|Copyright, Dean Young and John Marshall|
Friday, November 8, 2013
November. Thus begins shorter days, grey skies, cold temperatures, and holiday preparations. Same old, same old. What new and fresh thoughts do we need as we enter this winter holiday season?
As I’ve thought and prayed about this, I realized that my question was directing me to the whole point of the Thanksgiving holiday—we don’t need new information; we need to be reminded of what we already know.
Although Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, instituted by President Lincoln in 1863, it reflects the mindset of the early Christian settlers who, 200 years prior to the Civil War, were giving thanks to God for their survival in this country. Those pilgrims were living in hardship and had been through extraordinary suffering. Still, they knew that God is real and that God is good; they also knew the importance of a grateful heart. Gratitude enables us to see beyond ourselves and our circumstances. In particular, it allows us to see more clearly who God is and what He is doing in our lives. Gratitude fuels perseverance and grants hope. Grumbling, on the other hand, keeps us self-focused and accentuates our misery.
The quintessential illustration of this is the post-Exilic Israelites as they traveled into the wilderness. Even though they had just experienced God’s goodness in rescuing them from Egyptian slavery and facilitating their escape by parting the Red Sea, they began to grumble almost immediately. Thus their 40 years of wandering began. Their lack of gratitude continued into the next generation, and when Moses sent spies into the Promised Land, 10 of the 12 could not see what God was doing and reported that the land was populated by giants that could not be overcome.
When God finally did bring them into the Promised Land, He instructed them to stop in the middle of the Jordan River. God then reprised His Exodus act and held up the water so that the nation of Israel could cross without getting their feet wet. As part of this exercise, God instructed them to remove 12 boulders from the middle of the river bed and take them to their place of lodging as a reminder to the people—and the generations that would follow—of God’s personal, loving, powerful goodness.
Like the Israelites, we are forgetful people. I concluded many years ago that I would make a good Israelite. It is painfully easy for me to forget God’s faithful protection and provision, and I am quick to complain and slow to give thanks. And so I have developed a habit preserving my own personal “memory stones,” mementos that serve to remind me of the Lord’s gracious faithfulness in my life. I can then return to my personal memory stones whenever I need encouragement to look to the Lord in difficult circumstances.
The Thanksgiving holiday is a memory stone of sorts. Although it is not as precise and personal as the stones in the Jordan River or my own memory stones, our celebration of Thanksgiving, year after year, offers us a memory booster that inoculates us from grumbling and encourages an attitude of gratitude. It is its predictability and the memories generated year after year that give this holiday its power. We do not need new, different, or exciting. We simply need to remember that our lives are in the hands of an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present, all-wise, and all-loving God.
I, for one, will praise God for Thanksgiving.
Thursday, October 31, 2013
Sunday, October 6, 2013
“Amazing Grace,” written by John Newton in the 18th Century, is one of my favorite hymns. There are two new versions of “Amazing Grace” that I particularly like. One is Todd Agnew’s “Grace Like Rain.” The other is Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio’s version of “Amazing Grace” that adds the “My Chains Are Gone” chorus to the traditional “Amazing Grace” lyrics. It is interesting to me that both contemporary versions include a comparison of God’s grace to rain. Agnew, of course, puts it bluntly: “Hallelujah, Grace like rain falls down on me.” In “My Chains Are Gone,” Tomlin and Giglio describe God’s gracious mercy as a flood.
It is singularly appropriate, I believe, to link God’s grace to abundant rain. In the created world, we depend on rain for personal survival, the ability to clean, for refreshment, to grow crops for our food. Water is a vital component of our ecosystem, and without it life on earth would perish. God’s grace, like rain, washes us, refreshes us, energizes us, and ends the spiritual and emotional droughts in our lives. God’s grace is abundant, often coming as a flood of mercy. We cannot live without God’s grace any more than we can live without water. It is fitting, then, to praise God for His grace, and to ask for it. Our Worship Team often pairs “Grace Like Rain” with another chorus: “Let It Rain.” Indeed, asking our Lord for His grace is a wonderful way to acknowledge our need that only God can fill.
There is a problem with grace-like-rain, though. Rain is not always convenient. It often disrupts our plans and interferes with what we “must” do. It reminds us that as much as we would like to think otherwise, we have limited control of our lives. God’s grace, like rain, is often inconvenient. It can thwart our pursuit of our goals, and it most definitely reminds us that we are not sovereign over our lives.
If God’s grace is like rain, I believe it is helpful to clarify our understanding of grace. We often view grace with a narrow, self-focused lens. When we ask for grace, we generally mean that we are asking for a “break.” The “grace period” associated with a credit card account is the time between a purchase and when payment is due. We are saved by Christ’s gracious death, His payment for our sins. It is all too easy to take this aspect of grace and conclude that God’s grace is for our purposes. But God extends His grace to us as an expression of who He is, our loving Creator, Savior, and Redeemer. His grace is for His purposes in our lives.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the well-known 20th Century Christian writer, wrote about the dangers of “cheap grace,” the attitude that sees God’s grace as the means to further one’s own purposes, comfort. This attitude neglects a genuine participation in the nature and work of Christ and misses the point of grace-like-rain.
Grace is God’s free love gift to us, but it does require something of us. In order to experience Christ’s offer of salvation by faith, we must relinquish our desire and attempts to achieve our own righteousness and earn our own salvation. Living by grace through faith means that we maintain our focus on following our Master—we seek grace like rain so that we can be enabled, equipped, and empowered to fill His purposes for us rather than serving our own ambitions and wishes.
I, for one, have a long way to go on this journey of grace through faith. I don’t always want grace like rain; sometimes I want to be dry, comfortable, and independent. I praise God, though, that he doesn’t leave me high, dry, and grace-less. Instead, He uses hymns like “Amazing Grace” to draw my heart, mind, and soul closer to Him. May this be true for all of us as we sing such songs.
Friday, September 20, 2013
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Who Is Your Master?
In Matthew 6:24, we read Jesus’s challenge to us regarding the influences in our lives: we cannot serve two masters. Jesus was referring to wealth as a competing master, but in truth, there are limitless masters that would draw us away from God. We often find ourselves making God a secondary master, following feelings of obligation and guilt to serve human masters at God’s expense.
If we do in fact want to follow Christ as our sole Master, then we need to put would-be masters in their place. This is where boundaries come in. The concept of boundaries is a powerful tool that enables us to say, “No” to “shoulds,” “musts,” and the tyranny of the urgent so that we can fully and freely say, “Yes!” to Christ.
Perisseia, our women’s growth group, is returning to the important topic of boundaries in its Fall series. This workshop will be loosely based on the work of Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend and their book, Boundaries.
All women are invited to join us Thursday evenings, in the Chapel House, 7:00-8:30, September 19 through November 7. No commitment or preparation is necessary or expected. Copies of Boundaries and the Boundaries workbook will be available for optional purchase: $6.00 for the book; $8.00 for the workbook.
For more information or to reserve a copy of either or both books, please contact Cindy Bills (firstname.lastname@example.org; 609-275-8557).
Sunday, September 1, 2013
I love the work of Theodore Geisel. Dr. Seuss, as he is better known, wrote a large collection of wonderful children’s books, many of which are quite instructive for adults as well. One of his most whimsical books is If I Ran the Zoo, a story about what a young boy would do if he managed the local zoo.
As one would anticipate by the title, the book contains the ideas that the main character would pursue given the authority. We learn that young Gerald McGrew would spend his time seeking and acquiring a large collection of the most outlandish animals imaginable, much to the acclaim of zoo visitors.
With all due respect to Mr. Geisel, I respectfully disagree with the premise of his book. You see, there are many days when I feel like I am running a small zoo. Two cats, a puppy, and frequent doggie guests can easily make our home look—and sound—like a zoo. At those times, when I am running the zoo, the last thing on my mind is collecting exotic specimens in order to impress visitors. I am too busy filling food bowls, changing water, scooping litter boxes, collecting dog poop, engaging in and monitoring play, brushing coats, cleaning eyes and ears, administering medicine, and brushing teeth (yes, dogs and cats benefit from having their teeth brushed regularly). And, let’s not forget visits to the vet, bathing (dogs only on this one!) and laundering pet bedding.
I believe that my experience in “running a zoo” is a helpful illustration of Biblical leadership. Christ, as our Lord and Savior, Master and Model, is the quintessential example of the servant leader. The Biblical model of leadership is not about being the boss or impressing onlookers, but about meeting needs and empowering those under us to be who God created them to be. This is true even for my pets. Unless I meet their needs, they will not be able to be good pets. Cesar Milan, the “dog whisperer,” insists on the importance of encouraging a puppy to have lots of opportunities to engage in “dog behavior” in order to become a “well-balanced” dog and satisfying companion.
September is the “back to school” season, the time when we turn from the more relaxed attitude of summer to focus on the work before us. As we do so, I believe it would be helpful to bear in mind that most of us are, in some way, shape, or form, a leader. As leaders, we have the incredible privilege of following our Master’s example. By the power of His Holy Spirit, we can grow to be servant leaders who humbly meet needs and empower those “under” and around us to fulfill God’s purposes for them. It seems to me that such a focus is far more satisfying than acquiring a “Mulligatawny” or a “Thwerll” in order to garner admiration.
A final comment: Theodore Geisel knew quite a bit about leadership and leaders. For an excellent and encouraging example, you might want to read, Bartholomew and the Oobleck.
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
“The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become--because He made us. He invented us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be.... It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.”