6 REASONS WHY YOU CAN BE GRATEFUL

1 YOU ARE DRAWING BREATH.

Life is a miracle. That the body functions as it does witnesses to God’s genius and creativity. The organs don’t compete with one another but assist each other, just as the body of Christ is meant to do. Your body is a picture of how the church is called to function. We complement each other rather than compete with each other, just like our bodily systems do. Take another breath–and thank God!

2 YOU HAVE ETERNITY IN YOUR FUTURE.

Scripture tells us to put all our marbles in the age to come: “Set your hope fully on the grace that is coming to you with the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:13). We have the new earth to look forward to. The prediction for today may include dark clouds, but tomorrow promises to be sunny.

3 IN THE MEANTIME, GOD USES EVERYTHING.

He is an economist. He doesn’t throw out our failures–He uses them. In His creative genius, everything counts. So there is no room for regret. We repent–and move on, knowing that “where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.” What a way to live. Regret is a useless emotion. Worse yet, it puts our engine in reverse and keeps us from walking into our God-appointed destiny. It doesn’t get us anywhere except on the road to discouragement. By contrast, we can know assuredly that God uses our bad decisions as well as our good. When Jesus showed up on Resurrection evening, He came to commission, not to complain. The greatest failure in the lives of the disciples was answered with the words, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” I want to follow a King like that!

4 YOU ARE LOVED,

In your best times and in your worst. God is not in a bad mood today. He has not turned His back on you because you turned your back on Him last week. He has a good forgetter. With regard to our sin, the prophet tells us that “He remembers them no more.”

5 GOD HAS PLANS FOR YOU TODAY.

“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). It doesn’t insult me that God has planned specific works in advance, and I get to step into them today and in the days ahead. Call it predestination. Look at the word: you have a destiny that has your name on it–planned ahead of time. God thought about you in advance and has gifted you specifically to do what He has designed for you. That brings peace and a deep sense of fulfillment. Today is not another random day where we throw the dice and see what number comes up. We are living out the purposes of the architect of our soul. Good reason for gratitude.

6 CIRCUMSTANCES CHANGE–GOD DOESN’T.

He is teaching us all to live above the circumstances. We learn to not ride the roller coaster of up and down situations. We live above them, subject to a God whose plan is not conditioned by the weather report. His Word is sure and steadfast. We can count on it–today and tomorrow! Blessed Thanksgiving!

 

UNITY AND DIVISION (part 2)

Paul loved unity so much that he confronted disunity when he saw it. Euodia and Syntyche were two strong women who had worked with Paul. He had learned to walk toward tension, not away from it, which people typically do. He confronted it rather than avoiding it.

We don’t know if the sisters were reconciled, but if they were not, don’t blame Paul. He gave it his best shot, exposing the problem for the whole church to know–as well as the church down through the centuries. Paul’s two-verse admonition (Philippians 4:2,3) says much about restoring damaged relationships and making unity a standard:

  1. Confront conflict. Don’t let it grow by choosing not to address it.
  2. Treat broken relationships as serious. If unity convinces the world of the message of the gospel, disunity shows them we can’t get along. The world scoffs because the church is in constant skirmishes with itself. If we say, “Not that big a deal” and let disunity simmer below the surface, the dis-ease of disunity grows. Others will take their cue from a silent leadership and not take it seriously. Pardon me, but you’re singing off key!
  3. Treat the group as more important than the individual, a highly important and oft- neglected truth. If someone on a music team can’t sing but has been on the team for five years and parents are generous supporters, you may think to ignore the issue. Wrong! The well-being of the group overrides the feelings of an individual. Confronting the issue helps honest people work toward harmony. This is needed in the family–and in the church family! Everyone has a part to play. Leaders help people find it.

Wow! How embarrassing! Didn’t Paul care at all for the feelings of Euodia and Syntyche? Looks like he shamed them by going public. These two gals didn’t know their feud would be famous–for two millennia! Had they known, they might have taken their disagreement more seriously. Was Paul right in doing what he did?

Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother…” (Matthew 5:23,24). Right relationships lay a proper foundation for right worship and for strategic evangelism. Disunity taints corporate life. If you want to improve the quality of your worship, strengthen the quality of your relationships (Thank you, Graham Cooke).

Paul was right. The division was serious. These were not new Christians, and they had locked horns. Others were needed to bring them into agreement: “Yes, I ask you also, true yokefellow, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel.” This was not a personal passing issue to overlook. They needed encouragement from the outside to see the seriousness of division and the high priority of unity. The church desperately needs what Paul saw. Make unity a higher priority than personal feelings–and you’ll enjoy the harmony that is created. Guaranteed.

UNITY–A PRIORITY (part 1)

When my father was close to death, every word counted. He met with his six children one by one to speak life into us. I’ll never forget his words to me. Relatives came, and those who needed an admonition got it. Even the maid dusting his room was challenged to live for eternity.

Last words can be monumental. So what did Jesus say just before going to the cross? He prayed that the family might be one just as He and the Father were, “so that the world may know that you sent me” (John 17:20-23). He said it twice for emphasis. If Jesus had unity on his mind, should it be on ours as well?

WHAT DOES UNITY LOOK LIKE?

Paul used the human body to talk about unity: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (I Cor. 12:12). The body does not compete with itself. Like a football team working together under one coach, it operates in unity. Like a well-trained symphony orchestra, each person or part functions in harmony under one conductor. Unity is deeply satisfying.

HOW IS UNITY CREATED?

“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” We’ve been singing that song since 1955. How’s it working? Wars have escalated. Unity comes by way of the cross: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:12).

We can’t make it–but we are called to maintain it: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3). Humility is needed to walk in unity.

SO HOW DO WE MAINTAIN UNITY?

UNITY REQUIRES DIVERSITY. Diversity is essential for harmony, but it must be orchestrated by heaven, not by personal desire. Diversity without direction is disaster. The world wants diversity, but on its terms, and it creates terrible disharmony.  “There are varieties of activities (diversity), but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone (unity). To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (I Cor. 12:6,7). Imagine an orchestra without a director, each playing the composition his own way without a score. Call it diversity.

UNITY IS NOT UNIFORMITY, which is leveraged from top-down leadership to restrict personal freedom. In music it is unison–one note. Gets boring after a while. Harmony is more satisfying to the soul. Uniformity is an abusive leader wanting everyone to think and act like him.

DISUNITY IS ADDRESSED. “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord” (Phil. 4:2). We must desire unity so much that we address disunity whenever it appears. We show more concern for the whole than the individual parts. Disunity grows when it is either ignored or called diversity and celebrated. Disharmony ruins the whole song, and the world says, “I don’t know what you’ve got, but I hope I don’t catch it.” (More to come).

THE VULNERABILITY OF THE CROSS

Have you noticed? It’s football season–everywhere. Think of the mascots. The Vikings. The Norwegian Lutherans had a liturgy that read, “Spare us from the Vikings.” They were terrorizing. We also have the Timberwolves. Teams usually pick aggressive names, like the Bears, the Lions, the Tigers. Could we use something nicer? How about the Minnesota Lilacs?

Heres one: the Minnesota Lambs. Laughable? Then think of the Son of God, the one through whom and by whom all things were made, the King over all Kings, the Lord over all Lords. When he comes to the earth he created, he comes not as Lord but as Lamb. John saw it: “Behold! The Lamb of God.” Hard to think of an animal more defenseless. He came not to dominate but to die, “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

The cross is Jesus at his weakest–and God at his strongest. Foolishness to the wisdom of the world, but wiser than man’s wisdom and stronger than man’s strength. One cannot get more vulnerable than hands stretched out, nailed to a crossbar. There is the helpless Son of God, and there is the power of God unto salvation.

So how do we overcome the enemy, far stronger than any terrorist? By the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 12:11). How are we to walk in the world? Jesus said, “I send you out as lambs among the wolves.” Hey, thanks. We’ll get ripped apart. What’s up?

When Paul was Saul, he was aggressive and competitive. He had by his own estimation “advanced beyond [his] contemporaries, so zealous was I for the tradition of my fathers” (Galatians 1:16). But he learned a new way of living. He was given a thorn in the flesh. It was painful, so Paul prayed like he did when others were in pain. It didn’t work. He prayed again–and again. No change. Instead, a word from heaven: “My grace is sufficient for you. For my strength is made perfect in weakness.” So Paul concluded, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” The former all-star didn’t like being weak, but he came to understand how God worked through weakness. It became a strategy for ministry and a way of life. He found that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Romans 8:16), not in our strength.

We don’t like being weak either, so if we are weak, we may pretend that we are strong. Fake it ‘til we make it, right? We give the appearance of strength, but that doesn’t help us to connect with people. The Pharisees pretended to be holy. In fact they were thieves and murderers, sinners in religious clothes. They had no idea how to walk as lambs. Do you?

So give me a “thumbs up’ if what you read shows appropriate weakness. Andrew, our first-born of six, wrote this email to his siblings a few years back: “I want to head into this New Year with no regrets…One of my biggest regrets is how I have not been gracious toward you…I know many times I have been harsh and I am sorry. I wish I had specific things to point out…I am sad and sorry and ask you to forgive me.   With love, Andrew.”   Way to be weak, Andrew. You helped to change the atmosphere in our home!

Go the way of the cross. Your weakness matches well with God’s strength.