Are You Still Thankful? (Post-Thanksgiving Reflection)

“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 107:1)

So now that the Thanksgiving holiday is over, are you still thankful? Now that you have no doubt gained a few extra pounds from feasting on turkey, and your weight loss plan is out the window, are you still thankful? Can you be thankful everyday by making thanksgiving into thanks*living*? 

It is hard to be thankful. Mainly because I believe the emotion of thankfulness goes against the natural tendency of the human heart. Furthermore, we are circumstantial people. By nature, our thankfulness is conditional. It is situational. Depending on the circumstances of life, we will be up or down, high or low, happy or sad. We will be thankful if there are reasons to be thankful. It is unnatural or even irrational to be thankful when there is no reason to be thankful. Why be thankful and grateful when things are hard? Why be thankful when you are in pain? Or someone you know is in pain so therefore, you are in pain. Being thankful when there is no reason to be thankful just makes no sense to the human mind. Unless you are a Christian. Unless your mind has been renewed.

Romans 12:2 says, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

The worldly perspective is focused on the here and now. The earthly mindset is focused on the self and what you are going through. So your feelings and emotions are always going to be conditional. It is near impossible for the unbeliever to live out 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, which says to "... rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." 

Both Romans 12:2 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 speaks to the will of God. What is God's will for you? To discern what is good and acceptable and perfect. To give thanks in all circumstances. So what is good and acceptable and perfect? To give thanks no matter what. No matter what? Even if you have been hurt by the betrayal of a friend? Even if you have made some unwise choices and you are now paying for your mistakes? Even if the unthinkable is happening to you or to someone you love? The Bible says, "Yes, no matter what. Give thanks always. This is what is good and acceptable to God and this is His will for you."

The reason why a child of God can be thankful in all circumstances is because the Christian realizes that being thankful is not about him or her. Too often, our eyes are on ourselves. It's on our circumstances. Our eyes are focused on what's happening in the world. Instead of looking inward and outward, how about we look upward? Isn't that what we are called to do? To look up to God and beyond the physical? "To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens!" (Psalm 123:1)

Psalm 107:1 says to give thanks to the Lord? Why? Because He is good. Because His steadfast love endures forever. His goodness and love is best expressed in the living and dying of the perfect and unblemished Son of God.

We remember that Jesus left the glories of heaven to come down into our broken world. He was tempted in every way and was sinless. So the most innocent man went to the cross to take upon Himself the sins of the world. The most perfect man took the place for imperfect humanity. In this sacrificial act, we see God's goodness and love fully realized. We can be thankful not just on Thanksgiving holiday, but everyday because His love endures forever. Jesus' life, death, and resurrection has lasting value and effect because eternity was impacted for those who believe. 

What keeps us from looking upward? What keeps us from being thankful? 
Our circumstances? Our pride? Some hurt and pain? Bitterness and resentful? 
Whatever is hindering you from being thankful, learn to look up. Look at Jesus who has given us every reason to be thankful every day of our lives and not just on Thanksgiving day. We can live a life of thankfulness because our hearts are overwhelmed by the wondrous work of Jesus. This is God's will for His people. This is what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Shepherding the Lost

For a flock of sheep, the shepherd is an important figure. Without a leader, the sheep would live aimlessly, only doing what is necessary for survival. This is a wonderful reflection of church structure and the necessity for not just a strong leader; but more importantly, an even greater Shepherd to guide all processes. I am glad and blessed to know that the Lord’s provision is upon our church and can’t wait to see what He has in store for us during and after this transition. So, if we know that God cares for our church, we should also be reflecting that heart of others. If God then cares for us, how should we care for others?

Luke 15:1-7 looks at the background and the cultural story that was presented. The story begins not with the parable, but with events that occurred in the past. Luke recounts tax collectors and sinners gathering and eating with Jesus. At the same time, we also see pharisees and scribes grumbling at Jesus’ actions from afar. For now, Jesus begins his parable:

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
 
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:1-7, ESV)

Two things that we see:

  1. First, we see the shepherd’s mental willingness to go out and find this lost sheep. If the shepherd does not go out for that one sheep, how unsure would the rest of the flock be knowing that losing one is no big deal? Honestly, it could have been any of the other ninety-nine. The shepherd’s willingness is able to give assurance to the rest of the flock.
  2. Second, we see the shepherd’s physical willingness to bear the burden of this task. Not only is it a journey to find the sheep, but it’s also another quest to bring it back to the flock. The shepherd needs to know that he is able to complete this task, otherwise his life along with the ninety-nine others left in the open may not end with a bliss.

For one, we are the lost sheep and God is the Great Shepherd. We should be encouraged knowing that God is willing to seek us despite our own straying away from Him. It is because of our own instincts, our own desires to fulfill that cause us to move further away from God. He is there, seeking us. Are we willing to accept His efforts? Though it is also a common mindset to equate anything related to shepherding to the pastorate, Jesus seems to encourage the differ. Just like the shepherd who is willing to seek the lost, I also get the feeling that He is commissioning us to go and do likewise. Who else will be there to guide and suggest the lost back into our churches? Let us also be mindful of the possible dangers that a wandering sheep may encounter during their lost journey.

May the Lord entice our hearts for the weary and the lost.

Original post from the author at The Two Cities Blog.

What's All the Fuss in Space?

Computer generated illustration of  two orbiting black holes emanating gravitational waves. (Image: Henze/NASA)

Computer generated illustration of  two orbiting black holes emanating gravitational waves. (Image: Henze/NASA)

Have you ever came across a news feed or article about something phenomenal and didn't have a clue about it? You might begin to wonder whether or not you live under a rock or something...

For me, one of the things that I found very fascinating (and over my head) was this news about gravitational waves. The fascinating part wasn't necessarily the context, but more so the publicity that it had received:

Brian Greene stops by Stephen Colbert's "The Late Show" to demonstrate the exciting new scientific discovery of gravitational waves. Surprisingly, Brian Greene's book, The Elegant Universe,  piqued my interest in supernatural philosophies of life.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to listen to astrophysicist Jeffrey Zweerink (RTB, UCLA) give a lecture on all the fuss about these gravitational waves. If you're interested, I recommend watching the video and visiting LIGO CalTech for more refined details because they can explain the phenomena much better than I can.

Although the post may seem so far out of place in this blogosphere, there is one thing that can be extrapolated from everything that I learned that evening: science points to our awesome God. How so? To be brief:

First, the gravitational waves that were reported pointed to things in the universe that scientists never even knew existed. If anything, this is humbling to know that we barely know anything at all!

Second, the laws of physics are maintained so consistent across the fabric of space, it points back to the Lord using science as an illustration reminding Israel and the world of our worries and fears. Here are some key moments in Scripture where the Lord points to science as an illustration to His unwavering faithfulness to His people:

33 Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
Can you establish their rule on the earth?

34    “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
that a flood of waters may cover you?
35 Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
and say to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who has put wisdom in the inward parts
or given understanding to the mind?
37 Who can number the clouds by wisdom?
Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
38 when the dust runs into a mass
and the clods stick fast together?
— Job 38:33-38, ESV
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
— Hebrews 1:3, ESV

Third, gravitational waves gives us hope to see beyond our limitations. I can imagine my peers getting overly excited that two graphs matched up (with a 7 ms time displacement). This was the sign, this was the key. When the lines matched up, hope and excitement ensued immediately. But, imagine the hope and excitement that Christ has given for us. We're no longer slaves to sin, we're no longer stuck in a pit of sorrow, we're no longer teased by death itself. While I don't want to discount this scientific discovery, I also wonder, "What if the world had the same excitement for Christ's two nail-scarred hands as these scientists have for these two correlating lines?"

In certain circles, bridging science and religion has been difficult for people to support. One side of the argument will say that science limits or "puts God in a box." That is to say, God can only operate with a certain limitation that is defined by the physical laws of the universe. The issue with this claim doesn't begin in the statement, but rather in the false claims that science leaves God "in-the-box".

I personally think that we need to be more aware of the things around us and when can't comprehend it all, we need to rely on others to make sense of God's natural revelation (how God reveals to us in the natural, everyday world) to us. Whether a handyman, the local barista (I encountered one of my old students this week!), or the daily grocer, I find myself always being sharpened by the many professions that I come across. My encouragement isn't to understand everything that I've presented in the news (quite frankly, I don't either), but to see how must of a greater blessing it can be when we fathom the vastness of our Savior.

A Missional Church

When activities become routine, it can be easy to overlook their significance and simply run on autopilot. This can happen in many areas of life – including church. We can become so familiar with our traditions that we never stop to consider what the church is and why it exists. In fact, we may even forget whose it is and start to think it’s “our” church.

The first mention of the church in the New Testament is in Matthew 16:18, where Jesus said, “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” This clearly shows us that the church belongs to Christ, and there will always be conflict involved in the growth. However, victory is assured because it is God’s power at work in the building process.

Although the Lord is the one forming His church, He’s enlisted us to participate in the work. That’s why, before He ascended to heaven, Jesus’ parting words to His disciples were, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This is the unfinished task of the church, and it is still being accomplished to this very day.

We have a message to bring to the world – that God sent His only Son to earth to pay the penalty for sin with His death on the cross. He did this so those who believe in Him could be forgiven and receive eternal life (John 3:16). Our message is not about a thousand things. We have this one essential truth, and everything we do is because of it. If it’s not, then we are failing to accomplish what Christ called us to do. Unlike so many ideas and philosophies, our message never needs revising. It’s the same one Jesus spoke almost 2,000 years ago, and it still effectively and powerfully transforms people’s lives, no matter their culture or language. 

Christ gave His church a mission to accomplish – to spread the gospel to every tribe, language, people, and nation (Rev. 5:9). Even to the church’s teaching and training through sermons, Bible studies, and Sunday school programs exist to equip God’s people. We must know the truth before we can pass it on to others.

Although the gospel is global in its outreach, it’s personal in its impact. No nation or people group is saved corporately. Faith in Christ and repentance from sins are personal issues. Each person must hear and believe the message in order to be saved.

The motivation for the church’s mission is twofold. First of all, Jesus commands us to make disciples and teach them to observe all His instructions (Matt. 28:19-20). If we call Him Lord, our desire and ambition should be to obey Him. Second, the condition of lost humanity should prod us into action. In the Scriptures, God describes the unredeemed as separated from Him, deceived, darkened in their understanding, helpless to save themselves, and hopeless without Him (Eph. 2:12; 4:17-18). How can we possibly keep to ourselves the only message with the power to transfer people from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s Son?

Our methods for spreading the message of Christ are diverse (1 Cor. 9:16-23). We live in the most amazing time in history with multiple avenues available for reaching the lost. Whether it is through Christian radio, Christian films, internet websites and ministries, or just the traditional modes of visiting a church and hearing the Gospel, the way has been opened like never before for many to hear the Good News of Jesus. Let us be thankful for the Gospel and let us be faithful to use whatever means possible to spread the Gospel to those near and far. 

Daddy Daughter Disco

A few days ago, I had the privilege of taking my daughter to our first father-daughter dance. I came home early, got her flowers and put on my best suit. She was so excited, but not as excited as I was. The evening started off well, but it went downhill pretty quickly once we got to the dance because she noticed two other girls wearing the same dress. Suddenly, she became shy and even felt ashamed and insecure just because someone else was wearing the same dress. I prayed and told her that it doesn't matter what people wear or what they think of her. It doesn't matter what she's wearing either.

I told her what matters most is what God thinks of her and what daddy thinks of her. I reminded her to find her security, safety, and identity in her daddy. And that she is highly valued and loved! I also pointed out how many other dads there wore a gray suit but that I didn't care. All that mattered was that we were there together. The second half of the evening was amazing! My daughter's wild and fun personality came alive and she and I danced the night away. We had a blast! I also took notice of all the other dads there with their daughters. I have never seem so many bad dancers who have no rhythm. Many of them were middle-aged, slightly over-weight, and balding (I include myself in all of this)... some of them just looked tired. But the look on their daughter's faces to have their dads with them at the dance was priceless. They were so happy and thrilled to have their dads notice them and to dance with them.

It reaffirmed my conviction that dads have such an important and special role in their daughter's lives. If you are a dad, take notice of your kids and do your best to love them and spend time with them. Most of all, love your wife cause the best thing for your kids is to grow up under the security and love of a healthy marriage between their mom and dad.