Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Recovering Thankfulness by shattering the lens of "me"

In America, the Thanksgiving season has arrived with all the splendor (and chill) of autumn. And while we ponder pumpkin pie and smoked turkey, it's a good season to think a little about what thankfulness really is.

"Thank you!" If you were raised to be polite, you probably say that a lot. When you make a purchase at the store, you say, "Thank you. Bye," as you leave. But is that really thankfulness?  Do you sincerely feel that sense of appreciation that comes from thankfulness. Probably not. Why? Because, you paid for the item. You simply got what you deserved.

BUT if you went to pay for an item and clerk said, "I tell you what, I am going to pay for that, myself. You can have it for free," your attitude would be different. Some of us would try not to accept it. "No. no, you can't do that. I must pay for my things."  Others might take a step back dumbfounded.  But at the end of the transaction, most of us would say, "Wow, thank you."  Same words. Totally different sentiment, a sentiment of true thankfulness.

I fear we have largely lost the sentiment of true thankfulness in our modern lives. We have more stuff and likely live in nicer houses than our parents' generation, certainly more than our grandparents'. We have all the gadgets of our technological age. We have dishwashers, clothes washers, even clothes driers! We live in an age of jet airplanes and regular vacations.  We have more to be thankful for and yet, ironically, we've largely lost the sentiment of thankfulness.

Baby boomers became known as the "me" generation, bent on "self-realization and self fulfillment."  Now the millennials are becoming known as the "me, me, me," generation, marked by overconfidence, sense of entitlement and laziness. The me culture has become our norm and it has even impacted our Christianity.

Perhaps here is where we find our fundamental flaw.  We only see the world through the lens of ME.  Psychologists of our times speak of  people suffering from everything from inferiority complexes to superiority complexes, or vacillating between the two. Yet all the complexes place the "me" at the center of the universe.

And when we can only see the world with the "me" at the center, we are incapable of comprehending the truth of who we are and who God is.  Until we "get" this, it's hard to truly be thankful.

I was recently reminded of one of my favorite stories of the Bible. Matt. 15:26 tells of a gentile woman who came to Jesus in utter desperation because her child was tormented by a demon. For many it is a troubling story because of what Jesus says to her: "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."(v.26).

Stinging words! But surprisingly, this woman was not offended at all. Why? Because she knew it was true. The woman understood exactly what He was saying. Jesus was calling things as they are. She had no right to ask anything of Jesus. She was not even a Jew, for heaven's sake!

She could demand nothing. She knew she was like a dog, the pet that lies beneath the table. She accepted that, because she was not looking at the world through the lens of "me".  As a result, she could see things as they were. She understood exactly who she was and who He was.  Because of this understanding, she made an appeal. "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table," she said. (v27).

It was a remarkable moment. It brings tears to my eyes, as it must of done for Christ himself as he answers with great emotion, "O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish."(v. 28).

So while God's own chosen people were rejecting him, the Jewish leaders were fighting with him and his own disciples were so often missing the point, this pagan woman really understood who God was and who she was. And on that basis, she made her appeal, an appeal for mercy, for grace. And when she received that which she asked for, we can be sure her heart brimmed with true thanksgiving.

As we enter this thanksgiving season, let's take the time to step back from all our luxuries, remove the lens of "me" and just see God for who He is.  When we let Him truly be the center of our universe, we can begin to understand who we are in the face of His reality.  And then, perhaps, we can recover a true spirit of Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 17, 2014

This blog has been dead for the past year, mainly due to a huge writing project that's now complete.  My newest book, "A Story of Grace: Beyond the Iron Curtain" is now available on Amazon.com. Written with Phil Metzger, pastor of Calvary Chapel Budapest, this book looks at some of God's amazing works in Central Europe over the past twenty years. http://www.amazon.com/Story-Grace-Beyond-Iron-Curtain/dp/0578143062
I look forward to returning the world of blogging soon.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter Saturday: Doubting God

Nestled between the tragic "Good Friday" and triumphant "Easter Sunday" lies a day often overlooked in the Christian calendar: Easter Saturday.

It's a day sometimes observed by the more high church denominations with ceremony and tradition, a day of mourning. It's a day of grief.  But it is also a day of much deeper emotion, a day that represents doubt and despondency.  And it poses a poignant question: How would you respond if everything you could see, hear, touch, feel, and taste told you that what you've believed in was completely wrong.

On Friday, the disciples, family and followers all watched Christ die a gruesome death.  Perhaps even as they stood there, against all hope, believing God would intervene at the last possible moment and all would see that Jesus is Messiah!  But God didn't intervene. God let Him die.

For those who believed in Him so completely, it had to have been incomprehensible. They knew Him and loved Him. He could not be dead! He had not done what Messiah was supposed to do! He had not ushered in a new era.

And yet as they wrapped his body quickly in spices and laid it in the tomb, they faced the incomprehensible reality.  He really was dead. As they pushed the stone over the cave opening, they had to begin burying all the hopes and dreams they had wrapped up in Him as Messiah. It was over.

As the sun rose on Easter Saturday, they had to go through their Sabbath routine, but it had to have felt so empty.  The questions must have screamed through everyone's mind, even if no one dared utter the words aloud.

Had Jesus deceived them? The love they had for Him made the possibility all the more painful to consider.

Was He not the Christ? How could He be if now He were dead?!

But His love, His miracles!  And yet now, He lay dead in a tomb. Death did not lie.

All evidence, all reality, all of life experience culminating in the day of Easter Saturday left no doubt. They were wrong. They had clearly misplaced their faith.

We all have Easter Saturdays in our lives.  They do not always correspond with the calendar holiday, but they are there--days when we doubt, days when we wonder where God is and if He even really cares. And our harsh circumstances testify with all certainty that we've misplaced our faith by putting it in Someone we cannot see.

Easter Saturdays are critical, defining moments in our lives. They are moments when the rubber hits the road in our faith.  After all, what is faith but the "confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1)  It's easy to have "faith" when God makes sense. But that's not really faith at all. But in those Easter Saturdays of our life, when all logic and circumstances scream "there is no God,"  that's when real faith begins.

Easter Saturdays are not the enemy of our faith. They stand as a necessary ingredient in establishing a true faith built on more than religious axioms and tradition.  Easter Saturday represents a critical part in the process that brings us from the point of inexplicable tragedy (Good Friday) to a place of complete redemption and hope (Easter Sunday), where faith actually does become sight.