Friday, August 16, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-16 [A Life of Thanksgiving] Thankfulness is our common ground

Thankfulness is our common ground

While the first part of Paul's letter to the church in Rome was primarily theological and about the message he preached, there are some practical issues Paul addresses in the second half of his letter.

One of the key issues was the diversity in the church in Rome. There were Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. They'd all come to faith in different ways, some through Paul, some through Peter, some through other faithful preachers.

As you can imagine, there were some nuances in understanding and applying the faith to day to day life. Some for example, clung tightly to the holy days and festivals of the Old Testament, while others felt that every day was a special gift of grace. There were some Christians who didn't feel comfortable eating the meat sold in temple butcheries because they felt this dishonoured God, whereas others felt that because God is king over all, they could simply thank Him as the one who created the world (and their meat) and eating it in thankfulness would glorify Him. There were even some Christians who became vegetarians.

People started looking down on those who worshiped God differently and the potential for division and acrimony was very real.

Paul presents an approach that one might naively label as "tolerant", but when one looks deeply, Paul calls us to live God-centered lives and this starts with thankfulness.

When we take our eyes off God we begin to focus on each other and see the differences. When our eyes are on Christ and we are filled with gratitude for what He has done for us, we are more likely to appreciate the similarities rather than the differences we have with our fellow believers.

A critical spirit is often the symptom of a lack of gratitude.

One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.      (Romans14:5-8)

Thursday, August 15, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-15 [A Life of Thanksgiving] Where unthankfulness leads...

Where unthankfulness leads...

Paul wanted to do a church planting trip to Spain. He wrote a letter to the church in Rome to garner their support. Rather than send them his CV, Paul gives them a breakdown of the gospel that he preached.His letter has been of great blessing to the church because it provides us with a beautiful systematic overview of the gospel.

Paul begins by making a case for the brokenness of the world. He argues that we are broken and in need of a Saviour. It's a bleak picture: Although God's glory is plain to see in Creation, human beings have suppressed the truth and ignored what is right in front of our eyes. As the human race we have ignored God's call on our lives and plunged into foolish self-worship and idolatry.

In the midst of describing our downfall, Paul makes a profound diagnosis: "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened..."

The emphasis is mine, but the thought is challenging. Could an intrinsic lack of gratitude be behind our lostness? Is it possible that when we blunt the edge of our thankfulness we also blunt our perception of God? Is it true that the less thankful I am, the less I will see God? Is our praise-fullness connected to our thank-fullness?

Could the brokenness of society be connected to a lack of gratitude? When I am not thankful for something, a sense of entitlement takes the place of gratitude. Entitlement leads to pride and pride leads me to try and be my own god or to make my own gods.

Selwyn Hughes suggests that gratitude is a vital habit for a Christian and makes the point that he pities the atheist who might, at some point, realise that they have so much to be thankful for and then have no-one to thank!

Maybe one of the best ways to see God is to take stock of what I am grateful for...

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.      (Romans1:17-23)

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-14 [A Life of Thanksgiving] A powerful symbol in trouble

A powerful symbol in trouble

Paul was on a ship bound for Rome. They had encountered a severe storm that drove them along for days. By day three they'd had to pass ropes under the ship to hold it together and they'd thrown cargo and tackle overboard. They'd let out the sea anchor and were being dragged along, hoping against hope that they would not be dashed to pieces on some rocky coastline.

Luke describes it like this: "When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved."

Can you imagine "finally giving up all hope"?

On the 14th night, just before dawn, Paul, who has had a vision of deliverance, convinces the sailors, soldiers, prisoners and passengers to gather together and he encourages them to eat and promises them that God will deliver them.

Then he does a beautiful thing: In the dark hour, just before dawn, on a boat that that has been pitched and tossed for 14 days of storm and with waves crashing and wind howling around them, Paul takes bread and gives thanks to God and eats.

This simple act of giving thanks before a meal unleashes hope and peace. We might call giving thanks a "domestic ritual", but it is a powerful symbol of hope and trust. Luke tells us that 276 souls were on board. It would take only one person to cry out "Who wants to eat when we're all going to die?" and panic would resume. But in that moment there is comfort and peace.

We've had moments as a family when we've processed sad news or come through a tough event. Then comes the meal time and, as we join hands, there's a meeting of eyes, maybe even a quiet sigh, and we "give thanks for the food" but we also affirm that the God who gives us food also looks after everything else.

Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. "For the last fourteen days," he said, "you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food--you haven't eaten anything. 34 Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head." 35 After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. 36 They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.       (Acts27:33-36)

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-13 [A Life of Thanksgiving] Completing the Journey

Completing the Journey

Our reading for today is about 10 men who had Leprosy. It was a horrible, alienating, isolating, stigmatising, debilitating and fatal disease. It killed you socially, emotionally, spiritually and finally physically.

These ten men asked Jesus for help. His act of healing called them to step out in faith - they had to head off to the priest and they were healed on the way. This implies that all of them had responded in faith and trust. They heard Jesus' instruction and acted on it and healing came. All ten had a measure of faith and trust.

Only one had gratitude.

And he was a Samaritan - he was considered only a partial Jew because his ancestors had intermarried with other nations. He hadn't grown up with the Jerusalem temple, but a second-rate sanctuary in Samaria. He hadn't been taught by the Pharisees and Saducees. He didn't have the heritage.

And maybe, because of his lack of heritage and status, he lacked the attitude of entitlement that often afflicts the privileged.

It's very easy to feel that we deserve certain things. That we are entitled to certain privileges. Did the other nine experience healing and feel that maybe they had earned it through their faithful response?

The Samaritan recognises that nothing would have been possible without Jesus. He goes back to demonstrate unrestrained gratitude. Jesus implies that this is part of his whole healing. This man is more whole than the other nine.

How often I've received what God has given me with a level of restraint and - if I'm brave enough to admit it - entitlement. This has robbed me of joy and peace and the sense of being loved.

I think the lessons in the story speak for themselves...

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!"
14 When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him--and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."      (Luke17:11-19)

Thursday, August 8, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-08 [A Life of Thanksgiving] Irony


The book and story of Jonah is one that has many scratching their heads - and I'm not even talking about the big fish!

(For the record - I have no difficulty whatsoever in believing that the God who created the Universe could provide a fish-submarine to transport a stubborn prophet to where he needed to be.)

But the story of Jonah has many layers. One of the key layers is that while God used Jonah to reach the hearts of the people of Nineveh, the other layer is that his attitudes and actions are a reflection of the hard hearts and attitudes of the Israelites.

In chapters 1 and 4 we see an angry and rebellious Jonah who has no love at all for other nations and who pouts and rebels against God at the slightest provocation. In chapter 3 he is the chastened prophet who preaches God's message out a sense of duty. But it's in chapter 2 that things get weird, because in the belly of the fish Jonah sprouts (or is it spouts?!?) the most pious prayer. If we didn't know better we'd think we were in David's school of Psalmody: the imagery, the passion, the eloquence!

But the contents of the prayer don't match the behaviour of the prophet and the text itself provides the answer: "And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land."

Jonah's prayer may have been eloquent - but it wasn't real. In verse 8 he even takes time to take a potshot at other nations and portray himself as holier. There is a disconnect between his words and his actions and the actions of the fish are an even more eloquent response to the value of Jonah's empty eloquence. ("Uggh" says the fish "I can't stand this belly-aching in my belly any more!")

There is a warning for us. I have attended events where someone has been asked to thank a speaker or presenter and turned the act of thanksgiving into a show all by itself. Or what about extravagant thank you gifts that imply payment instead of gratitude? Or what about prayers of thanks prayed in public but sulky ingratitude that's revealed in private. We should be sure that our thanks are sincere.

The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you brought my life up from the pit,
O LORD my God.
7 "When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, LORD,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
8 "Those who cling to worthless idols
forfeit the grace that could be theirs.
9 But I, with a song of thanksgiving,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
Salvation comes from the LORD."
10 And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.      (Jonah2:9-10)

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-07 [A Life of Thanksgiving] Even under pressure

Even under pressure

Daniel was an Israelite in exile. Employed for service in a foreign government he had risen in the ranks through diligence and faithfulness. This made him a target and an object of jealousy among his fellow civil servants and they hatched a plot to frame him...
They had King Darius issue a decree that people were not allowed to pray to any god or man, but himself. This was a perfect ambush because it was well-known that Daniel prayed three times a day.

What would you have done in Daniel's shoes? You could pray in your heart like Hannah the mother of Samuel did ("Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. (1Sam1:13)) and God answered her prayer! Or you could close the windows so that they couldn't see you. (It was Daniel's habit to pray with the window open facing Jerusalem.)

Daniel chooses to pray as usual with the windows open. This is courageous and admirable. But the thing that strikes me the most is the agenda of his prayers!
It is the agenda of thanks-giving.

To be brutally honest, if I were in Daniel's shoes, my agenda may have been slightly different:

  • "Lord I've worked so hard - and now they're ganging up on me."
  • "Lord you know this is a trap - why are you letting them get away with this?"
  • "Lord! It's not fair!
  • "Lord, I'm scared - I don't know what to do."
  • ... and numerous variations on these themes!

But Daniel has an ingrained gratitude-attitude: Through repetition and practice he has learned how to count his blessings and recognise grace-in-the-midst-of-trouble. Even as he anticipates the springing of the trap, he finds reasons to give thanks.

I think the key words in today's reading are: "just as he had done before."
I think expressions of thanks, when sincere and heart-felt are, incremental and cumulative - Each act of thanksgiving stands on the shoulders of the previous expression of thanks and, as we practice acts of thanksgiving, these accumulate to create a deep well of thank-FULL-ness inside us.

Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.       (Daniel6:10 )

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-06 [A Life of Thanksgiving] Thanks-giving is a sign of Health

Thanks-giving is a sign of Health

For many people the phrase "As the deer pants for the water..." brings warm recollections of a beautiful song of praise based on Psalm 42. But although the Psalm is much loved, it is actually a psalm that addresses a "dark night of the soul", a "desert time", "a spiritual winter", a "bout of depression" or whatever we want to call it.

The whole psalm is an internal conversation the psalmist is having with his soul that is struggling with feeling far from God. There is great beauty and wisdom in the Psalm which helps us in a number of ways. There's not time today to look at the whole of the Psalm or to dig too deep in the amazing guidance it offers, but here's a quick overview:

  1. Acknowledge your struggle
  2. Pour out your sadness to God
  3. Put yourself in a place where you can see God's beauty
  4. Learn to talk to your soul and point it toward God again
  5. Keep doing it
  6. Trust that God can help your soul!

For today I want to highlight one key thought:
When we are in a depressed state, we often look back to the "good old days" - days when we were happy, when the world felt right and we felt whole.

For the Psalmist that "good old" moment was a moment of praise, thanks and adoration. That got me thinking...
The times I've been happiest, healthiest, content and vibrant in my soul have been times where there has been a deep well of thanks-giving in my soul. I was focused on what I had, not what I didn't have. I had counted my blessings and not only did I know what I was thank-full for, I also knew Who I was grateful to.

I really do believe that when our lives are full of thankfulness, we are healthier, happier and more at peace. As you read our passage below, notice how gratitude is a vital part of the ideal healthy life the Psalmist remembers...

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
3 My tears have been my food
day and night,
while men say to me all day long,
"Where is your God?"
4 These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go with the multitude,
leading the procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
among the festive throng.      (Psalms42:1-4)

Friday, August 2, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-02 [A Life of Thanksgiving] At Mealtimes

At Mealtimes

Many of us call it "saying grace" - the gospel writers call it "giving thanks". All four gospels faithfully record that Jesus "gave thanks" when He fed the 5000 and the 4000 and at the Last Supper. In addition, Luke tells us that Jesus "gave thanks" when he ate with the two Emmaus road walkers.

The phrase "saying grace" is interesting - it's the one I use more often to describe what we do before meals... In a sense we are "pronouncing grace" - we are declaring that every meal is a gift of grace. "Saying Grace" also had to do with praying a blessing on the food and this comes from the fact that in New Testament times meat was sacrificed to idols and then sold in temple butcheries and so Christians felt the need to "claim the food back". But on careful reflection I think I'll be trying to shift the emphasis to "giving thanks".

We had a friend who playfully suggested that instead of "giving thanks", "saying grace" or "blessing the food" at every meal, he would just pray over the boot full of groceries when they came back from their monthly shopping. This would just be more efficient!

But of course this is missing the point...

It's about "giving thanks" and realising that even our day to day basics are a gift and a blessing from God. "Giving Thanks" before a meal is an opportunity to quieten our souls, to recognise God's goodness, and to thank God, not only for food, but those around the table with us and for life itself.

We can't live without food and we can't live without God.
Giving thanks at mealtimes helps us remember this.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.      (Luke24:30)

Thursday, August 1, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-01 [A Life of Thanksgiving] When?


Today we look at another passage that explains the duties of the Levites who were appointed to serve the Lord at the temple, offering sacrifices on behalf of the people. One of the specific duties they were given was to give thanks in the morning, in the evening and whenever offerings were presented.

Having people specifically giving thanks to God when offerings were being presented piqued my interest... Surely an offering is already an expression of love, devotion and thanks? Why is it necessary to have a group of people that bathe an offering in a shower of thanksgiving?

Maybe the answer lies in something that Paul wrote to the Corinthians - that God loves a cheerful giver. In the denominational setting I am from, we don't take a collection, we take an offering. But sometimes an offering is costly... I remember once seeing a cartoon of a wife, baby and husband at the church door. The baby and husband are crying. The wife says: "I'm sorry that my baby is crying pastor, she's teething." The pastor replies "No problem, but why is your husband crying?" The wife replies "Oh he's tithing."

There are times that we bring our gifts to God and they are an offering - a sacrifice that comes at cost. It's then that we need to bathe our offering in thanks-giving.

But I am also challenged by the idea of formally appointing a group of people to give thanks in the morning and thanks at night. This makes it clear to me that this is important and shouldn't be neglected.

Just imagine the transformative power of bracketing your days with thanksgiving!!

So here's the challenge I've set for myself. For the month of August I am going to consciously start and end each day by thinking of 3 things that I am grateful for. To help me do this I'm going to stick a poster next to my bed to remind me. `Will you take the challenge?` (I will send you the poster by a separate email...)

When should we give thanks? Read the passage below for some good guidance...

They were also to stand every morning to thank and praise the LORD. They were to do the same in the evening 31 and whenever burnt offerings were presented to the LORD on Sabbaths and at New Moon festivals and at appointed feasts.      (1Chronicles23:30-31)

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

EmmDev 2019-07-31 [A Life of Thanksgiving] The #1 Reason to Give Thanks

The #1 Reason to Give Thanks

What is the number one reason for us to give thanks to the Lord?
- Is it because He is our Rock and Refuge?
- or because He is our Creator and Sustainer?
- or because He has been our Shield and Strength?
- or because He is our Shepherd and we are His Sheep?

The Old Testament has a repeating refrain:
"Give thanks to the Lord for He is good:
His love endures forever"

This phrase appears 41 times in the NIV translation of the Old Testament. The first time is in David's "thank you" song which we looked at yesterday. In the same section we're told that certain people were "chosen and designated to give thanks to the Lord because His Love endures forever. (1Chron 16:34+41)

The phrase occurs three times at the consecration of Solomon's temple and is the theme song of the choir Jehoshaphat puts in front of His army. It comes up again in the Psalms (100, 106, 107, 118 (5x), 136(26x)) and in Jeremiah (33:11) where it is the theme-song of the restored community.

Psalm 136 is a call and response psalm where the worship leader offers a phrase that calls the community to worship or to notice one of God's qualities. After each call, the worshiping community responds: "His Love endures forever!"

You might think that it would be tedious to repeat that one phrase over and over - but, if you think about it, God's enduring love really is the #1 reason for us to give thanks.

Try going through the day and every time you have/need a moment to be thank-full, just whisper to yourself "His love endures forever." You will see that 26 times isn't too much!

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.
4 to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
5 who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever.
6 who spread out the earth upon the waters,
His love endures forever.
7 who made the great lights--
His love endures forever.
8 the sun to govern the day,
His love endures forever.
9 the moon and stars to govern the night;
His love endures forever.