Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Importance of Being Thankful

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, rescuing them from the oppression of Pharaoh and leading them on dry ground through the midst of the Red Sea, Moses made this statement to the nation:  “Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the Lord brought you out from this place.”  (Exodus 13:3)

Moses proceeds to both encourage and warn the people of Israel that they must remember the works of God, be thankful for His works, and honor Him as the only Lord.  If they forgot what He did, grumbled about their situation and turned to other Gods, they would once again suffer.

As we read through the Bible, we find that this encouragement and warning are true.  When the Kings of Israel lead their nation in obedience to God and thankfulness for His works, God blesses them in all that they do.  But—when they disobey, grumble and turn from Him chaos usually follows, along with misery and misfortune.

What can we learn from this?  Well, we can learn to remember and be thankful.  Our memories are often too short, and we forget what God has done in our lives and the lives of those around us.  “Remembering” is a discipline of the Christian life.  We must practice it daily in order to keep God’s works before us, reminding us of His personal involvement in our lives.  Are you in the habit of reflecting at the end of the day, reviewing God’s activity and intervention?  Do you pause at the end of the month or year to remember God’s faithfulness to you and your family and friends?

Once we “remember,” we must turn to “thanksgiving.”  As another discipline of the Christian walk, thanksgiving should be more than a once-a-year holiday.  Daily expression of thanksgiving, based on remembering God’s works in our lives, will help us to keep the reality of God’s presence in our mind—even as our culture tries to convince us that God is distant and unconcerned with everyday life.

Our national holiday of Thanksgiving can be a launching point for your practice of “remembering and thanksgiving.”  Take time before Thanksgiving Day to practice.  Notice at least one thing to be thankful for each day.  Share those thanksgivings around the dinner table, or when meeting with friends.  Take a moment to jot a note to those you will be seeing on Thanksgiving Day and ask them to be prepared to share at least one thing for which they are thankful.

Be a catalyst for thanksgiving in the lives of those around you.  Remember and be thankful.

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The Discipline of Thankfulness

Mark and PumpkinAfter God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, rescuing them from the oppression of Pharaoh and leading them on dry ground through the midst of the Red Sea, Moses made this statement to the nation: “Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the Lord brought you out from this place.” (Exodus 13:3)

Moses proceeded to both encourage and warn the people of Israel that they must remember the works of God, be thankful for His works, and honor Him as the only Lord.  If they forgot what He did, grumbled about their situation, and turned to other gods, they would once again suffer.

As we read the story of Israel, we find that both the encouragement Moses gives and the warning were true.  When the Kings of Israel led their nation in obedience to God and thankfulness for His works, God blessed them in all that they ventured to do.  But – when they disobeyed, grumbled, and turned from Him chaos usually followed, along with misery and misfortune.

What Moses was asking the Israelites to do does not seem that difficult.  He wanted them to remember in a holistic manner.  “Remember this day” that this event took place.  “Remember the slavery” under Egypt.  “Remember the Lord’s hand” in rescuing you from slavery.  In the overall scheme of things, Moses was asking them to remember the redemption of God as He “set the captives free.”

This process of remembering had to become a discipline in the life of Israel.  In fact, we could think of it as forming a habit.  Moses was seeking to establish a pattern of remembrance – followed by thanksgiving – that would guide the thinking of each and every Israelite.  This would guard their thoughts and their minds from wandering toward other gods.

What can we learn from this?  Well, we must also learn to remember and be thankful.  Our memories are often too short, and we forget what God has done in our lives and the lives of those around us.  “Remembering” is a discipline of the Christian life.  We must practice it daily in order to keep God’s works before us, reminding us of His personal involvement in our lives.  Are you in the habit of reflecting at the end of the day, reviewing God’s activity and intervention?  Do you pause at the end of the month or year to remember God’s faithfulness to you and your family and friends?

In our corporate settings, we must develop the art of remembering as well.  Although many churches have a “prayer and praise” time, or a list in the bulletin that might include answers to prayer, I wonder if this really resonates at the level needed by our spirits during our busy life.  Does this really register with us, or is it just another aspect of the worship service that comes and goes?  Do we remember where we were (place of captivity), how the Lord moved (His powerful hand), and the day that we were set free?

Once we remember, we must turn to that into thanksgiving.  As another discipline of the Christian walk, thanksgiving should be more than a once-a-year holiday.  Daily expression of thanksgiving, based on remembering God’s works in our lives, will help us to keep the reality of God’s presence in our mind – even as our culture tries to convince us that God is distant and unconcerned with everyday life.  It has been our personal family habit for many years to express what we are thankful for each day when we sit down for dinner together as a family.  This has helped us to both remember those daily blessings, and to be sure, we let God know that we noticed His work in our lives.

Corporately, thanksgiving can be an effective way to notice God’s presence and work in the midst of the assembly.  We often publicly thank those individuals who work hard to make things happen in the church, and we should do so to recognize their service and devotion.  In the same way, we must be deliberate in reflecting upon, noticing, and being grateful for what God has accomplished in our lives – both individually and corporately.

Remembering in this fashion takes effort and practice.  It must be planned for and given some prominence in our corporate worship.  What I’m suggesting is that it must become a habit – to remember and be thankful has to become part of our daily and weekly experience as a congregation.  When this happens, we will be amazed at how often and how thoroughly God is intervening in our lives.

Our national holiday of Thanksgiving can be a launching point for your practice of “remembering and thanksgiving.”  On a personal level, take time before Thanksgiving Day to practice remembering and being thankful.  Notice at least one thing to be thankful for each day.  Share those thanksgivings around the dinner table, or when meeting with friends.  Take a moment to jot a note to those you will be seeing on Thanksgiving Day and ask them to be prepared to share at least one thing they are thankful for too.  This could be the start of a great tradition!

As a congregation, this holiday season can also provide an opportunity for developing a corporate sense of thankfulness.  I’m reminded of the Veggie Tales episode featuring Madame Blueberry.  In the words of the song, our favorite vegetables remind us:

Because a thankful heart is a happy heart!
I’m glad for what I have
That’s an easy way to start.

Be a catalyst for thanksgiving in the lives of those around you.  Remember and be thankful.

 

(Original Post on November 14, 2012 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/18780-the-discipline-of-thankfulness)

Music and the Arts as Tools of Evangelism

On a trip to Key West my family and I visited the oldest church on the island as we walked the streets and visited the shops.  St. Paul’s Episcopal Church has represented Christ in Key West for over 170 years – at least we would hope so.  In discussing the church with a local evangelical pastor, he noted that the gospel had not been heard from that church in many years.  The theology is liberal and the social views of the clergy and membership allow for all manner of immoral behavior to be accepted as permissible.  Truly darkness disguised as truth has a stronghold there.

Or does it?

As we entered the church, I found it interesting – even strikingly so – that amidst the activity and noise of the street outside the church’s interior was quiet.  In fact, I would certainly describe it as a “sacred” quiet.  As people entered the church, they whispered to each other.  Many would find a pew and sit, listen, and observe the peacefulness discovered within the walls of the sanctuary.  Calmness permeated the place and everyone seemed to know that respect and dignity were found there.

The church had been built (apparently rebuilt several times in 170 years) in the fashion of a small cathedral.  The entire sanctuary was notably shaped as a cross.  The entry was the foot of the cross, and as you approached the altar there were two “wings” with pews that shaped the arms of the cross.  Unlike our modern buildings, cathedrals and churches of ancient times were constructed to preach the gospel without words.  We can certainly see the reflection of God’s image in this human creativity when we consider that God, Himself, also preaches without words – for Psalm 19 tells us that the “heavens declare the glory of God” even though “there is no speech, nor are there words” (vss 1-3).

So, here in the midst of an apparently dead edifice and socially liberal congregation, I found the gospel being proclaimed.  First in the quiet calm and peace found within those walls, and then more dramatically as I noticed the cross itself – the very symbol of the gospel and the good news of salvation in Christ.

https://i1.wp.com/static.panoramio.com/photos/large/772251.jpgBut it didn’t end there.  I began to walk about the building and look closely at the stained glass windows.  There I found bold, unapologetic statements of Christian doctrine and truth.  The doctrine of the Trinity – fashioned in glass – showing the truth of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three persons, yet one God.  Reminders of God’s power as experienced by Israel in various Old Testament stories.  Images from the medieval church reminding visitors of Christ’s work, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the sacraments, the uniqueness of Jesus as the God-man, the stories of the four gospel writers, St. Paul preaching at Mars Hill, Zaccheus in the tree, and on and on.  I could have spent hours there and even my kids were intrigued as I began to explain the meaning of this artwork.

I tell this story because too often we assume that there must be some explicit statement of what we think the “gospel” is in order for us to be evangelizing.  Although Christ’s work of redemption is central to the gospel, we must remember that it is part of the larger story of God’s work as He interacts with and cares for His creation.  We can recognize the importance of truth presented in images, music (even without words!), and other creative endeavors as ways to present truth to the world around us.

I take my family’s experience at St. Paul’s in Key West as an example of this.  Certainly, the church is presented as a tourist stop in the midst of the streets of the city.  Certainly, the preaching of God’s word has diminished from what it once was.  Certainly, we might question the morality of some who live aberrant lifestyles.  Yet – in the middle of all that – the creative commitment of Christians many, many years ago infused the building itself with the truth of the gospel.  For this we can be grateful – and maybe consider our own opportunities to “preach” the gospel in similar ways.

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