Archive for September 28, 2013

Thank You, God!

In our busy, deadline-fixated age, expressing gratitude to God is too easily squeezed out of our lives, but it is important. First, human beings are “hardwired” to do this. Even atheists seem to have unsettling moments when they feel an irresistible urge to thank someone “up there.” One of the problems with atheism occurs when pain is avoided or pleasure gained. Having no one to give thanks to leaves you with an itch you cannot scratch.

But there is more than a primeval urge to justify thanking God. On almost every page of the Bible, we see this as a theme. The Old Testament reverberates with the sound of people praising God; Israel’s history is full of thanksgiving to God for showing them mercy and delivering them from disaster.

The New Testament is no less full of thanksgiving. Jesus himself offers up thanks to God the Father, most importantly at the Last Supper, where the word used for thanksgiving is Eucharist, still used in many churches for communion. Paul not only regularly gives thanks; he actually commands it of others.

This gives us some guidelines for “biblical” thanksgiving:

First, biblical thanksgiving is innocent. In giving thanks to God, there should be no motive other than pure gratitude. Thanksgiving is giving thanks and that alone. Of all the different types of prayer, this is least likely to be contaminated by our own conscious or subconscious desire to manipulate God.

Second, biblical thanksgiving is intelligent. It involves looking back over the past — whether the last week or an entire life — and identifying things for which we are grateful. Thanksgiving is neglected today partly because modern Western culture is so obsessed with the future. But to give thanks to God is to look backward, not forward, and to express gratitude for the good things that have come our way.

Third, thanksgiving should be inclusive. It’s easy just to say, “Thank you, God” for the health and wealth we have. But do we also give God thanks for friends, family, housing, holidays, or a hundred other lesser things? Let’s give God thanks for all the little things in life, too. Giving God thanks should be a theme running through our lives.

At least five blessings result from this:

The first is that thankfulness forces us to focus on what we have had rather than what we want. In our materialistic culture, we can succumb to a consumerism of the soul that reduces our prayers to shopping lists. Thankfulness looks outward, not inward. It realigns our lives so that they revolve around God instead of trying to make God revolve around us.

The second is that thankfulness highlights grace. To give thanks is to admit that you are dependent, to say, “I couldn’t have done this on my own, but you helped me.” Thanksgiving removes the temptation to boast and strengthens the only basis on which we can relate to God: that of accepting our own unworthiness and God’s free grace in Jesus Christ.

The third is that thankfulness encourages a positive attitude. It forces us to think about what is right with our lives rather than what is wrong. This is important in an age when many feel depressed. Thanking God is a proven way of piercing the gloomiest of clouds.

A fourth is that thankfulness develops hope for the future. Looking backward to the past with thanksgiving actually helps us to look toward the future with anticipation.

A fifth is that to practice thankfulness regularly ensures that gratitude will spill over into every area of our lives. We cannot thank God for difficult colleagues, relatives, neighbours, or church members for long before finding that we express a positive attitude toward them. Grumpiness and irritability do not grow well in a climate of gratitude. Those who regularly give thanks to God find they are ready to give to others. Gratitude and generosity go hand in hand.

Whether or not we celebrate Thanksgiving, we all need to be reminded to practice thanksgiving on a daily basis. That “attitude of gratitude” is not just a duty to be fulfilled but something that will bless us and others. It’s typical of God’s graciousness that the best gift we can give ourselves and others is to say thanks for what we have already received.

 

Stewardship – Is TIME on your side?

September is stewardship month. For many churches stewardship means one Sunday during the year where the pastor gets up and begs for money. That is not what I do. My theology based on discipleship makes for a much deeper understanding of what stewardship means.

When we look at scriptures as a whole, there are three recurring themes of stewardship that keep coming up over and over and over again. These are the things that God has so graciously given us and he has called us to use them wisely, and to use them in service to God. These three things are; time, talents, and finances, each of which God has given to us in great abundance.

Imagine there is a bank that deposits $86,400 into your account every single morning. Imagine that no matter what is left over that night, the balance goes back to $0, but every morning another $86,400 shows up. It is “use it or lose it.” What would you do? Of course, draw out every cent, every single day!

Each of us has such a bank. Its name is TIME. Every morning, we are credited with 86,400 seconds. We don’t get a single second more. Any second we don’t use wisely is lost forever. Time carries over no balance. It allows no overdraft. It doesn’t allow for any “rollover minutes.” You can’t keep time in a bottle. There is no going back. There is no drawing against the “tomorrow.” You must live in the present on today’s deposits. The clock is running. Make the most of today.

Now, making the most of our day doesn’t mean that we need to cram as much stuff as we possibly can within 24 hours. That’s not the way to live. Rest and relaxation are an important part of a healthy life. The thing that we need to strive for, is living a balanced life.

Many of us try to cram 40 hours worth of work into a 24 hour period. We have people who stay up way too late, sleep till the last second possible, jump in the shower, jump out, run out the door, jump into the car, eat breakfast, shave or put on makeup, and make a few phone calls, all while driving to work. We jump, we run, we jump.

As we study Jesus’ life we find it amazing that he never seemed to be in a hurry. Although He was doing the most important job in history (redeeming the world), and although he knew he only had a few years to do it, he never ran. He made time to consider the flowers and the birds of the air. He had time to put his hands on the little children and bless them. Time was his friend.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live like that? What was his secret? As we look to scripture, we see time and again, it is a balanced life. It is a purpose-filled life, with God’s purpose always at the heart of it all. If we really want to make life count, learn how to turn time into our friend instead of our enemy, then we need to live for the right reasons!

Jesus gives us these words: “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” Jesus is talking about what we could call, bare minimum Christians. Bare minimum Christians ask questions like “What do I have to do?” “What am I required to do?” “How many Sundays can I skip before someone notices?” Yet we are called to be so much more than bare minimum Christians.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (4:1-6)

We are encouraged to be more than bare minimum Christians. We are called to be disciples. Disciples respond with questions like, “What can I do?” What have I been called to do?” “What is the best way to use my time in the light of the gospel?”

In Matthew we read: “Then he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.” (14:22-23).

Jesus was a very busy guy, but several times he sought solitude to meditate, to pray, to reflect on the word, to listen to God’s voice, to think about what he had been called to do. Now if Jesus thought it was important, shouldn’t we also make it a priority, and make time in our personal lives for time in solitude, time to reflect on the word, time to pray, time to think about our calling in this life?

Now, on the other side of this same coin, there is time spent with community. Paul tells the Romans: “For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of themselves more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned them. For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another(12:3-5).

We need each other, we need the church, we need to find a place where we are being fed, where we experience the holy, where we experience the awe at the presence of God. We need a place of support, a place of learning, a place where we can come to grow together as people of faith. And if we aren’t setting aside the time for that, not only are we suffering, but the entire body – the church suffers. The church is bigger than our Zion congregation. The church includes our Conference. It includes our Synod. It includes the ELCIC. Beyond that, church is part of our ecumenical partners and the Lutheran World Federation. These are all simply different expressions of “church.”

And what it all really comes down to, is a matter of time. You can tell an awful lot about a person by looking at two things – their checkbook and their calendar. One glimpse at the checkbook and you can quickly see where their true passion lies. One quick glimpse at the calendar and you can see exactly what they are living their lives for. What does your calendar say about you?

As part of our stewardship focus, I want to emphasize that more than money, more than talents, TIME is one of the things that we fear to give away more than anything else. Money can be rather easy to give – write a check and you’re done, talents – well – those are usually the things we enjoy giving anyway – so why not for a good cause? But time? We hoard it away for ourselves. Sunday is my day to sleep in. Sunday is the only day I can –— fill in the blank. I don’t have TIME to read the bible. I don’t have TIME to pray. I don’t have TIME to go to Sunday School, Bible Study, Church Committee Meetings. I don’t have time to attend Conference events. I don’t have time to participate in synodical endeavours. I don’t have TIME. REALLY? 86,400 seconds every single day.