotional and spiritual scar tissue can develop.  And then, our spiritual vision—our perspective—can become distorted.  We practice Christianity more to meet expectations than to express a vibrant, living relationship with Almighty God.  We react negatively to people and events that remind us of past pain as we misinterpret current events according to the past.  Our distorted “sight” handicaps us, and we struggle to give and receive love.


But the Gospel is Good News indeed!  Jesus came to redeem us—to take our sin and our pain and use those very negative issues to draw us to Him.  He takes that sin and pain upon Himself and offers us freedom and healing.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, He removes our spiritual and emotional scar tissue.  But our redemption—and the restoration of our spiritual sight--requires our participation: we must practice confession, repentance, and forgiveness.  And then our spiritual vision can be restored!  We are able to approach others with open hearts and know peace and joy as we minister in the name of Christ.


To be sure, God’s work in us can be intimidating, not unlike my eye surgery.  Often, we are blind to our distorted perspective, and we need the help of a faithful brother or sister to expose it.  And once we recognize that the scars of this life have twisted us away from God and away from others, we are required to acknowledge a need that we cannot meet on our own.  It is our Lord who covers our sin and redeems our pain even as we confess, repent, and forgive.  And just as I needed prayer support to manage the stress of my surgery, we need the patience, encouragement, and unconditional love of our brothers and sisters to support us as we allow the Great Physician to do His work in us.




Monday, September 7, 2020

Nice Is Overrated

“You’re so nice!”  I cringe inside when I hear these words.  While I understand—and appreciate—the affirmation and compliment, “nice” is not my target.  From a Biblical perspective, nice is not a virtue we are encouraged to pursue.  In my New American Standard Bible, “nice” appears once, at the end of Jeremiah 12:6: “Do not believe them, although they may say nice things to you.”  In this passage, Jeremiah is warning the people of Israel to beware of manipulative flattery.  And manipulation and flattery are often packaged in niceness.  But even without negative intent or connotation, nice is superficial.  Nice is often used as a substitute for depth and caring in the context of relationship.  And in our rushed, performance-oriented culture, it is easy to settle for nice—on both the giving and receiving ends. 


I believe that there is a good reason that Scripture does not promote “nice.”  God does not manipulate.  He proved this when He shared His free will with us in creation.  And God is most definitely not interested in superficiality.  Please consider Jesus’s interaction with the woman who sought healing from a hemorrhage that had plagued her for 12 years, as recorded in Luke 8:43-48.  We read that this woman risked public rejection by appearing in her unclean state; she manages to get close enough to Jesus to touch His robe.  She is healed!  But that is not the end of the story.  Even though Jesus is trying to walk forward amid a large and pressing crowd, He recognizes that healing power has left him; He stops and insists on identifying her and having a conversation with her.  Although Jesus is undoubtedly happy to “nicely” heal her, He doesn’t stop there.  He wants real relationship with this woman.   There is also a deep kindness associated with Jesus’s insistence on bringing the woman forth.  As embarrassing as it must have been for her, Jesus’s declaration of her healing would have put her well on the way to re-acceptance in her community.


As we negotiate life as fallen people in a fallen world, it is easy to compromise on many fronts: integrity, self-care, time management, relationships.  It is absolutely vital to remember that we serve a Triune God, a God of internal relationship who created us to participate in that intimacy with Him and to develop it with one another.  Our Lord calls us to be loving, kind, gracious, merciful, forbearing, and encouraging in our relationships.  Learning to do so helps us to partake in the nature of Christ, to become who He has created us to be and to become fit for heaven.  May we remember that the pleasure of nice is fleeting and not settle for anything less than the deep connection that our Lord desires for us.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Words From and For the Wise

 "Be careful how you use words and time.  You can't get either of them back."

                                                                                                Bil and Jeff Keane

                                                                                                The Family Circus