#thankfulforJesus

Thankful? Today is a day we celebrate Giving Thanks. It is a national holiday built around remembering that we have much to be thankful. It is rooted in a celebration of the settlers being helped by the native population. It is a celebration of receiving what you are desperate for from someone capable of helping.

It is an unpopular thought in our culture today to consider oneself desperate for anyone or anything. Desperation is a sign of weakness to the majority of us. Yet, truth is, it takes a great deal of strength, character, and humility to declare your need for another.

The #thankfulforJesus challenge I gave Fellowship this week is for us to take time to consider who Jesus is. We are thankful for Jesus because of who he is, not just because of what he has done for us. Jesus has done because Jesus is.

I challenge you to consider these truths and be thankful…
1. We need Jesus.
Ephesians 2:1 reminds us that sin causes death. We are dead in our sinfulness. We deserve hell. Hell is our deserved reality, not simply because of how bad we are, but because of how holy He is. Grace does not just make life better. Grace makes life.
2. Jesus is ALL we need.
Colossians 1:15-20 is a great reminder of the greatness of who Christ is. Jesus IS the firstborn from the dead. He lives and, therefore, we can live.
If today you had nothing but Jesus, would you be thankful?
3. Thankfulness must be expressed.
Appreciation is gratitude that gets out. Where there is no expression, there is no appreciaiton.
One day “every knee will bow and every tongue will confesss that Jesus Christ is Lord.” On that day there will be no choice. That act of worship, which every person will experience, will either be a day of great joy or a day of great dismay. Today you have the opportunity and ability to choose to worship Jesus because He is worthy.

Being #thankfulforJesus is more than about today, the Day of Thanksgiving, it is more than about Sundays and times of planned expression. #thankfulforJesus is a lifestyle of gratitude. Be thankful for Jesus in what you do, what you say, and how you serve others in the name of Jesus.

Be thankful for Jesus…and him above EVERYTHING else…and you will be properly thankful for the rest of it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Practice May Not Make Perfect, But It Sure Makes Progress

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”…1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV)

Happy Thanksgiving Week! I pray you’re looking forward to a great time of connection and celebration with friends and family this week. I pray you’ll also take some time to consider the inspiration (and namesake) for this, my favorite holiday of the year. Thanksgiving- or as we’re calling it in our Just Give Up series, appreciation- is a practice that seems simple on the surface, but in reality requires a strong measure of intentionality- and practice.

The idea of practicing appreciation may strike you as odd, perhaps even somewhat ingenuine. After all, if you have to force yourself to practice appreciating God and others, isn’t that an indication that such appreciation is a bit inauthentic? I’ll admit that in a sense, it may, but at same time, I’m not certain it matters all that much. This is a practice worth our practice.

Think about it- Anything worth doing in this life requires some measure of practice, some amount of discipline in the pursuit of an intended end. If you want to excel athletically, you’ve got to hit the weights. If you want to excel academically, you’ve got to hit the books. If you want to excel relationally, be it in your marriage, your parenting, or your friendships, you’ve got to work consistently to make that happen. There are days when such practice may not seem particularly delightful to you, but because the end is worth it, you push through in perseverance.

Let’s think about this in the context of appreciation. Because of sin, we are wired to be naturally greedy, discontented, and ungrateful (quite a sunny outlook on humanity, don’t you think?). Combine this with the fact that we live in a culture that delights daily in pointing out our imperfections and inadequacies, and it doesn’t take long to recognize that expressing appreciation is an uphill battle for us all.

Now obviously the ultimate antidote to this tendency is a heart deeply transformed by God’s grace. I’m not disputing that, not for a moment. But I also believe that we open ourselves up to receive God’s transforming work in our lives through the persistent practice of His commands on us as His people, such as the one that heads this post. The more we consistently choose to focus on the reasons we have to be grateful- and furthermore, to express to God and others that gratitude- the more our hearts and minds will be “retrained” to do so naturally. In this way, I believe discipline can lead to delight, practice to a “new normal.”

So what would it look like practically to practice appreciation in the rhythms of everyday life? Here are a few recommendations…

1. Begin and end your day with it. What if an intentional expression of gratitude was the very first- and very last- thing to which you gave yourself every day? Take five minutes before you dive in each morning to say “thank you” to God or someone else. Finish each evening in the same way, focusing on God’s grace and others’ goodness toward you instead of all of the offenses and inadequacies you’ve collected over the hours of the day.

2. Leverage technology to remind yourself. I believe our “smart”-everything, hyper connected world has in many ways contributed negatively to our epidemic of ingratitude. That said, if we’re going to be connected, why not utilize the technology at our disposal to push ourselves toward something better, like appreciation? Set a daily reminder on your device- you pick the time- and make yourself stop to intentionally express appreciation toward God and others.

3. Talk about it as a family. This is something we attempt to practice consistently in our home. As we share a meal at the end of the day, we also share the reasons we have to be grateful. This is sometimes as simple as directing our kids to express appreciation to their Mom for her care, her cooking, and more. However you do it, work to create a culture of appreciation in your home and family.

4. Make a list- and make it visible. As God brings to your mind the inspiration for appreciation, write it down- and keep it in a place where you’ll see it regularly. Seeing things over and over again has a distinctive way of getting them into our consciousness. This is another fun “project” you could initiate and maintain as a family.

It is my hope and prayer that these simple suggestions- and any others you might add to them!- will serve as a valuable “kick start” to your practice of appreciation this week and beyond. I’m confident that as you practice this practice, your perspective will shift dramatically, and as a result, your relationships with God and others will be transformed to look a little more like God intended. Practice may not make perfect, but it sure makes progress- that’s my prayer for each of you today.

Generosity: It’s easy, but it’s not.

givinghands

There are many things most people would like to be true of them. Some are so obvious to us in times of introspection the question we must ask ourselves is, “Why am I not more                           ?” We do not even need to consider “Why would I be                                        ?” We know why. The issue is why not.

My current series is titled “Just Give Up.”  We are discussing four character traits I believe all of us would love to be true of us. Hospitality. Generosity. Thankfulness. Appreciation. The question we are seeking a Biblical answer to is, “What must I give up to be who I want to be?”

1 Timothy 6:17-19 teaches great truths about generosity. Read it here.

Grateful generosity is in an authentic and automatic response to God’s grace. There is no greater way to take grace for granted than to fail to give it. Generosity always exists where gratefulness exists. Grateful people are generous people. If you have not seen the videos that show how homeless people are willing to share what food they have compared to those who can purchase it for themselves, you should take a moment to watch one. It is a reminder that gratefulness is necessary for generosity.

So what must I give up to be more grateful and generous? The number one of enemy of generosity is greed. Greed is the assumption that everything I have is for my consumption. (Thank you, Andy Stanley, for wording things so clearly.) Why do you have what you have? Do you have it to have it? Do you have it to live for Christ with it?

Greed is easily tested with these two questions.
1. When do you decide what you have to give?
2. Do you decide what you have to give before or after you decide what you have to have?

Greed is not something we simply displace. It is something we must replace. Life is not lived well through an “out with the old” mentality alone. We need an “in with the new” mindset.

We must give up greed by taking up gratitude.
You must fight for an attitude of gratitude.
You have to fight for it. Once you have it you must maintain it. It is not easily maintained. My family’s situation with a house fire this year has caused us to live with the necessity to replace many material things. The simple constant chore of looking at the material has caused me to have less gratitude for what I have. (I have committed to read Crazy Love by Francis Chan for a fresh reminder.)

We must give up false security to take up true trust.
What is your hope in? The security of our lives must be in God, Himself. Generosity is impossible when that which we believe makes life have deep and rich value is also that which we would be called to give.

We must give up inaction by taking up good in action.
You will never become an activist for the cause of the Gospel (or any good cause for the record) through the inactivity of posting on social media your opinions. It is through getting involved and serving and giving that we become rich in good works. This requires each of us to intentionally live on less so that we might give more. You will never have anything to give unless you plan for it. Your “right hand not knowing what your left hand is doing” does not mean to give up accounting. People, who do not account for giving, typically give less than 2% of their annual income to good causes, charity, or others. Jesus never told us to stop accounting what we are giving. He said stop counting it up. If you do not account for it, there will be nothing to give.   I am personally committing to getting back in the practice of having a “generosity budget.” Set aside money in your regular budget so that you might be prepared when the opportunity for generosity presents itself. (Jesus taught of a man generous towards those he hired late in the day. That type of generosity requires preparation.)

We must give up value in having to take up value in living.
Why do you have what you have? Do you have it to have it? Or do you have it to live for Christ in and with it.

We must give up false limits to take up the freedom to give.The wording ready to share is the idea of giving liberally. This is probably the only time I will ever teach you to be liberal, but liberal in giving. People who give liberally ask a different question than those who have set up false limits for their generosity. Stop saying “I cannot do that” and ask, “What can I do?”

This mindset for life is impossible unless you remember the supreme value of the Gospel.  We have been given so much. Give because you have been given.

We all want to be generous. It is easy to do because you actually want to do it. It is hard to do because you do not want to do what is necessary to be able to do it. Yet, if you read this far, you probably do really want to. Give up the greed. Take up the challenge to budget to give. And live in the freedom to give.

The Ministry Of Interruptions

Do Not Disturb

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling…1 Peter 4:7-8 (ESV)

Let’s begin with an honest confession- I am a bit of a control freak. Sure, the label isn’t particularly flattering, but in my case, it’s undeniably appropriate. I like things to be the way I like things to be. I crave structure, order, and organization, and I find incredible comfort in maintaining a neatly ordered existence.

This tendency serves me well in many areas of my life- budgeting, scheduling, and keeping a well ordered home, car, and office. But when it comes to relationships, it has too frequently been not a help, but a hindrance. Why? Because unlike numbers, calendars, and inanimate objects, people don’t fit very well into my predetermined “boxes” for them. Relationships with living, breathing human beings are necessarily disruptive, by their very nature messy.

As a follower of Jesus, this is far more than just a “quality of life” issue for me- and if you’ve given your life to Him, it is for you as well. The Bible commands us in the above text to “show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Set aside your gaudy, Martha Stewart-ish conceptions of what “hospitality” looks like, and consider this definition instead- to invite and welcome others into your life. In short, a hospitable life is an open life.

Let’s dig in a bit here- What is a hospitable life “open” to anyway? Primarily, to the interruptions inevitable to life in community with people. Full disclosure here- I don’t like to be interrupted. At best, it frustrates me momentarily (in Peter’s terms, it leads to “grumbling”), and at worst, it makes me downright selfish- and somewhat allergic to the practice of biblical hospitality. This craving for control, an inability to graciously receive interruptions, “closes” my life off from others more quickly and firmly than almost anything else.

If you’re anything like me- and even if you’re not, because we are all by nature wired to serve ourselves- we must “just give up” the control of a closed life and embrace instead what one author calls “the ministry of interruptions.” Now I’m not saying that every interruption that comes your way needs to be taken, but I am saying that before we dismiss them out of hand as a distraction to be ignored, perhaps we should approach them from a different angle.

What if, instead of resenting others’ interruptions, we can began to view them as unexpected opportunities, divine “appointments” in which we might experience God in a fresh way, and be used of Him to share His love and truth with others? What if we recognized a craving for control as the selfish idol that it is, and instead embraced the reality that if our lives truly are surrendered to God, that He has the complete freedom to set the agenda for our days as He sees fit?

Now I know what you’re thinking- How do I do this practically, and actually manage get anything done? Here’s one idea- Organize your life for interruptions. I realize that seems contradictory at first glance, but follow me here. I see two practical ways that you can do this- One, plan the practice of hospitality into your life with regular rhythm, and two, live with enough margin (i.e. unscheduled time) to recognize and receive the opportunities that by definition you can’t plan for. Here are two “real life examples” of how I’m working to put this principle into practice…

  • Invite another individual or family into your home for dinner. Plan in advance for your kitchen to end up a mess, and for your kids’ toys to be strewn from here to only God knows where. Instead of expending your energies ensuring that everything stays as close to its proper order as possible, be present with your guests. Listen and laugh a lot. Show them that they are more valuable to you than your compulsion to keep things “neat.”
  • Take your daily “to do list” and immediately eliminate one thing from it. Transfer the time and energy you would have spent on that item and look instead for an opportunity to engage a friend, neighbor, or coworker in authentic conversation, to meet a need that you’ve seen but previously ignored, or to pray that God would give you eyes to see where He is at work in others’ lives, and join Him in it.

God isn’t against plans- I’d actually argue that to live with one is a wise and God honoring thing. But when we cross the line to become slaves to those plans- and thus unavailable to the opportunities and people that God might want to bring our way- we need to check our hearts, and ask God to engage us afresh in “the ministry of interruptions.” God make us a people who practice- with passion, and joy- radical biblical hospitality.

I’m too insignificant for God to use. Don’t tell George Liele!

What impact may a Christian have in a world that seems restricted in speech and religious freedom? Hope may be found in the life of George Liele for those who are burdened by this question. Though he was born without freedom and relocated out of necessity, Liele was a minister of the Word of God in every situation.

George Liele was born into slavery in 1750 in Virginia to parents Liele and Nancy. George was exposed to Christianity through the influence of his father, who he claimed was the oFeatured imagenly black person in that part of the country who knew the Lord in a “spiritual way”. Not only was George blessed with a Christian father, but he also served under a Christian master, Henry Sharp. Sharp served as a deacon at the Baptist church pastored by Rev. Matthew Moore, Sharp’s brother-in-law. Moore’s church allowed slaves to attend services and also to obtain membership. Liele attended this church and became convicted of his sins as a result of Moore’s preaching. As remarkable as Liele’s opportunity for church membership was his education. Though the means of Liele’s education is unknown, what is certain is that Liele knew how to read prior to his conversion. In 1773 or 1774, Liele placed his faith in Jesus and was baptized by Moore. Liele felt a strong obligation to tell other slaves about the gospel and Moore’s church affirmed this calling by unanimously agreeing to license Liele for ministry. Moore’s ministry taught Liele the error of works based salvation, the equality of all men before God, and the utility of believers in the gospel ministry.

Sharp granted Liele his freedom on the condition that Liele stay with the family until Sharp died. Liele commenced preaching at the surrounding plantations, especially on Sunday evenings when Moore’s church did not hold services. One of the communities in which Liele ministered was Silver Bluff, South Carolina, which was located across the river from Augusta, Georgia. In this community, Liele assisted with the formation of what may be the first organized African-American church.

After Sharp’s death, Liele’s emancipation was questioned and he was imprisoned. A Tory colonel named Moses Kirkland came to Liele’s defense, provided documentation of his emancipation, and even loaned Liele money for his passage to Jamaica with the evacuating British. Liele departed with his wife and three sons for Jamaica as an indentured servant to Kirkland in December 1782 and arrived in January 1783.

Upon arrival in Jamaica, Liele worked for two years to repay his debt to Kirkland and was granted a certificate of freedom by the local and state government. Free to minister at will, he helped form his first church in a small home in 1784, thus establishing the first Baptist church in Jamaica. Beginning with this house church and ministering to the poor, Liele claimed to have baptized 400 people in Jamaica by 1791. Liele’s church had approximately 350 members including whites and Creoles in addition to the slave population. This congregation grew and eventually built a chapel near Kingston. During this time Liele was imprisoned and charged with sedition. Facing death, he was eventually acquitted and released due to a lack of evidence. Liele was again imprisoned for failure to pay the debt incurred in building the chapel. Rather than evoke protection under the Insolvent Debtors Act, Liele instead choose to remain in jail until other members of the congregation and charitable English Baptists could pay the remaining debt. Liele’s congregation was very poor and he “labored without fee or reward, supporting himself by the work of his own hands.” (Clark, 31)

After making a trip to England in 1822, Liele died in Jamaica sometime between 1825 and 1828. His legacy included several churches established by himself and other affiliated with his ministry as well as 1500 people throughout Jamaica who were connected with the Baptist community, all with the permission of their owners. Though George Liele was not without flaw or fault, he was a faithful minister in every stage of his life. His impact was felt throughout Jamaica, the United States, and even Canada through the ministries of those he led to faith in Christ. He was a minister of the gospel in all circumstances and a champion for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ

Referenced Works

Ballew, Christopher Brent. The Impact of African American Antecedents on the Baptist Foreign Missionary Movement, 1782 – 1825. Toronto Studies in Theology. Vol. 96. Lewiston, NY: The Edward Mellen Press, 2004.

Clark, John, W. Dendy, and J. M. Phillippo. The Voice of Jubilee: A Narrative of the Baptist Mission, Jamaica. London: John Snow, 1865.

Gayle, Clement. George Liele: Pioneer Missionary to Jamaica. Kingston: Jamaica Baptist Union, (1982).

Rippon, John. The Baptist Annual Register. 1790 – 1793. London, 1793 – 1801.

Simms, James. The First Colored Baptist Church in North America. New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969.

Time always Tells

Time tells so much. Time tells the truth. Time is something we love to spend and fear to lose. Time, and how one uses it, speaks volumes about one’s character.

In Ecclesiastes 3 Solomon writes one of the Bibles most favorite thoughts about time when he says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…” Solomon speaks of time to be born and to die, to laugh and to mourn, and he names more. (click here to read the passage)  Life is seasons. Some seasons are good. Other seasons are hard.

Our culture spends many resources and much effort on avoiding hard times and trying to cause the good times, yet no matter how much money one spends or how frivolous one lives, seasons of all sorts come and go.

We must choose to live in the moment not for the moment. This requires seeing more than this moment or the moments we believe this one moment will cause. Moments become idols when they are magnified beyond Eternity. The emotions tied to certain moments and experiences cause us to overvalue them in life. It is not that these moments are unimportant; they are simply not ultimate. Tim Tebow (a young man that has learned how fleeting moments can be) is quoted to say, “When you live for the moment it will always let you down.” It is not the moments fault. It is ours. We expected more than that moment could ever deliver.

In Ecclesiastes 3 Solomon teaches that “God has set eternity in the hearts of man.” Eternity is an inescapable reality. God created us for eternity. The natural desire for humanity to seek that which is beyond itself reveals an appetite. Appetites remind us of realities. Hunger reminds us of food. Thirst…water. Eternity…God. The problem with this hunger or appetite is that nothing we can find on earth satisfies it. (God has put eternity in our hearts yet we cannot understand what he has done from beginning to end.) We desire it yet we cannot truly fathom it at the same time.

What you worship in this life will be your reward. As we consider eternity we must consider what it will contain. If the moments of your life are focused on things that are destroyed by moth and rust (Matt. 6:19-21), those things are your reward. If you live fully for now, now is your full reward. Valuing eternity means valuing the emotions and moments of life, for what they are.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 brings this book to a telling conclusion. In all his negativity about the vanity of life Solomon ends with a positive take on duty itself. Duty is a great privilege when we desire to do what we were designed to do. We love to do what we ought to do when we live our lives in love with the one who created that “oughtness” within us. We must seek to love the One we live for more than how we live. Live in love with Jesus and the duties and responsibilities of life will not change, but they will hold deeper value and richer meaning.

Life is to be lived now, but all of life is not about right now. Eternity is ultimate, because to “live is Christ and to die is gain.” Jesus came that we “might have life and that life to the full.” This full life is not something we will receive one day, it is the promise for this very day. Yet we will lose the value of this day if we forget the value of eternity. The moments in life are correctly captured in the context of eternity.