Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Battle Cry of Thanksgiving

We only enter into the full life if our faith gives thanks...
 Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our Yes! to His grace.
-Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

We are officially one week out from Thanksgiving Day and I am officially unprepared.

Other years I might have had my act together. Other years I would have the majority of my Christmas gifts bought, wrapped, and ready to send along with my father-in-law to take to the other siblings' family Christmas celebrations.

Not this year.

Moving and health have slowed me down to notice a battle cry muffled under the Christmas sales, stuffing ingredients, and travel plans.

The battle cry of Thanksgiving.

First, let me assure you I have no problem with "premature" Christmas decorations and music. I would have no problem if those remained present throughout the year, so why should I mind if they cropped up pre-November? I also take no issue with early gift buying. You have your shopping done? I applaud you.

But under all the Pilgrim and Native American decorations, Thanksgiving has gradually become less a time to thank God for all of our circumstances, and more a time to prepare the perfect circumstances in which to be thankful. Because when things work out, that's really the time to be thankful.

History tells us the greatest believers of all time were set apart by their thankfulness to God for His mercy, His salvation, His Son. Just take a quick survey of all the times Jesus thanked God and you will see the tie between faith in a good, all-powerful Father God and thankfulness to Him.

Thankful living is a testimony to a heart that is satisfied in its Lord.

And since we are all quite aware that satan is a copycat liar, the best way to thwart the testimony of our thankful hearts is to parcel out a cheap, plastic, canned version of the same. A version of thanksgiving that says, "Things are going pretty well. I can be thankful for that." A version that draws thanksgiving from the perishable circumstances without, instead of the imperishable truth within.

Because thanksgiving that stems from outside circumstances alone is a thanksgiving that will be burned with the chaff.

Thanksgiving that stems from the Father who has adopted us into His family as His children, the Son who gave Himself completely so we His enemies could be brought into relationship with Him, the Spirit who dwells within and creates, sustains, and strengthens faith within us, that is the only Thanksgiving that will last.

So this year, I pray that we enjoy Thanksgiving Day- parades, football, food, family. But more importantly, let Thanksgiving Day wake us up, church. Let it not be the end of a chaotic year. Let it not become "the day before Black Friday".

Let it be a resounding battle cry of God's people.

A cry that tells the world that there is joy around us and in us because of Christ alone.

That all the sin and death and destruction around us will not extinguish our thankfulness to the living God because in Jesus Christ those very evils are brought under the power of the Father to bring about a greater good we could never hope to achieve without Him.

A cry that says we will not set ourselves up for destruction by being distracted by imitation joy that can be destroyed in moment.

A cry that says, "Oh taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man that takes refuge in Him." (Psalm 34:8)

A cry that says we belong to a generous Father who lavished upon us the very life and death and resurrection of His only Son. And that because of that we know He will not withhold what we need.

Let this be our "fight song". What a mighty army is built on the hearts of God's thankful people. May God bless your day of battle this year. Love you all.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Why Speaking Life isn't Cute- it's Critical

The sentence that draws a groan from the mouths of parents of healthy kids everywhere... "There's something going around."

Sick. And the animated germs float through the various scenarios in our mind as we reluctantly, intentionally, put our children in close quarters with other potentially contagious human beings.

At school.

And the only way to escape contamination is quarantine. Not of the sick- of the healthy. Who has time for that?

So as the coughs and sniffles infiltrate our home atmosphere, I have to ponder another illness with symptoms just as apparent and far more damaging.

Toxic words.

It's not a new concept. As old as sin itself, toxic words have been creeping around here lately and it really is time to knock them out.

The breath God Himself breathed into the first man, that He gives us graciously so that we may praise and exalt His name, we transform into noxious vapors bent on destruction. And any ignorant, careless, even harmless statement injures us. The pain turns our focus inward and we perpetuate the pain in the ears of another. Continuing the cycle. Spreading the germ of hurt and hate.

I wish I could say there was a vaccination. A way to prevent the hurtfulness of others from invading our hearts and poisoning our words, but there just isn't- not yet. Pain, death, and sin are tight for sure.

But what sets us apart as God's holy people has never been that we remain emotionless and untouched by human wrongs. It is the Spirit living in us that gives us the strength to stop the spread of the toxicity, and provide the pain relief of love, mercy, forgiveness

What sets us apart is the new life we have in Christ that makes it possible to "Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil." (Ephesians 4:26-27)

Let's be honest, the devil will use it all if we give him the chance. He will twist words, thoughts, actions to offend us and break apart the relationships God intends to restore and strengthen. I know far too many families in strife over hurtful speech. Far too many people who have left their church home because someone chose to harbor hurt rather than foster forgiveness.

Left unchecked, the toxicity of our speech can lead to death. You've seen the casualties.

So now what? Now we choose. Do I truly fix my eyes on the Author and Perfecter of my faith? Do I really believe that I belong to and reflect the One and Only man who ever was healthy, who did not quarantine Himself away from the miserable patients, but who came to be Emmanuel, God with us?

Or do I bow down and worship my temper? My anger? My pain? My narcissism? My insecurity?

If you choose the latter, there isn't much I can do for you. But if you truly believe the former, then there is hope. Real, abiding, living hope. And it will refresh your soul.

But first, we all have to be quick to repent. Victim or no, we've knowingly infected those around us. Only through the eyes of forgiveness (not perfection) can we then spread the soothing balm of kindness and understanding to the injured around us.

We can use our platform, our influence, only for what is helpful. That means keeping our raw emotions about other people off Facebook, Twitter, etc. Venting is necessary, no doubt. Find a journal or a trusted and objective friend with which you can work out your difficulties. Sharing our rational opinions on Facebook or wherever, and being open to real feedback is fine, but veiled ranting does no good. In fact, I'll make you a deal. If you really have to get something off your chest, PM me on Facebook or Twitter. If you have my number, call me or text. I'll put it in the vault and you won't suffer the indigestion of eating your words later.

We can pray that God opens our eyes to the hurt snaking into our speech and gives us the resolve to say, "This stops here. I will not let that person's hurt rob me of my joy in Christ and affect my treatment of others".

We can take the difficult relationships in our lives and imagine better. Imagine the best possible way this relationship can be healed, and pray about it. Forgive generously. Then as far as it depends on you, work to make a better relationship. Leave the rest up to God. You do not have the one relationship God cannot heal.

Then when we screw up we can repent again and live in forgiveness daily. It might seem like a cycle, but I'd take a cycle of resurrection over a cycle of death any day. I think you would too.

Let's start a kindness epidemic.