Acting Out Our Faith: A Different Kind of Currency

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.  He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.  When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. – Acts 3:6-10 (NIV)

I sure am glad that heaven runs on a different currency than the world.  When the world tries to fix a problem it is all about throwing money and resources at it until it is buried.  Issues are resolved by committee and conference.  We have programmed, politicized and popularized helping the needy, but I think we can come to depend on them more than the power of God.

It is comforting to me that poverty in the world’s eyes has nothing to do with the riches of God.  Peter has no silver or gold to give, but what he does have is better by far.  The power to transform lives, to heal and help those in need, cannot be replaced by material things.  It is gracious to give of our resources and we should give with grateful hearts for God’s providence, but we cannot forget to invest the currency God has made available to us through the Holy Spirit.

I don’t want to be rich in this world if it causes me to be a pauper in God’s kingdom.  I want to be wealthy in the things of God and spend that wealth on others.  I hope that the next time I see someone in need I will remember this and invest the currency that only God can supply.

Lord, thank you for Your Holy Spirit supplying me with kingdom currency.  Help me to spend it wisely and fearlessly for Your glory and the benefit of others. Amen.

Giving Thanks: Finding the Peace of God

This is the second repost from November of 2010.  Hope that you all have a Thanksgiving filled with blessing.

Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.  Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. – Psalm 95:1-2

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:5-7

In one of my favorite short films, Boundin’, by the geniuses at Pixar Studios, the main character is a lamb experiencing the humiliation of shearing for the first time.  Prior to this experience, his identity was rooted in how people perceived and treated him, so when his lovely coat is stripped away, he is unprepared for the laughs and giggles of his fair weather friends.  Fortunately, wisdom comes in the form of a Jackalope who gets the sheep’s head in the right place by showing him that nothing has really changed about who the sheep is inside.  The young sheep finds a way to be at peace in his changing circumstances and the viewer is wishing they had a jackalope to come get their head in the right place.

It is hard to be thankful when we are plagued by anxiety.  We tend to shift into survivor mode when anxiousness and fear take the helm.  That really doesn’t help us become “more than conquerors.”  I don’t believe that God desires us to choose between fight or flight when faced with the challenges of this world and our own sinfulness.  I do believe there is a peace that allows us to face even the worst of all possible events in our lives with boldness and even joy.  But just like that little lamb, we need to get our head in the right place.

Paul’s admonition to “present your requests to God” is tempered by an overarching attitude of thanksgiving.  This is critical for us to understand as His children, for we often wait to give thanks after the fact.  Paul is putting forth the idea that we need to lead with thanksgiving; to be grateful for what the Lord will do.  This gets our head in the right place – looking forward to hope and the unfailing promises of God.

What is it that you hope for?  What are the anxieties that keep you from living in the peace of God?  Don’t wait for a jackalope to come along with rhyming platitudes to help you out.  There is one who understands our suffering and the way out.  Put your hope in Him and pray with thanksgiving for His providence, healing and help in your time of need.

Giving Thanks: Our Unchanging God

Since I will be on vacation for the next two weekends, I am reposting for this week and next week.  This week is a repost from November of 2010.  While some of the language is specific to that year, the thoughts behind it are still true.  I hope that this is a timely encouragement during the season of thanksgiving.

I remember my affliction and my wandering,

the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
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.” – Lamentations 3:19-24

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I’m not sure about you, but 2010 has been a rough year.  Not as rough for my family as some others I know, but it ranks up there as a lean year in many respects.  The surprise for me is that I have never been as thankful as I have been this year.  Not a stick-your-head-in-the-sand thankful; that is just avoiding reality with empty platitudes and heartless prayers.  Not dutiful gratitude born out of blind obedience to some Christian ethic that says, “There is always something to be thankful for in what you are going through.”  That just keeps our eyes off the true focus of our thanksgiving.

The reason I am more thankful this year is a deepening understanding of three words: God never changes.  If this doesn’t make sense, think about what has brought you the most comfort in difficult times.  I would lay odds that most would say family and friends; those we love anchor us and heal us and hold us when we are going through grief, pain and difficulty.  Many of us would also say that sometimes those we love have let us down when we needed them most.  This is where God’s unchanging character can step into our lives and fill the gaps to overflowing.

We live in a broken world where tragedy and trial come without warning or consideration.  We are broken people with limitations, weaknesses and flaws that severely hamper our ability to truly satisfy the needs of others.  Only one can give what is needed for each wound.  Only one meets the needs of Jeremiah when he laments, “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.”  The God who never changes.  When everything else is falling apart, including ourselves, God remains merciful, kind, compassionate, faithful and loving.  He is our hope and comfort.  This is at the heart of living in an attitude of thanksgiving.

This isn’t a roadmap to living life without pain and suffering.  It is the compass that allows us to keep moving in the right direction in spite of our circumstances, both good and bad.  When Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to “give thanks IN all circumstances” (emphasis mine), he means “in” not “for.”  God is not thankful for hurt or pain or tragedy and I don’t believe He would require his children to either.  Paul is reminding the Thessalonians, and us, that no matter what happens in this broken world, to broken people, God still loves and cares for us, still calls us onward to peace and joy, still holds us in his strong hands.

This Thanksgiving, hold this truth close to your heart and let it guide you to a gratitude that transforms and heals.  Ask God to reveal His heart for you in the midst of your circumstances.  Let God use you to be His compassion and mercy to those experiencing pain and suffering.  Be grateful not for what you have, but for who you belong to, because God never changes.

The Right Kind of Righteousness: Overcoming Poverty

The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern. – Proverbs 29:7 (NIV)

Poverty is certainly a growing issue of debate and concern today.  Unemployment rates, foreclosure listings and protests have been media regulars for the last few years.  A sour economy has soured our attitude toward the rich, but the real question is how has it changed our attitude toward the poor?

More and more, the burden of the poor seems to be pushed onto the government, but it is clear in the passage that this is the responsibility of the righteous.  Unfortunately, we have grown used to the system taking care of those in need.  We assume that there is a program or benefit available to fix people’s problems, but systems have no compassion or hope or healing.  Systems are not driven by love or fueled by faith.  Systems don’t save people, they just solve problems.  Righteousness can do better.

It is the righteous who want to provide more than gold or silver can buy.  As much as the poor may need financial help, they need love, compassion and encouragement in equal or greater measure.  In fact, poverty is less a battle over finances and more over the attitude and inclination of the heart.  This is true for both the experience of poverty and the perception of the poor.  When define ourselves or others by what we lack, it can lead to all sorts of injustice.  To truly see justice for the poor we need to preach the truth and live the truth.

Paul had learned the secret of contentment regardless of his circumstances.  This is the most just way to approach poverty and wealth.  When we learn how to be content, we are released to be gracious and giving to others and not be concerned for ourselves.  This is how we can act justly.  This is how we can overcome the spirit of poverty in ourselves and others.  This is how we can continue to minister to the needs of others even if we are not what others would call wealthy.

Lord, help us to care for the needs of others and give with a generous spirit.  May we overcome poverty in our hearts and minds so that it does not define us or the world around us.  Help us to live justly with our finances. Amen.

Gardening Tips: Count Your Blessings Together

Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways.

You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table.

Thus is the man blessed who fears the LORD. – Psalms 128:1-4 (NIV)

I just finished making a batch of zucchini bread and a batch of squash bread and I have to tell you, eating the fruit of you labors is good….really good.  Tomatoes with more flavor than a juicy steak, strawberries with just the right balance of sweet and tart, and the blessing of watching my family enjoy these products from the field.  Good times.

It challenges me to find that same blessing in our life together with God.  Sometimes we all can get on our own track, concerned with the burdens of our life and responsibilities and forget about what God provides.    We don’t count our blessings nearly enough as we should.  We get overcome by our own burdens and focused on how we can take care of ourselves.  We become less like family and more like roommates.

The amazing thing about working toward the harvest is that you get to eat the fruit and share the experience.  Not only do we appreciate the bounty of the work, but we can bear one another up in the process.  I am grateful for all our garden has provided this year, but I will take laughter and conversation at the table where its fruit is eaten any day of the week.  The problem is that I don’t always do that.  I get focused on my own life and problems and forget to enjoy the blessings that are sitting at the table with me.

Lord, help me have eyes to see the blessings around me every day, especially the beautiful family you have given me.  Grow in me a desire to bless them and encourage them in their journey with You.  Make us a family marked by love and respect for one another. Amen.

The Discipline of Presence: Praise, Prayer and Grateful Living

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NRSV)

Paul presents in this passage the hat trick of living in the present.  A trinity of disciplines that seem almost impossible, but “nothing is impossible with God.”  Paul is not unaware of how difficult life is in this world; in fact, he is intensely aware of the pain, suffering and despair afflicting his audience in Thessalonica and nothing has changed in humanity since then.

There are far too many ways for us to be anywhere but where we are – technology, daydreaming, internal conversations, fixation on past wounds or future wants – and all of them can kill the joy of the Lord.  All of them can silence the ongoing conversation with God that He desires.  All of them can uproot the gratefulness that should be at the center of our souls each day.  They steal the abundant life right out of our hands and replace it with cheap imitations and shoddy substitutes.

God has given us the means to abide in Him in our present circumstances through rejoicing, prayer and thanksgiving.  They are critical disciplines that help us keep our branch from falling off the vine.  They each require us to focus on God and they each help us step back from our worldly perspective to recalibrate our view.

“Rejoice always” may be misconstrued as positive thinking, but it is much deeper and richer than sun-shiny optimism.  When Paul exhorts his readers to “Rejoice always,” he is asking them to remember where their joy is anchored.  He is asking them to remember that the source of their joy never changes even if everything around them does.  Rejoicing reminds us that we serve the God who was, is and is to come, the God whose love is limitless, whose grace is boundless and whose patience is unquenchable.  He is the joy we anchor our hearts and minds in so that the roughest day does not sink us in despair.

Prayer without ceasing seems like a tall order.  While I like to think I can multi-task, it just doesn’t seem feasible, but that is just my flesh trying to keep me from something profoundly important – an underlying conversation with God throughout my waking hours.  I heard a song at church this past Sunday and one line stuck with me: I don’t want to talk about You like You’re not in the room. (Dove’s Eyes by Misty Edwards)  It struck me how often I talk about God instead of with God.

I believe that what Paul was getting at is a conscientious recognition of God’s presence throughout our day.  If we are living each moment with the understanding that He is right there with us, prayer becomes a natural part of our inner conversation instead of the distracting thoughts that bring our eyes off of Jesus.

Giving thanks in all circumstances almost seems like a cruel thing to encourage others to do.  When you are in the middle of tragedy, loss or pain, the last thing on your mind might be thanksgiving, but that is exactly where Paul is trying to steer us.  The problem lies between two words: for and in.  The passage actually reads “Give thanks IN all circumstances,” but often it is taught and understood as “Give thanks FOR all circumstances.”  In the first (and original) version, we are instructed to be thankful in the midst of our circumstances, while in the second (and misleading) version, we are cornered into being thankful for things that happen which may not be good.  While Romans 8:28 promises that God can bring good from bad, nowhere does he say we have to be thankful for bad things.

God asks us to remain thankful for His work in our lives even when circumstances aren’t good, when the fallen nature of the world is in full bloom and the enemy is at the door, God still reigns in heaven and the hearts of those who call on His name.  That is reason to be thankful.

Paul has the resume to put forth this counsel.  He has suffered persecution.  He has seen the church in turmoil, ravaged by sinful forces both from the outside and inside.  His health had endured challenges, his reputation had been attacked and his friendships had been tested.  In the midst of all these obstacles, he calls the church to rejoice, pray and give thanks.  My testimony in this area is borrowed from Paul: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Philippians 3:12)

I pray that I will learn what it is to rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances.  I want to live the life abundantly by keeping my eyes on what God is doing.  Lord, help me to seal these disciplines in my heart and grow in me the desire to rejoice, pray and give thanks.  Amen.