Wednesday, November 22, 2006
“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.” (Col.3:15)
One could easily infer from this verse that peace and gratitude are inseparable. The former cannot be obtained without an ample dose of the latter. The ungrateful soul will look in vain for peace of heart…and mind. To the harried, frantic man or woman, gratitude is a syrupy sentiment that always comes with disclaimers that begin with, “But…” It is also obvious from this verse that gratitude, like love, is a choice. Be ye thankful—or not. My husband has pointed out on numerous occasions that the first step to heathendom is ingratitude. The descent into animal worship and animal behavior begins with, “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were they thankful…” (Rom.1:21). On this day before we gather with family and friends to celebrate our gratefulness to God as a nation, I have two thoughts to help us examine our own “gratitude attitude.”
First, the one prerequisite for being thankful is maturity. As long as one is still looking at life through irresponsible eyes of self-gratification and childish insecurities, he or she will never be able to grasp the true blessings of life. One of our friends who is an amateur etymologist shared with us that the word “thanksgiving” comes from root words that literally mean, “gift of my thoughts.” And that is exactly what is required if we are to nurture our appreciation skills. A well-honed ability to think maturely will invariably result in a spirit of gratitude.
My other thought is the obvious result of the first. The evidence of a thankful heart is contentment. It is not the most articulate or effusive words of appreciation, but the most contented life that truly says, “I am thankful.” The Scripture says, “Be content with such things as ye have” (Heb.13:5). As we used to say, “Make do.” Make do with your husband or wife, children, possessions, health, temperament, looks—all of it. Not because they are all you have, but because they are all you want. We may say we are thankful for our husbands, but if we are constantly trying to correct or change them, our words belie our actions. We may profess that we are grateful for the children God gave us, but when we insist upon comparing them with the children of others, they feel little appreciation. And when we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to upgrade our possessions, health, or looks, our discontent has smothered any vestige of gratitude we might profess.
I could tell you today that I am thankful for the good husband God gave to me and the wonderful children, grandchildren, and great-grandson He has blessed our union with. I can say I am thankful for a cozy home, clothes in my closet, and food in the cupboards. I could bless the Lord that I was able to rise from my bed this morning and take care of my own physical needs; and I could smile and say the gray in my hair is not a sign that I am old, just well seasoned! I could say all these things—and mean them, too—but I would rather evidence them by a life characterized by true contentment.
It is good to give thanks; but it is better to be thankful.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
“And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” (Luke 7:23)
If the disciples, and obviously, John the Baptist (vv.19-23), were offended in one way or another by our Lord, who are we to say that we are immune from such unreasonableness? You and I are abundantly capable of offending one another, as the Scripture teaches, and’ were it not for the Blood of Christ, we would present a constant affront to God. But the fact that the One who was perfect in all things could ever be offensive to His imperfect creation, is further proof of our own perverseness. The disciples (and others) were not always offended, of course, but enough to give us some examples of where you and I are in danger of getting our own feelings hurt.
It is easy to become offended when we are treated unjustly by others. “I’m not offended by God,” you may argue, “I’m offended by the people.” Yet, can you truthfully say, the fact that God could have prevented their actions never gnaws beneath the surface? After asserting that He was being “hated without a cause” in John 15:25, and predicting the same for them, in chapter sixteen, Jesus told His disciples, “These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended” (16:1). There is something about unfair treatment that can make even the “godliest” among us level our resentment past the perpetrator to the “Permission-giver.” But, as Jesus pointed out, “The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord” (Matt.10:24). Perhaps if we could see unfair treatment and persecution as a mark of identification with Christ, rather than a sign of alienation by God, we would be less inclined to be offended.
Some people, like the Pharisees in Mark six, are offended when someone, whom they consider to have lesser credentials than they is found to be superior in wisdom and/or conduct. In the case of Jesus, they saw someone whose education was not as exclusive as their own, yet whose wisdom was astonishing (Mark 6:2). And, for all their religious paraphernalia, they were unable to match the “mighty works…wrought by his hand.” For this reason, Mark says, “they were offended at him” (v.3). I wonder if we are ever offended when God chooses to astonish people by using unlikely, even unqualified, individuals. The truth is, when all is said and done, we are all clay; and with God availability trumps ability every time.
And speaking of the Pharisees, there was another occasion when something Jesus said rubbed them the wrong way. In Matthew fifteen, He accused them of having the kind of religion that looked good on the outside, but only because they had set their own standards. Blind tradition had taken the place of Biblical text; and as our older son, Andrew, says, “Anytime you are bound to tradition, you’ve uncut the Bible.” Midway in His discourse, the disciples, fearful of their own good standing, no doubt, tried to caution Him by saying, “In case you haven’t noticed, you’ve offended the Pharisees” (v.12). He knew, all right, but the problem was not His; it was theirs.
The last example I want to address is the one found in John six, where Jesus blew the disciples away in the discourse that began, “I am the bread of life” (v.48). All the talk about eating His flesh and drinking His blood was more than they could wrap their minds around. As Jesus pointed out, it was because they could not see past the physical to the spiritual (v.63). Some people try to spiritualize Biblical commands that would put a cramp in their theology or their lifestyle; but there are others who are so busy interpreting everything literally that they can never pick up on eternal principles. No doubt, this is where the ability to “rightly [divide] the word of truth” (2 Tim.2:15)) is best exemplified. The point is, these men were so frustrated that they could not figure out God, they became offended. “When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?” (v.61) I’ve seen sour Christians, who were always laboring under the false belief that they had been given the commission to settle the argument, once and for all, on predestination and free will, or some other doctrine that has been argued since…since there were two Christians to argue!
We should probably remind ourselves that when we are offended with God, we display it by blaming someone else. Rarely do we hear anyone say, “I was offended by God today.” But when we take offense at unfair treatment or overlooked recognition, or if we bristle when our hypocrisy is pointed out, or our Bible interpretation questioned, we should assume we are really blaming God. At least that is how it would seem to me. And, if that be the case, we are not the ones Jesus was speaking of when He said, “Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”
Sunday, November 12, 2006
“Moreover I will endeavor that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.” (2 Pet.1:15)
Many years ago, when I used to sing for weddings, one song that was often requested was the old song, “Always.” The last lines of the chorus say, “Things may not be fair…always/ That’s when I’ll be there…always/ Not for just an hour, not for just a day, not for just a year…but always.” In a time when marriage has become as disposable as plastic utensils, this kind of sentiment may sound irrelevant, but this is not a commentary on the institution of marriage but the inconsistency of some of its participants. God takes marriage vows just a seriously as He always did, and holds us just as accountable.
There are things in the Bible that are “sometimes” things. For instance, sometimes men were directed by God to do one thing and at another time to do something completely different. Isaiah was commanded to tell King Hezekiah he was going to die, then turn right around and tell him he was going to live (2 Kings 20:1-5). The wise man says in Ecclesiastes three that there is a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck it up; a time to weep and a time to laugh. These, and many others, are not “always” things, but “sometimes” things.
You probably have a good idea what the word means, but just in case you are inclined to underestimate it, let me tell you how the Oxford English Dictionary defines it: “At every time, on all occasions, at all times; through all time, without any interruption, continually, perpetually; in any and every circumstance, whatever happens, whatever one may do or say, in any event, anyhow.” Get the picture? Now, shall I remind us of some of the always things God has said should characterize we who are His children?
We should always:
pray (Luke 18:1)
abound in the work of the Lord (1Cor.15:58a)
triumph in Christ (2Cor.2:14)
bear in our bodies the death of Christ (2Cor.4:10
be zealous about good things (Gal.4:18)
give thanks (Eph.5:20a)
have the peace of God (2Thess.3:16)
be ready to give an answer for the reason of your hope (1Pet.3:16)
If consistency is “the virtue of fools,” as the old saying goes, you can’t prove it from these verses. As I have pointed out, however, there are times when we cannot (nor should we try to) standardize our lives. The Christian life should be sprinkled with flashes of spontaneity that reflect the moment by moment leading of the Holy Spirit. But these are best seen against the backdrop of a life of steady obedience. As Christians, we all fail, of course, but there should be some Biblical attributes in our lives—especially those mentioned in the cited verses—that make those who live and work among us say, “She always….”