Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Gratitude - a study at breakfast

Photo: Lord, help me to lead with gratitude today...

#LoveGodGreatly #GratitudeRevolutionPhotogratitude post

So, how does gratitude work out? According to biblegateway.com, the word thank appears 133 times in the Bible; thanks appears 100 times; 'thanks to' 76; 'thankful' 6 times - mostly in the Epistles; 'thanksgiving' 30; and 'thankfulness' 3.

Interesting that the verb 'thank' is much more common than the nouns 'thanksgiving'  and 'thankfulness'.   Why?

Could it be that, although it is good to be thankful or to have thankfulness, it is better to do thanks? Perhaps it is in the action of thanking that we become thankful and gain an attitude of thankfulness.

How can we do this? It is easy to be thankful for a present we really like, but what about those we really wish we'd never been given? Those that we deem inappropriate or useless, wanting to deliver them straight to a charity shop or jumble sale, but feel ungrateful if we do so? Can we thank God in the bad as well as the good? Do we feel ungrateful for our rejection of his present of circumstances to shape our character, as Paul says in Romans 5:
"We can rejoice when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient.  
This patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady." (Romans 5:3 - 5)

We can, often, thank God for good coming out of bad - perhaps after the event? But thank God while we are IN the bad?

What does the Bible say? 
Over and over again, the Bible says that God is good and His love endures for ever. 

A friend of Jonny's has just written, dealing with his mother's recent brain injury from a horrific traffic accident: "I hear people say things like "God is good" when they get a pay rise or when someone they know is healed or even when they find a parking space in a busy car park. It's true then but it's also true when everything around looks terrible. God is always good. He isn't good because he meets our wants and desires or even our needs. He is ALWAYS good. I don't always understand, or even like what is happening but in all this, He has been my strength and my comfort. He has been the assurance of a better day. Maybe in this life, who knows. But if it's not in this life I know, not hope, not guess or wonder, I KNOW that one day mum will be healed and whole. There is a day coming where there is no more sadness, no more tears, no pain, no suffering. I'm believing for that day. I know I will follow Jesus into that life and my mother will too one day, because I know we both follow Jesus, I can be sure of this."

Our response: should be like David's, when he had brought the Ark of the Covenant into the tent David had set up for it: "They brought the Chest of God and placed it right in the center of the tent that David had pitched for it; then they worshiped by presenting burnt offerings and peace offerings to God. When David had completed the offerings of worship, he blessed the people in the name of God. Then he passed around to every one there, men and women alike, a loaf of bread, a slice of barbecue, and a raisin cake.

Then David assigned some of the Levites to the Chest of God to lead worship—to intercede, give thanks, and praise the God of Israel. Asaph was in charge..and from then on, as well as David, Asaph wrote many of the Psalms.

What do we notice about thanks in these psalms?
Psalm 9:1
[ Psalm 9 ] [ For the director of music. To the tune of “The Death of the Son.” A psalm of David. ] I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
Thanking God is sincere and open: we openly share what God has done because we are so grateful.

Psalm 35:18
I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among the throngs I will praise you.
Thanking God is public: we don't do it in secret, but with many others. Thankfulness encourages thankfulness in others.

Psalm 69:30
I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.
Psalm 95:2
Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.
We can sing our thanks. Thanking God brings him glory.

Psalm 100:4
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.

And we encourage each other to do this together. We thank God for each other, for this encouragement. Ephesians 1:15 - 19 says:"That’s why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn’t stop thanking God for youevery time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks."

Thanksgiving leads to encouragement and intercession: "But I do more than thank. I askask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!"Than

Thankfulness turns us to consider others' needs. It turns us to want to help. It turns us to prayer - not for ourselves, but for others.

So how do we 'remember' to thank God?

Remember WHY we thank Him, then do it!
  • Study what God has done for us. Find verses in the Bible which talk about thanking God.
  • Write/print these verses to go into a 'gratitude jar or box'.
  • Start a gratitude journal: take time at the end of every day to find things to be thankful for: perhaps start with three things.
  • Keep a notebook to jot down what you are thankful for at odd times throughout the day.
In this season of Thanksgiving, I come across mention after mention about thankfulness. One in particular, about gratitude, has inspired me. The key note: always be grateful.

I like the word grateful. It is more than thankful. Thankful is being grateful and appreciative, conscious of benefits received; grateful is 'warmly appreciative and thankful of kindness and benefits received'.

Gretchen Saffles, in her post The Mystery of Gratitude, says: "Thanksgiving is at the core of the Bible. It is an overflow of our response to the gospel. In Philippians 4:11-12, Paul explains to the church of Philippi that he had learned the secret of contentment. He had faced hunger as well as abundance, danger as well as safety, and need as well as satisfaction. Through every circumstance that he had faced, one thing remained the same – Christ’s love for Him. Paul was truly grateful. His eyes had seen the glory of Jesus through His death and resurrection on the cross and he was never the same. Paul’s secret to contentment in every situation was a heart of thanksgiving that trumped even the most dismal of circumstances.

Gratitude is a way we worship the Lord everyday. Psalm 69:30 tells us “I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.” We make much of Christ when we give Him praise, even through suffering, trial, and need. Gratitude changes us and it also changes our vision. Instead of seeing life through the temporary sight of a human, we can see through the holy lens of the gospel. And that, my friends, is the secret. ...Gratitude shields us from bitterness, emptiness, and worthlessness. It gives us life when an illness hits us, it gives us hope when the world betrays us, and it gives us peace when our surroundings fall around us.
The mystery of gratitude is this: Christ gave up His life so that we might truly live. And that is enough to keep us singing, praising, and dancing until we get to be with Him one day! The more we sink our hearts deeply into that truth, the more the praises will keep rising and the songs keep flowing, no matter the circumstance. "

Nancy Leigh de Moss: “Thanksgiving really should be thanksliving—a way of life—day in, day out, morning, noon, and night—continually, forever giving thanks to the Lord.”

Sunday, 16 November 2014

The Christian life, according to Paul's faith sandwich

Reading in Romans 5: summarising the first eight verses.  A faith sandwich.
We believe in God and have peace with him because Jesus died.
When we experience the trials of life, we can see the good coming out of the bad because they develop character in us, which helps us trust God more. When we do this, we feel God's love for us: because we believe in God and have peace with him because Jesus died.

"When God accepts us because we have faith in his promises, we can have real peace with him because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.
 
We can become all that God has had in mind for us to be.

We can rejoice when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient.

 
This patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. 
 
Then we are able to hold our heads high no matter what happens and know that all is well, for we know how dearly God loves us, and we feel this warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. "
 
We can rely on our past experience of God's faithfulness to sustain us in the present and carry us into the future.

"Christ came at just the right time, when we were utterly helpless, with no way of escape, and died for us sinners who had no use for him. Even if we were good, we really wouldn’t expect anyone to die for us, though, of course, that might be barely possible. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
 
We had faith in God and his promises, but it was Christ's death which gave us peace and reconciliation with God."  Summarised from The Living Bible.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Suffering

Wonderful post on suffering here.

On truth.

On "For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (2 Cor 1:8,9,)

On expectation. And waiting.


http://natepyle.com

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Keeping our eyes on The Main Thing

Privileged to be part of some wonderful answers to prayer recently, privileged to be praying with some awe-inspiring people, seeing God working in lives here on earth.

And still: our friend Bob says:
"This reminded me of something God taught us 14 years ago during leukemia: We don’t listen to any other percentages that 100%:
• 100% God can heal no matter what the prognosis.
• 100% we go to heaven when God says no matter how healthy we are
• 100% surrendered to God
• Now I have another, 100% in the charity of God!

When they buried the blind preacher, George Matheson, his grave was lined with red roses. I think perhaps it comes from the lyrics in this hymn:

1. O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee,
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

2. O Light that followest all my way
I yield my flickering torch to Thee,
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in Thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

3. O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee,
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

4. O cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee,
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red,
Life that shall endless be."

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Sick of me...

This was interesting: Lisa Whittle's blog post today.

Sick of me.

She says:  "I am sick of being afraid. I am sick of being hot and cold for God, depending on my circumstance. I am sick of wrestling with the same things I’ve wrestled with for most of my life. 

I want to be well. I want to be productive and joyful. I want to be useful for the Kingdom, valuable to my family, and have something to show of my time on earth. When I meet God one day, I want to say with open hands, Here’s what I did with the life You gave me. "

Me too.  I want to SENSE God with me every day, inspiring me, guiding me, moulding me... I want to be sick of me and well with God..."

Monday, 10 November 2014

The Source of Gratitude - and a detour from Matthew...

Starting the Love God Greatly study on gratitude:

Who God Is and What He has Done

M Ps. 145:3-8 Ps. 145:8
T Dan. 2:20-23 Dan. 2:20
W Ps. 18:30-32 Ps.18:31
Th Lam. 3:21-25 Lam. 3:22-23
F Rms. 5:6-8 Rms. 5:8

Our Response

M Col. 3:1-2, 12-14 Col. 3:12
T 2 Cor. 12:9-10 2 Cor. 12:10
W Ps. 100:1-5 Ps. 100:4-5
Th Eph. 1:18-21 Eph. 1:18
F 1 Pet. 1:3-9 1 Pet. 1:8-9
So, to begin:

Psalm 145:
God is magnificent; he can never be praised enough.
There are no boundaries to his greatness.

Generation after generation stands in awe of your work;
each one tells stories of your mighty acts.

Your beauty and splendor have everyone talking;
I compose songs on your wonders.

Your marvelous doings are headline news;
I could write a book full of the details of your greatness.

The fame of your goodness spreads across the country;
your righteousness is on everyone’s lips.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.


Yes - but how I realise how failing I am in thankfulness, how meagre my 'attitude of gratitude' is.  Despite trying to notice things to be thankful for every day, and grumbling far less than I used to, my heart is still not naturally overflowing.

And I want to 'write a book full of the details of your greatness'. My prayer is to open my eyes wide so that I see, really see, God's goodness:
God's grace
God's compassion
God's patience
God's love.

And God's mighty power: Job 37:5 - 6 God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding. He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’

Read this again today, elsewhere, as well!
He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’
The breath of God produces ice,
and the broad waters become frozen.
He loads the clouds with moisture;
he scatters his lightning through them.
At his direction they swirl around
over the face of the whole earth
to do whatever he commands them.
Job 37:6,11,12
Daniel, put on the spot to interpret the King's dream, is given the answer by God. His instinctive response is to take his eyes off the situation and focus on God, praising and thanking him:
Blessed be the name of God, forever and ever. He knows all, does all:
He changes the seasons and guides history, He raises up kings and also brings them down,
he provides both intelligence and discernment, He opens up the depths, tells secrets, sees in the dark—light spills out of him! 


God of all my ancestors, all thanks! all praise!
You made me wise and strong. And now you’ve shown us what we asked for.
You’ve solved the king’s mystery.” '


And so Psalm 18:30 - 32 says: 

What a God! His road stretches straight and smooth.
Every God-direction is road-tested.
Everyone who runs toward him
Makes it.


Is there any god like God?
Are we not at bedrock?
Is not this the God who armed me,
then aimed me in the right direction?


So, God our rock: as Brian Doerksen sings so  beautifully in Faithful one: our rock of peace, our rock in times of trouble...in the middle of trouble, in the storm of uncertainty, his faithfulness carries us through.


He is a firm foundation, always there, always faithful, always loving:

Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;        
Lamentations 3:21 - 25

And so we acknowledge Romans 5:8 "Yet the proof of God’s amazing love is this: that it was while we were sinners that Christ died for us." Jesus PROVED it. I just have to look to the cross to realise this.

So (thank you Colossians 3:1 - 2), let's keep focused on heaven, not on the minutiae, important as it might seem in the day to day. "So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ,act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective." It is in the day to day that we I need most help to do this.

"So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without love."

The next few verses under the banner 'our response' stymied me at first: talking about power in weakness.  Paul talking about his 'thorn in the flesh': "At first I didn't think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

'My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.'

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become."


The NIV says: "for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties."

Whitney at Love God Greatly says: "How glorious that the imperfection of the needy leads to gratitude for the provision of a perfect Savior."

And here's the challenge: "Since gratitude is our focus, and since Jesus is the lasting Source of our gratitude, it follows that if you’ve been rescued, you too have an important story to tell.

“I can’t tell my story,” you say.

It’s too messy.

Too imperfect.

Too incomplete.

Too unresolved.

Too hard.

Too {fill in the blank}…

But wait.

Remember, the best stories aren’t the perfect ones. Listen, no one can relate with those anyway. The best stories are centered on the hope and gratitude we live out in the midst of our imperfect stories, because all of the glory is shifted away from us and back onto the real hero of our story… our perfect Savior.

If we actually lived out this kind of consistent, genuine gratitude in the middle of our imperfect mess… it might just go viral.

A woman confident and content in who she is in Christ overflows with gratitude even in the midst of her less than perfect story, allowing God’s beautiful story of redemption to continue to shine through her to the next generation.

He’s given each of us a story.

It’s up to us to decide what we’ll do with it.
"

Live GRATITUDE.

And so: On your feet now—applaud God!
Bring a gift of laughter, sing yourselves into his presence.

Know this: God is God, and God, God.
He made us; we didn’t make him.
We’re his people, his well-tended sheep.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving; enter with the password: “Thank you!”
Make yourselves at home, talking praise.
Thank him. Worship him.

For God is sheer beauty,
all-generous in love,
loyal always and ever.
"

Respond to The Gift with a gift in return.

And it seems that everywhere I look, I am invited to respond with thankfulness. Psalm 95:1 -2 was my 'verse of the day' today: 
"Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song."


And we thank God for each other, for this encouragement. Ephesians 1:15 - 19 says:"That’s why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn’t stop thanking God for youevery time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks."

Thanksgiving leads to encouragement and intercession: "But I do more than thank. I askask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!"Than

Thankfulness turns us to consider others' needs. It turns us to want to help. It turns us to prayer - not for ourselves, but for others.

And so this study on gratitude finishes with our ultimate response to God's goodness: "You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don’t see him, yet you trust him—with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to: total salvation." (1 Peter 3:8 - 9, The Message)

We haven't seen God, but we love him.
We don't see him now, but we believe in him.
Because we believe in him, our future is totally secure, even after death....

Now, that is something to be thankful for.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Humble

So, following on from 'the last will be first and the first will be last.' The disciples had given up their lives to follow Jesus. They had left all that was familiar and safe but Jesus had promised them the world: the kingdom of heaven, and how they would be rewarded with far more than they had given up.

Yes, when I 'feel' as if I am really following Jesus, being obedient to his example and commands, it really does feel 'heavenly'. A deep sense of rightness in my spirit and a heartfelt joy that is not possible to get with material possessions.

Presumably the disciples felt like that, too, but they were also clouded with material desires, hoping that Jesus would be the promised Messiah who would lead the Jews to regain their kingdom and independence once again and be a nation in their own right, not ruled by foreign invaders as had happened for hundreds of years.

So Jesus again tells what seems like a harsh parable: the story of the labourers in the vineyard, where those who did the least work received as much as those who did the most.
An image of the kingdom indeed, where those who come late inlife to God are as gladly accepted as those who have served God all their lives.

I'm with the disciples. It seems in one sense hard when those who have lived sacrificially receive the kingdom of God in the same way as those who have lived selfishly. It shows I do not really understand grace - this incredible gift of 'rightness' with God which he has given through Jesus.

Because, if I REALLY REALLY DID, IT WOULD BE THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD TO ME AND NOTHING ELSE WOULD MATTER.

I liken being in the kingdom to being part of a wonderful royal household: the castle stands, magnificently turreted with a huge, protective wall around it, on a hill above the surrounding countryside. It is not possible to get inside - even to visit - unless you are a member of the royal household. The humblest servant girl, the one who sweeps the ashes out of the fireplace and is at the beck and call of everyone, serves in delight because she is accepted into the royal entourage. She is privileged to have a place which is the envy of all those outside.

This is what Jesus wants us to understand: he himself was called to sacrifice his own life for others and so, immediately after he tells the disciples of his forthcoming death, when the mother of James and John asks for positions of privilege for her boys, It is even more shocking.

And then he gives sight to two blind beggars who, indeed, are the lowest of the low. He restores them to the ranks of the 'normal' through his mercy.

How much does it take for me to realise how humble I need to be to enter the kingdom?

Childlike trust.

As I read through Matthew in The Message, I'm struck by how practical Jesus' teaching was. 

The first part of this chapter is all about marriage: how to live in marriage well, but also recognising that it is not for everyone. 

Then he talks about just how to LIVE: 
simply, like a child; 
sacrificially, as one who puts God before material possessions; 
trustingly.

I looked up the synonyms of 'trust': unsuspicious, innocent, naive, unwary.

It is, indeed, just approaching this gift of life with the innocence and trust of a child...Trust: and putting God first in everything...

"And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 

But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first."

Prayer

Just researching a little on the benefits of prayer.

I discovered:

  1. Prayer makes us healthier. Scientific studies have shown that physical health improves in people who pray.
  2. Prayer helps us when we are worried and stressed.
  3. Prayer makes us better people: we are less likely to be selfish when we pray!
  4. Prayer makes us happier!
So, what's not to like?

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Take it seriously...

I've come to the part in Matthew 18 where Jesus emphasises that we should let nothing get in the way of God. He gives the 'extreme' image of cutting off the hand which does something sinful, or the foot which leads us astray. The graphic images of what he says are shocking. He is serious.

And then he says:“Watch that you don’t treat a single one of these childlike believers arrogantly. You realize, don’t you, that their personal angels are constantly in touch with my Father in heaven?"

This, straight after saying that we need to become like children ourselves.

Again, humility, submitting to others.

Jesus goes on to talk about how God is desperate that we should be saved from our lostness and sinfulness. He searches for each one of us, regardless of how many are already following him, in the story of the lost sheep: one out of a hundred. It is serious.

And to keep hearts soft towards God, we need to start with our fellows. We need to deal with issues, lovingly 'carefronting' those who hurt us, trying our best to work out the problem, involving others in the church to help us if necessary. We need to speak truth, so that others can rely on what we say, and there will be eternal consequences when we do so.

Not only that, but when we pray together, Jesus is there, guiding us in what we ask for and listening to our concerns. He takes it seriously.

And then Peter asks about forgiveness. And again Jesus shows how serious it is.