By Linda Rex
Thanksgiving Day did not go as I had planned. I worked really hard on Wednesday preparing food for a large number of people who had signed up to have Thanksgiving Day dinner with me at the church. My outreach partner Pat worked equally hard to have everything ready for our guests. One of the guests, Sarena, had struggled to prepare some items to bring, burning herself in the process of making it. Thursday noon finally arrived, though, and we were prepared. It was going to be a great feast!
And we waited. A few people came. We talked, laughed, and finally, about an hour after the announced time and with less than half our expected guests, we decided to start eating. The food turned out okay, I thought. And the company was pleasant. The music made us want to dance. There were a few bumps and bruises, but for the most part, it was a great meal. But we regretted we could not share it with more people.
I thought about this yesterday and today, and it brought to mind the story Jesus told of the banquet invitations which were sent out but not responded to, and how they even gathered people from the streets nearby to fill the seats. Those who came and sat at the table were the ones who were able to participate in the joy of the celebration, not the ones who didn’t show up.
But how often in life have I been the one who didn’t show up? What about the time my child was to receive a special award in a ceremony at school and I had to be at work? And the time when my friend celebrated a special occasion and I completely forgot about it?
And I have to admit that there have been times in my life where I believed that God should have showed up and didn’t. I may have expected him to “show up”, and I may have wanted him to do something specific to demonstrate to me than indeed he was present, but God didn’t seem to think that that was something he needed to do at the time or that was in my best interests—and that was hard to take.
But we can focus so hard on what wasn’t or isn’t that we miss what was and is. Perhaps not as many people showed up as said that they would, but those who did had a good time, and enjoyed a festive meal with us. Yes, it may have been disappointing to have done all that work and not have things turn out as expected, but on the other hand, it was a joyful celebration of God’s many blessings. We had a good time, for the most part, ate some excellent food, I thought, and had some real good meaningful conversations as well as humor and laughter.
Like I said—it’s easy to focus on what didn’t happen, who wasn’t there, and not on the reality that God was present, and that relationships were encouraged and strengthened, and that people experienced friendship, fellowship, and caring. The ability to stand back and find gratitude in such situations comes as a gift from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us a heart of gratitude—Jesus’ thankful heart. That we can move beyond our regrets to gratitude for the pleasant gathering and good food, is God’s gift to us through Jesus in the Spirit.
I hope you all had a very lovely Thanksgiving Day, and were able to enjoy time with friends and family, renewing relationships and giving thanks to God for all his abundant blessings. As we come to the end of this calendar year and tomorrow celebrate Christ the King Sunday, may we give thanks to our Abba for giving us his Son and his Spirit, and for raising Christ victoriously from the grave to reign forever over all he has made. We are so very blessed to share in that victorious reign in Christ by the Spirit. May he rule in our hearts today and forever, filling us forever with his heart of gratitude.
Dear Abba, thanks. Thanks for each and every thing. Thanks for all the dear friends and family we have in our lives to love us and to celebrate with us. Thanks for the abundance and benefits you provided. Apart from you, we have nothing—so we praise you now and forever, through Jesus and in the Spirit. Amen.
“Therefore Pilate said to Him, ‘So You are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’” NASB
by Linda Rex
As I was looking at some scriptures this morning, I was struck by the way the psalmists often remind us to not forget God’s benefits. It got me to asking myself how many benefits are out there for us we are not even aware of, and are we even enjoying the benefits God offers to us each and every day?
Even though I work full-time hours as a pastor, I also work part time for another organization. One of the things I do at my other job is to help sign people up for benefits. These benefits are determined by the organization, and people are eligible for them if they meet certain criteria such as working the equivalent of 30-40 hours a week.
It is important for me to determine whether or not someone who is eligible for certain benefits has actually signed up for them and is receiving them like they should. There may be some really good benefits they could be receiving, but they might not even know those benefits are available to them or that they qualify for them.
Now in the working world, benefits can be things the employer pays for, but they can also be things we pay for. But God’s benefits to us are freely given to us by him. Any cost incurred was paid in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of his own Son Jesus Christ. We don’t owe him anything for these benefits other than gratitude, a gratitude which expresses itself by living in loving relationship with God and others.
So what are some of God’s free benefits? The most significant and life-transforming benefit God gives us is eternal life—a knowing and being known at an intimate level both now and for all eternity by God, because of God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ, and his gift to us of his Spirit. God through Jesus and by the Spirit intervenes in our human existence and brings redemption, healing, renewal and abundant living. God’s benefits also include a deep and abiding love and compassion, and personal participation of Christ by the Spirit with us, in the midst of our suffering and daily struggles.
So, this begs a question: Do we have to sign up for these benefits in order to receive them? What if we don’t even know about these benefits? Does this mean we never receive them at all—we’re just out of luck—too bad, so sad?
The truth is, God’s giving of his benefits to us as his creatures, made in his image, is a freely given gift. God gives us all of his benefits, not because we deserve them, or we have earned them, but merely out of the abundance of his great love. He is the Benefit-giving God. It is his nature to be beneficent.
Considering all God has provided for us not only in this amazing cosmos we live in and earth we live on, but also in all he has given us in sending his Son and giving us his Spirit, we are really overflowing each moment with benefits. It may feel like our world is falling apart, or God is indifferent to our existence, but the truth is, we are held in the midst of his love and grace, and we are abundantly blessed with his benefits.
These benefits are ours just because we are God’s creatures, his beloved and redeemed children. The thing is, we have an extremely difficult time participating in and enjoying these benefits when we either don’t know about them, don’t recognize them, or refuse to embrace and receive them as a free gift from the Giver of all Benefits.
We may think we need to sign up for them in order to have them, but the reality is—they belong to us already. How we participate in, enjoy and experience these benefits has more to do with our relationship with the Benefit-Giver than in our experience of the benefits themselves or our need to do something to enjoy them. When we turn to Christ in faith, we find our eyes and hearts opened to the deeper reality of an immense array of benefits at our disposal, many of which we didn’t know existed or thought were worthless.
And God is not expecting us to pay him back for the benefits he gives us. Rather, he is inviting us to turn away from ourselves, and all our other loyalties, and to turn back to him in face-to-face relationship so we can experience the fullness of his benefits. He’s offering us what the deepest longings of our hearts cry out for—to be truly and deeply known and loved. And this comes as a free gift to us—something he has already paid the price for.
This leaves us with only one thing to do—to give thanks! And we do this out of a heart overflowing with gratitude for all God’s goodness, grace and love. Yes, there will be times when we lose sight of all God has done and is doing because life is such a struggle or so distracting. But even then, God will remind once again to live gratefully by sending his Spirit to whisper his Word into our heart: the echoes of the psalmist’s song, “forget none of His benefits.”
Abba, thank you for all your overwhelming abundance of benefits which you pour out to us moment by moment, day by day. You are so generous to us! May your Spirit ever remind us when we forget of all the benefits which are ours, and grant us the grace to live gratefully in response, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits; Who pardons all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases; Who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; Who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle. Psalm 103:1–5 NASB
by Linda Rex
As I was driving through the Tennessee countryside this morning, I was soaking up the inherent beauty of the fall colors in the leaves of the trees and the deep blue of the clear sky. There is such a sense of God’s presence and nearness in his creation, especially when the plants, trees, animals and earth are just being who they were created to be. And how cool it is that we, as human beings and God’s creatures, get to be a part of reflecting God’s glory!
Last night I participated in a discussion at the Highland Heights Neighborhood Association meeting in which we talked about being aware of and sensitive to the needs of the people in the community who are marginalized and forgotten. In the light of this, as a neighborhood group working to improve our community, we asked the question, “Where do we go from here?” and “What can we do to help?”
Truthfully, there are people down the street from our church who live every day in such poverty and squalor they are not able, even if they wished, to soak up the beauty of the Tennessee countryside. They live in housing which is uninhabitable by modern standards, and have little hope for anything better. How, in the midst of the struggle of daily life, can they enjoy the best of life? What does it mean for them to just be who they were created to be? Is it even possible for them?
And indeed, how are they any different from you or me? They have this existence they have found themselves in and they, like you and me, seek to do the best they are able to along the way, trying to find and create life in the midst of death and poverty and struggle. They, like we do, breathe the same air, need the same food and water we do, and long to love and be loved, for that is what they, like we, were created for.
It would be easy to say, for example, that a particular group of people being considered last night as being in need were not part of our neighborhood therefore not a part of our responsibility. But indeed, we must never forget we are neighbor to each and every person in this world in our Lord Jesus Christ. In him we are connected at the center of our being to every other person who exists, no matter whether we like them or not. There is a core relatedness which Jesus Christ created in us and in himself which demands we treat each other as brothers and sisters, not as strangers or aliens.
And this is hard to do, because we as human beings are broken. We have addictions, mental and emotional and physical illnesses, and quirks which make us unpleasant people to be around. We have character flaws which sometimes make it unsafe for others to be around us. We have generational and personal habits and ways of being and talking which do not line up with who we are created to be in Jesus Christ, and they divide us from one another.
This morning I was looking at some photos from around the world taken over the last year which illustrated something significant which happened on that particular day. Most of the photos told the story of people in the midst of struggle—of war, refugees, destruction, natural disasters—all the ways in which people were wrestling with their desire for life in the midst of death and loss. Here and there was a picture of someone celebrating or worshiping, but they were few and far between.
It seems, apparently, struggle is a part of the human existence, whether we like it or not. Poverty, displacement, homelessness, and war plague us no matter where we live. Jesus said at one point, “…You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12:8 NLT). There is a reality about our human existence and it is we do not live as we ought and we do not treat others as we ought, and so people end up living in ways they were never meant to have to live. Our human existence today is a reflection of how we seek to find life in the ways which only create destruction and death, and of how our earth is broken and reflects the harm we humans have done to it over the centuries.
It is no wonder the youth of our day sometimes feel a sense of despair and hopelessness. What kind of future do they have to look forward to? And what about our marginalized neighbors who expect to only see more of the same in the years ahead? What hope do they have?
I believe this is where we run into a fundamental flaw in our thinking as Christians. We see all this and can say, things are so bad we must be near the end of the world, so Jesus is going to come and punish all the bad people and establish his kingdom. This conveniently places everything back into the hands of an angry God who will deal with all this stuff so we don’t have to. It removes any need for us to encounter and deal with on a face-to-face basis the suffering of our neighbor right now, today, in our everyday lives.
I thought it was instructive last night that the heads more than once turned towards our end of the table and it was indicated that the churches in the neighborhood were expected to do something about the problems in the neighborhood. At the NOAH meeting, I heard the city officials say the non-profit organizations were the ones who ought to be solving the homelessness problem. Why do communities turn to God’s people with the needs of those who are homeless and poverty-stricken rather than to the government? What is it they believe we have and can do which cannot be found elsewhere?
At this point, I’m not really sure. But I do know this—when God goes to work in a human heart and mind, things change. When God goes to work in a community, things change. When God goes to work in a family, a church, an office or a city, things change. And one of the biggest changes to occur is a change in human hearts and minds.
It seems at times God doesn’t care as much about the poverty of our circumstances as he does about the poverty of our soul. The path to new life is through suffering and death, whether we like it or not. When he goes to work though, as hearts and minds are healed and renewed, circumstances in peoples’ lives change as well.
We as Christians need to realize the magnitude of what we bring to the table in the situations we face in our neighborhoods and in our world. We may have no power to fix the problems faced directly. But we do have the power of prayer and the community of faith. We do have the ability to walk with people through their times of darkness and to share with them the Light of life. We do have the ability to ease their suffering in some ways, even though in other ways we are impotent in being able to help.
The greatest thing we can do for others is to offer them a relationship of love and grace in which Jesus Christ is the center. We can come alongside others and share in the divine Paraclete’s ministry of counsel, intercession and comfort. We can share with others the blessings we have received from Abba so they may also experience the joy of thanksgiving as we do. We can work to help others to be and become those people God created them to be, so they may begin to enjoy the best of life, which is living in loving community with God and one another.
This is my heart and desire for the people of Tennessee, and for all people, for that matter. And I know it is also the heart and desire of our members at Good News Fellowship. We have been given our Abba’s heart of love and grace and we want to share it with others. We want all people to be overwhelmed just as we are with the overflowing joy of thanksgiving for our Father, Son and Holy Spirit who have given us true life in their presence both now and forever.
Thank you, Heavenly Father, for giving us all we need for life and godliness, and for drawing us to yourself by your Son and in your Spirit, so we each and all may participate with you in a communion of love and grace both now and forever. Renew in us your heart of love and grace so we may love others with your perfect love and forgive as we are forgiven. In Jesus’ name and by your Spirit we pray. Amen.
“For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” Colossians 1:9–12 NASB
by Linda Rex
I stopped to get gas Tuesday at a gas station near I-24. I sometimes stop here on my way home from Nashville, and have never had any trouble with their service or their gas (which has happened at other gas stations).
On Tuesday the pumps all had a very large sign covering two of the selection buttons which told us as buyers the station was out of everything but the low octane gas. I felt myself to be pretty blessed I could still buy gas because I had heard horror stories of how people had to travel to several gas stations before finding any gas to buy.
As I was standing there pumping gas to top off my tank so I could be sure to have enough gas for the rest of the week, I remembered another time I lived through a gas crisis out in southern California. If I remember correctly, they had gas rationing back then—we had to take turns at the pumps. There seemed to be a lot more concern in those days than there was this week about there not being any fuel. But, I suppose, having a governor declare an emergency due to an oil spill must be some indication of the severity of what recently happened.
Right now I’m extremely grateful, maybe selfishly so. I’m grateful there wasn’t enough of a disaster to prevent people here from buying gas because I really need to get moved this weekend. And without gas to put in the tank, there is no point in renting a truck to move things with. The last thing I need is to be afraid of not being able to do something I’ve got to get done.
I’ve noticed several occurrences recently in my life and the lives of those around me, which could have resulted in some very horrible experiences for those of us who were involved. I won’t go into detail, but the truth is, when you are ministering to broken people, you get to deal with broken stuff, and not all of it is safe and pretty. But in the end, it seems as though these particular situations resolved themselves without a lot of destruction and suffering, for which I am extremely grateful.
Not everyone has been so blessed. Yet I would hazard to guess that many of us have gone through life without ever personally experiencing what people in places like Mozambique or Syria are experiencing right now. Many of us do, however, experience our own little and big disasters in our lives—losing a job, having a health crisis, or having a loved one die, leave or reject us. We constantly face uncertainty and danger in our lives.
I was reading a story on the Web the other day which talked about the most dangerous cities in the world. Who would have thought that St. Louis would be among those mentioned? I guess I’m not really surprised. After all, the people who live in St. Louis are just like the rest of us—broken people who are trying real hard to meet their needs at the expense of those around them and in opposition to the true reality of their humanity and who they were created to be and how they were created to live. We are all in the same boat of humanity and it feels like the boat is headed toward an iceberg or has already hit it and is starting to sink.
I’ve been receiving mail encouraging me to vote for the candidate who will “make America great again.” I’m not real inspired by such advertisements. They actually just create disrespect in me for such candidates, for I believe there is nothing any one of the candidates can do to truly restore America to greatness because America is broken at her core. No matter how godly or good intentioned a candidate may be, he or she cannot change people or control people’s minds and hearts, and force them to live in loving cooperation and peace. They can only coerce, manipulate and attempt to control people in their efforts to create a “great” nation.
I’m sure there have been, and are, leaders well gifted in the art of propaganda and the use of fear and anger and shame in manipulating the masses. But all they do is create more broken people who create more brokenness. Whatever greatness is created in these ways is not the greatness of our true humanity, but rather a sharing in the brokenness of the evil one whose only purpose is to kill, steal and destroy. Its ultimate result is death, suffering and devastation.
Right now the evil one seems to be seeking to create in the hearts of human beings a deep fear. He is working to terrorize us so we are afraid of what might happen, we are afraid of one another, and we are afraid to do anything about what is happening for fear something worse might happen. Those who are stepping into the gap or are by necessity experiencing the worst of it, are paying a heavy price including losing their homes, their human dignities and even their lives.
We need to cling to the reality of God’s love for us which supersedes all of these efforts to terrorize us, to control and manipulate us. We need to experience the truth of the reality of God’s love for us which is immeasurable and boundless, and has existed since before time began. We need to receive from Christ the faith to believe we are held, held so tightly in Abba’s loving arms, the evil one cannot snatch us away or harm us without God’s express permission. We need to live without fear.
God gives us his Son to enable us to do this. And he pours out his Spirit into our hearts so we can be assured of and believe God’s love is boundless, endless and unending. We can pause for a moment throughout each and every day to give thanks to God for his love, for the big and little things he does for us and in us. And we can thank him for watching over us, guarding and keeping us safe in the midst of a dark and dangerous world.
Yes, we’re going to have trials and difficulties. We need to own our part in those problems and surrender to Christ our human inadequacies as well as our fears so he can do what only he can do—transform, heal and bind together human hearts and lives into a loving spiritual community. Jesus holds in himself the faith we need to trust God in the midst of a scary, constantly changing world, knowing no matter what happens, God’s “got it”. He’s holding on to us and to all things, and will bring everything to its blessed, intended end, raising us up as his adopted children to dwell in the midst of his love and life for all eternity. May that day come soon.
Dear Abba, thank you for holding us in your two hands of love and grace, your Son and your Spirit. May your love be perfected in our lives and in our world so we may daily experience great peace rather than fear or terror in the midst of this scary, ever-changing world. In your Son Jesus’ name we trust and pray. Amen.
“We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:16–19 NASB
by Linda Rex
Sitting around the table enjoying our Thanksgiving gathering, we sought to answer the question, what are you thankful for? At that particular moment, it was easy to say family, food, and our gift of grace from God. There was food on the table and laughter in our voices.
But there have been times in my life when there was anxiety about putting food on the table and there was very little laughter in our voices or in our hearts. To have these things is to have a blessing or grace from God, and to have an opportunity to express our gratitude to him for his goodness and love. To not have these things is a temptation to question the goodness and love of God.
But God’s goodness and love are not based on what we have or don’t have. God’s love is infinite and is based in who he is. God’s goodness is his nature, which never changes, though our circumstances and situations may change.
We may find, like the nation of Israel, that our human nature is to question God’s goodness and love when things are not going well and we don’t have what we need or want. And when we do have what we need or want, we may forget who it is that gave it to us. We may live believing we worked it all out all by ourselves, that there is no divine Providence gifting us with life and blessings.
Somehow, we need to learn and practice the spiritual discipline of gratitude. In the midst of suffering or grief, we need to learn to choose to be grateful. Giving thanks in everything does not mean denying the suffering we are experiencing, but rather acknowledging that everything we have is utterly dependent upon God’s goodness and love towards us.
One of the spiritual disciplines I have seen others practice, and I practice it myself at times, is keeping a gratitude journal. Using a journal with blank pages, I commit to writing down a certain number of things I am grateful for each day. At the beginning, in order to get myself to do this discipline, I had to force myself to write down a certain number of items each day. I was in a dark place in my life at that time and had a hard time seeing God’s goodness like I should have. But the longer I’ve done this, the easier it has become to write down several items at once, and the more grateful and positive I have felt about everything in my life.
At the top of each page I write, “Things I am Grateful to God for…” That is my reminder of what I am trying to write down—a record of the awesome things God has done and is doing in my life and in the lives of those around me. I number each item in order to keep track of my progress. Currently I’m at number 662. I’ve done this journal off and on for quite a while and hope to continue it as time goes by.
There are many other practical ways to practice the spiritual discipline of gratitude. Thanksgiving Day highlighted our need to express gratitude to God for all he has done, will do in us, with us and for us. I am grateful for each of you who are seeking to grow up in Christ. It is an inspiration to me and I thank you for allowing me to share in your life through our online ministry as well as my pastoral ministry. May it all be for God’s glory.
Lord, our hearts today are full of gratitude and praise for all you have done, all you are doing and all you will do in years ahead in each of our lives. May we all express fully Christ’s attitude of gratitude and praise in our family, church, and community. Through Jesus our Lord and in your Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.
“When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you.“ Deuteronomy 8:10