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
Recently while I was having one of those days when all I could see were the issues and struggles which come with trying to make ends meet, I had a small epiphany. I say small, because I know I have had this revelation before, but it never seems to have a lasting effect on my psyche.
It occurred to me, as I struggled to work out how I was going to manage to do this, that and the other thing, that I was so busy trying to hold everything together that I wasn’t thanking God for how he has held everything together for me all these years. It’s not that I haven’t thanked him over the years as he has held me and rescued me over and over, and it’s not that I haven’t been aware of his provision and support all these years. It’s just that, in the midst of those particular struggles of the moment, I was forgetting God’s faithfulness and love for me.
In reality, God has carried me through some very difficult and painful times over the years. He has helped me through some impossible situations, and has healed some excruciating hurts. He has provided for me when I had nothing and blessed me beyond my expectations. I have every reason to believe God is going to do for me now what he has done for me before.
But sometimes, in the midst of a particular time of struggle, it can be really hard to see what is true about Who God is for me in the midst of the darkness which surrounds me. It is as though what I am going through becomes the lens through which I see my life, God, the world and everyone around me. It’s as though I’ve put on dark lenses on a cloudy day—everything is dimmed and it’s hard to see any light of any kind.
I can find myself in the midst of ingratitude and not even realize it. It’s as though ingratitude, or not being thankful for what God has done for me or given me, sneaks up on me while I’m busy going about the business of living my life, solving my problems and getting my life in order. I’m working on moving forward with my life, when what I need to be doing is pausing for a moment to look back, and to reflect on what God has done, is doing, and will do in my life, and to thank him for loving and caring for me.
It’s important for us to take time to reflect, and to ponder the reality of the ways in which God’s life intersects with our life and how we, moment by moment, participate in the divine life and love. When we take the time to think back to look at what God has done and to thank him for it, what becomes the central focus of our mind and heart becomes gratitude, rather than worry, concern or fear. When we accept the truth of God’s faithfulness and begin to trust he’ll care for us as he’s cared for us before, we are filled with hopeful gratitude rather than anxious concern.
Gratitude in many ways is a spiritual discipline. It is a spiritual discipline in which showing gratitude to God opens us up to the work of the Spirit as he builds within us a heart of humility, dependence upon the Father, and hope and trust in the love and grace of God. Practicing the spiritual discipline of gratitude enables us to take off the dark lenses which dim our view and enables us to experience the reality and blessings of God’s kingdom of light. The more we express our gratitude to God, the more we sense the bright light of God’s presence and peace, and have hope for the future in the midst of our difficult circumstances.
One of the ways to practice gratitude as a spiritual discipline is to keep a journal of thankfulness. Those who have done this, and I agree with them, say practicing the discipline of writing down several things they are thankful for every day enabled them to have a more thankful and hopeful heart and mind. There is something to be said for intentionally making the effort to express our gratitude to God for the big and little things of life which both bless us and cause us to struggle.
One of the things which can be challenging to do as a spiritual discipline of gratitude, is praying for our needs, wants and concerns from a point of view of gratefulness and trust rather than in a tone or attitude of despair. I have been finding myself apologizing to God lately for assuming that somehow he isn’t going to come through for me—what kind of God do I or we believe God is? It sure makes a difference in our approach to the problems of life and our prayer about them.
Ingratitude can sneak up on us in so many subtle ways. If all we do is assume God doesn’t care about us or isn’t going to help so we have to beg and plead for him to intervene, it seems perhaps we need to pause and reflect on the reality we are still breathing air and there is still an earth to live on and the sun is still shining. It may be difficult to do in the midst of a crisis, but we need to remember Who God is—the One who joined us in our humanity, shared our broken existence, and died and rose so this world is not the end. There is so much more to life than just this!
The Spirit is available to remind us of God’s real presence in every situation. Jesus shares every difficulty with us—and he puts the resources of heaven at our disposal. He is still Lord over the universe and holds all things in his hand—and his love is unmistakable—he has proven it in a way which cannot be reversed or retracted. And he will not quit until he finishes what he has begun in us and in all creation.
The Light has come. So we need to take off our dark glasses and revel in this truth—God’s got it! Whatever it is in this life which we struggle with is only a light and momentary difficulty. In the end it will be seen as just a bump in the road in our journey of life with Jesus in the Spirit. So we thank our Abba, Jesus and the Spirit for their faithful love and grace, and move on with grateful hearts.
Abba, thank you. Thank you for understanding and being patient with us when we forget to express our gratitude to you for all you are and all you do in your great love and mercy. Thank you for the gift of your Son and your Spirit, and for the big and little ways in which you care for us moment by moment. Grant us grateful hearts and minds, and make us alert to the ways in which we give ourselves over to ingratitude so we can turn from them and turn back to you in praise and gratitude. Through Jesus, our Lord, amen.
“Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God.” Heb 12:28 MSG
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
by Linda Rex
Note to self: Shop for Thanksgiving before Halloween, not after.
I was rather frustrated this year when I found that the Halloween items took precedence over the Thanksgiving items at the store. In fact, once Halloween was over, it was next to impossible to find any Thanksgiving, fall or harvest decoration and gift items to buy. I had assumed (wrongly) that they would stay on the shelf until Thanksgiving. But apparently they only stay until Halloween is over and then it’s time for Christmas.
I forget sometimes how our mercantile system drives our culture, especially when it comes to our celebration of our holidays. I’m happy to have access to so many fun things to celebrate with, but it is obvious that our culture has moved beyond the Judeo-Christian basis for its holidays.
Whether or not one is a Christian, there is always a place for gratitude in one’s life. Gratitude is a way of thinking and living that genuinely appreciates the little and big things of life as gifts. It is a way of being thankful for the people and relationships and blessings that come to us everyday unbidden and unsought—the air we breathe, a beautiful sunset, dear friends and family, a newborn baby.
When we lose our appreciation for these things that come into our life with or without our effort, we may become calloused, cold, and cynical. Nothing is ever enough for us—we will always need or want more. We can become sad, depressed and overwhelmed by all the negative stuff in life.
Gratitude in some ways is a discipline—a choice in how we approach life and the events we encounter day by day. When we make the effort to pause and be grateful for what we have and share it with others, we begin to have a more positive attitude and spirit with which to approach life.
Our gratitude and appreciation for all the good things of life, in my view, merely points to the reality that we have been given life, breathe, all the resources we need to be alive and to live blessed because of God’s grace. We can believe that God does not exist, but the truth is, we would not exist if it weren’t for his kindness and mercy in sustaining what he created.
And that wasn’t good enough for God—just giving us life and breath and food and things we could do. He wanted a relationship with us as well—so he came to our universe, to our earth to live as one of us. He forged a permanent bond with us in Jesus Christ—living a perfect life we could participate in, dying our death so we could live with him forever, bringing us into the presence of God so we could be in relationship with the Creator our Redeemer forever.
To me, that gives us every reason to celebrate not just once a year, but every day, with gratitude.
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day! May God bless you abundantly each and every day throughout this holiday season!
Lord, I give you thanks for all the wonderful people and blessings you have poured into my life. I pray you will watch over each of those who are reading this and bless them in every way. Let them feel your presence and peace in a deep way so they may be able to endure whatever hardships they are facing or struggling with. Thank you for your faithful love shown to us in Jesus. Amen.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.” Psalm 136:1