Friday, August 30, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-30 [A Life of Thanksgiving] What Paul is grateful for #4

What Paul is grateful for #4

Paul's cause for thankfulness today is an unusual one. He's thankful for kings and those in authority. Bear in mind that Paul was arrested by Roman soldiers, did prison time in Rome and was ultimately beheaded there.

So why would he be grateful for government?
While government wasn't perfect, Paul saw the need for it. In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul urged his readers to obey authorities as far as possible (except where authority diverged from their faith). The role of kings and those in authority is to create and sustain a society where people can live "peaceful and quiet lives." Was Rome perfect? No they were not. But the order and structure they gave to society enabled the spread of the gospel. So Paul urged Timothy and his community to pray for the authorities. And maybe, because he understood how easily we give in to the temptation to whine and complain and focus on the negative, he challenges us to think of things to give thanks for.

This is a very timely message. We live in a time where our leaders' clay feet are very obvious. We are frustrated by the infighting, bickering, arrogance, incompetence and corruptness of our leaders. But in order to give thanks, we have to see what is good. When we find this good, it is reminder that God is still at work. Finding things to be thank-full for will protect us from the cynicism and negativity that keeps us from prayer.

Does this mean that we ignore the failures and mistakes of our leaders? Of course not. We must hold them accountable. But we must also pray for them and our prayers should not be dominated by negativity - we should learn to pray thankfully.

Here's the weekend challenge: As you enjoy your Saturday and Sunday, think about the roads, electricity, water and infrastructure that make it possible for you to shop, watch the sport on TV and enjoy a meal with your loved ones. Take time to give thanks that God gives us all this through imperfect authorities.

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.      (1Timothy2:1-2)

Thursday, August 29, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-29 [A Life of Thanksgiving] What Paul is grateful for #3

What Paul is grateful for #3

Many of us are involved with service to the Lord (whether in our private lives, in the workplace, in the church or with others in service-based movements. This is good and right. But when we serve, there is a temptation to think that we should be thanked and appreciated.

Paul turns all of this on its head when he expresses thank-fullness for being in the ministry. In our passage for today Paul is looking at his past, present and future.

As far as Paul's past goes, he knows he can't claim a right to be in God's service. He recognises his failure, guilt and brokenness. He is thankful for God's mercy which was poured out over him. He also acknowledges that God's grace was expressed in the love and faith that God poured into him.

When he thinks about the present, Paul is very mindful that God gives him strength. Any work we do is only achievable through God's strength and guidance. I once heard a man say: "I did this by the sweat of my brow." I replied rather cheekily: "And Who gave you a brow that could sweat?" All that we do for God is an outflow of all that He has and is doing for us.

Paul is also thinking about the future, because he recognises that the faith God gave him when he first believed now expresses itself in faithfulness. In so many of his letters, Paul expresses the desire to keep serving and to finish his race. In his later letter to Timothy Paul will write: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." Paul is grateful for the chance to express his faithfulness to God.

I have a friend who took an overseas visitor to experience some work they were doing among the poor and homeless. The visitor came with a bag of apples that he handed out to the children. When they were leaving the visitor remarked that the children had not said "thank you." My friend turned around and said: "Did you thank them for allowing you to serve them?"

Paul is filled with thanksgiving for the privilege of serving God in spite of his past and for strength in the present and for future service which will allow Paul to keep being faithful.

It is a privilege and gift to be able to be God's co-workers.
Paul really understands this...

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.      (1Timothy1:12)

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-28 [A Life of Thanksgiving] What Paul is grateful for #2

What Paul is grateful for #2

One of my colleagues, Rod Botsis, once commented to me that he felt that every funeral he conducted was an act of spiritual warfare - that we proclaim the resurrection in the face of the doubt, fear and darkness that come with the bullying tactics that death uses to intimidate us...

In Graeco-Roman times life was cheap. The Romans had no hesitation to crucify hundreds of men along the roadside to crush a slave-revolt, life expectancy was low and infants could be abandoned in the street simply for being the wrong gender.

Even today we still use a number of euphemisms when talking about death. Some attempt to be humourous, others try to reduce its seriousness or to soften the blow - We are uncomfortable when it comes to talking about terminal illness, death and pain.

But Paul offers powerful hope in the face of death's bullying.
He takes his cue from the physical resurrection of Christ.

  • Perishable becomes imperishable
  • Mortal becomes immortal
  • Death has been swallowed up in victory (Resurrection Life makes death insignificant)
  • Death's sting has been pulled. The "poison sack" on the "bee sting" of death is sin. Sin makes death a separation from God. When Jesus died on the cross, He took our sin. Now the sting of death can be pulled - the poison is gone.

And so Paul is thank-full - we don't have to fear death.
Death is defeated - its sting is pulled - we have victory.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."
"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?"
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.      (Romans15:54-57)

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-27 [A Life of Thanksgiving] What Paul is grateful for #1

What Paul is grateful for #1

For this week we'll be looking at the things that Paul is specifically grateful for. (We've already seen that he's grateful for his various congregations.)

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul describes his struggle with his sinful nature. Most of chapter 7 is about this battle: There are good things that he wants to do, but somehow never gets to actually doing them. There are temptations he wants to resist, but ends up doing exactly what he didn't want to do.

Does this sound familiar???
No matter how hard we try, we keep on stumbling over our weaknesses. We keep falling into temptation and we keep missing the great opportunities we get to do it right...

Paul is desperate to be liberated from this endless cycle:
"Who will rescue me from this body of death?"

The Good News is that there is a Rescuer.
His name is Jesus.

Jesus broke the chains of sin and death and sends us His Holy Spirit who will set us free from from sin and death.

Paul is thank-full: We don't have to struggle alone. We have been rescued. God places His Spirit in us. We can overcome our brokenness.

Read these powerful verses below and bring your thanks to God too.

So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! ....
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.      (Romans7:21-8:2)

Friday, August 23, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-23 [A Life of Thanksgiving] Anxiety, Prayer and Thanksgiving

Anxiety, Prayer and Thanksgiving

Anxiety is a pernicious enemy. It wages a war of attrition on our hearts and souls. It starts out as a niggle, becomes like the nagging pain of a splinter in our finger, then we become like a dog with a bone - we gnaw at it endlessly and if we do bury it, we just dig it up again. Eventually anxiety relentlessly occupies our mind, slowly releasing the fight/flight chemicals in our bodies - not enough to make us fight or flight - but enough to jangle our nervous systems, disturb our sleep and wear us down. Left unchecked, anxiety can make us sick in body and in soul.

Paul urges us to fight against this kind of anxiety. His solution is to encourage us to live a life of prayerfulness - that we bring everything to God. This doesn't mean hours on our knees (although some time on our knees is good for all of us) but rather that we are in a constant conversation with God, bringing Him our day's events and their impact on us to Him. It's about a constant reliance on God, learning to "do life" with Him instead of trying to do it on our own.

A vital component of this prayer-full life is thanksgiving. When we learn to treat God, not only as a fire-extinguisher and problem-solver, but as a partner with Whom we share our joys and sorrows then we grow in the security and comfort of knowing that we are not alone. Thanks-giving reminds us of God's goodness and our status as the beloved ones on whom He pours out blessings.

One of anxiety's main strategies is to isolate and alienate us. Anxiety wants us to believe that "No-one knows what I'm going through, no-one understands, no-one can help me." When we walk through our lives consciously acknowledging God's presence and love, then we affirm that we are not alone and that there are blessings in spite of our troubles.

And then peace that transcends understanding will trounce the power of anxiety in us.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.      (Philippians4:6-7)

Thursday, August 22, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-22 [A Life of Thanksgiving] In or For?

In or For?

Today we deal with one of the greatest misconceptions that affects well-meaning Christians.

When we read this well-known passage, we tend to read "give thanks for all circumstances" instead of "give thanks in all circumstances".

This is simply wrong:

  • The Greek preposition the Paul uses is "ἐν". It is a very common preposition and its most common (by far) interpretation is "in". It is the same preposition that Paul uses when he talks about being "in Christ" which is a used in the same sentence. Surely if we translate ἐν as "for" then the sentence should read "give thanks for all circumstances, for this is God's will for you for Christ Jesus..." This clearly is incorrect. We "give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus..."
  • Thanking God for pain would create a crisis of sincerity. How can I honestly thank God for something horrible that happens to me or one of my loved ones? Those who advocate this view argue that we are grateful because we believe that God will transform our pain. I would agree with that wholeheartedly - but then I am thanking God for the transformation of our pain and not for the pain itself.
  • But the most important reason for saying that the idea of thanking God for all things is wrong is a theological one: God is not the author of our pain. James makes it clear when he reminds his congregation that God doesn't tempt anyone, but that we are tempted by a broken world and by our own broken sinful nature. He goes on to say: Don't be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above..." (Jam1:16-17) In the same way, brokenness is the result of our sin and brokenness - it does not come from God. God allows pain and hurt in our lives, but He is not the author. (And even when He allows it, He has a plan...)

So how do we give thanks in all circumstances?

  • We recognise the blessings we have in spite of our pain. Sometimes we have to do as the old song says: "count our blessings - count them one by one"
  • We recognise that God brings good out of our pain. "For God works in all things for the good of those who love Him." (Rom8:28)
  • We think of the times that God has carried us through trouble in the past and we thank Him and trust Him to help us again
  • We thank God for instances of beauty that we experience in the midst of our trouble. The presence of beauty in the midst of pain is the God's signpost of hope and love.
  • We thank God for the people who walk with us and hold up our arms.
  • We thank God that nothing can separate us from His love: "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom8:37-39)
Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.      (1Thessalonians5:16-18)

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-21 [A Life of Thanksgiving] Do we express our thanks to others?

Do we express our thanks to others?

Yesterday we looked at the idea of being thankful for the people God has placed in our lives. To be sure, the gratitude is primarily expressed to God, who puts these special people in our lives. It is an attitude of appreciation and thanksgiving that recognises that God has blessed us with people who share our journey and ministry.

But Paul not only thanks God for people, he expresses something of that gratitude to the people themselves, letting gratitude become an encouragement.

His letter to the Thessalonians is a case in point:
Paul is grateful for their example and their response to the gospel.
He takes time to express the reasons for his gratitude to them. He takes the time to be quite specific about the things they did that he is grateful for.

Are there people in your life that you are grateful for?
Are there remarkable things about their character and life that you are specifically grateful for?

Why not take a moment to express your thanks to them?

I'm not talking about slavish or mechanical expressions of thanks for services rendered or gifts given - Rather I am talking about expressions of appreciation for people that will encourage and inspire them.

This is what Paul is doing.
Imagine how this would have encouraged the Thessalonians...
Imagine what a sincere expression of appreciation (with reasons) could mean to someone who has been a blessing to you...

We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. 3 We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia--your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.      (1Thessalonians1:2-9)

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-20 [A Life of Thanksgiving] Thank You for People!

Thank You for People!

Paul's letters to the various congregations he nurtured show a deep appreciation for people. Some might argue that Paul was simply sticking to the literary conventions of letter writing and that showing appreciation was a good way to build rapport with his audience.

But I believe there is more to his thanksgiving than simple convention. If we look at his expressions of thanks, there is a depth, diversity and richness:

  • He talks about a "clear conscience" as he talks about giving thanks for Timothy. (He's indicating his sincerity)
  • He combines thanks and prayer (2Timothy, Colossians, Ephesians and Thessalonians)
  • He talks about thankfulness as an ongoing attitude (He uses phrases like "constantly", "always", "every time" and "not stopped" to express gratitude as a state of mind.)
  • In at least some instances Paul's thanksgiving is expressed in corporate prayer.
  • Paul will often go on to explain the reasons for his gratitude. We see this in Romans, Thessalonians, Philippians, Colossians and 2Timothy.

This reveals Paul as a person who sincerely had a heart for people. They weren't notches on his belt or statistics in his campaign. They were real people whom he carried in his heart, prayed for and valued. He longed to see God at work in their lives and saw what God was already doing.

Do we see people with the same level of love, prayer and gratitude as Paul does?

I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.(2Tim.1:3)

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you.(Col.1:3)

I thank my God every time I remember you.(Phil.1:3)

I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.(Eph.1:16)

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.(Rom.1:8)

I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.(1Cor.1:4)

We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.(1Thes1:2)

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)