Putting Gratitude on a Good Foundation

ThanksgivingAs Thanksgiving is upon us people all over will be reflecting on things they are thankful for.  There is all kinds of research that confirms what the Bible has told us all along that being thankful is the best way to live (both physically and psychologically).  People who are perpetually thankful are healthier (both physically and mentally), have a better outlook on life, have better relationships, and have more of a sense of satisfaction than people who are not.

For those who know God, giving thanks helps us continually be refreshed in His life.  Even when things don’t always go well (according to our definition) we have the capacity to be thankful “no matter what happens.”

1Th 5:16-19 Rejoice evermore.  (17)  Pray without ceasing.  (18)  LB  no matter what happens always be thankful,  for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.  

Two Types of Gratitude

Foundational Gratitude

Foundational Gratitude

The Bible speaks of two types of gratitude we are to have.  The first is a natural gratitude which is being thankful for blessings we have received such as life, health, food, or a roof over our head etc.  For the Christian there is a deeper type of gratitude which even helps us keep natural gratitude in it’s rightful place.  I call this type of gratitude foundational gratitude.  This isn’t gratitude for goods that we received, but for who God is.  It is thankfulness for His goodness, love, power, patience, and excellencies.   This is a gratitude that is rooted in God Himself and is a proper motivational foundation for all other gratitude.

When we move in foundational gratitude it will cause a chain reaction of God’s life flowing in and through us.  It will affect our whole outlook on life.  From the foundational gratitude for God Himself, we focus properly on what we do have.  They become a reflection of light that shines from the face of Jesus.

2 Corinthians 4:4-6…the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God….(6)  For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

If we see blessings apart from Him the blessings can become idols that we worship and grow tired of.  Then it is an easy step to look towards unpleasant things or what we don’t have and become ungrateful which steals life.   When we begin with His goodness we see all of our blessings in their proper place.   We will either follow the gifts up to the face of Jesus or we begin with the face of Jesus and see all of our gifts as a reflection of Him.  Either way we will have more joy and fulfillment in this life.

1 Timothy 4:4  For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude

Anyone can look at things and can be thankful for them.  God’s people see that good things are a reflection of His goodness (light) and we follow that light to the source, Jesus.  Our greatest joy is in Him!   When He is our greatest joy then we enjoy His benefits more than we ever could apart from Him.      Psalms 43:4  Then I will go to the altar of God, To God my exceeding joy; And upon the lyre I shall praise You, O God, my God.

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The Art of Spinning God

Lion of the Tribe of Judah or a house cat

Lion of the Tribe of Judah or a house cat

I recently read some interesting research about cats led by researchers at the University of Edinburgh Scotland and the Bronx Zoo.  It was published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology

It seems like that cute cuddly little cat that loves to crawl on your lap and comfort you has more of the traits of the African Lion, the Scottish Wildcat, and the Clouded and Snow Leopard.  In other words that adorable domesticated cat is more like a miniature lion.  If it was bigger things might be a lot different.

www.research.ed.ac.uk/portal/files/17472323/Personality_Structure_in_the_Do mestic_Cat.

I couldn’t help but think that this is the same issue when Christians and churches try to make Jesus into the image they prefer Him to be rather than seeing Him as He truly is.  In other words Christians take the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah” (Rev 4:7, 5:5) and try to reduce Him to a domesticated house cat.  It is an attempt to reduce Jesus to an adorable version that climbs on our lap to give us companionship and therapeutic comfort.

Jesus will not submit to this kind of reduction.  Check out the first three chapter’s of the book of Revelation when Jesus walks among and speaks to the 7 churches of Asia Minor.  He wasn’t a tame house cat He is the Lord of the Universe and the head of His body, the church.  Col 1:15-19  He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation…17  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  18  He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything…

Spiritually Spinning Jesus

I like to read both liberal and conservative news sites because both sides present filteredmaking God in our image perspectives and the truth often lies somewhere in between.  The common buzzword for this is called “spin.”  It seems like everyone reporting now days is spinning.  What is “spin”?  Spin can be characterized as “presenting an issue in a perspective most favorable to a given point of view.  It is created by presenting information favorable to one perspective by omitting or rebutting information from another perspective.”

It would be difficult to be in the public eye in this day and age of 24 hour media spinning.   Media workers take sound bites or partial quotes, remove them from their context, then spin to make a point.   I have seen this many times.  When I go back and read the full transcript or hear the person respond to the articles that were spun, their original communication and intention was not represented at all.   Can we spin the revelation of God to ourselves or others in a way that mischaracterizes who He is?

The Bible contains the revelation God gives about Himself that He wants us to know.  He reveals both His likes, His dislikes, and His traits that make up who He is.  This is what theologians refer to as His “attributes.”  Some of them we understand a little because they are in us in an incomplete form (called “communicable attributes” such as love, hate, patience, justice etc.), while others are way beyond us (called “incommunicable attributes” such as sovereignty, foreknowledge, omnipresence etc.).

God warns us about spinning Him.   Psa 50:21-22  “These things you have done and I kept silence; You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes.  (22)  “Now consider this, you who forget God, Or I will tear you in pieces, and there will be none to deliver.

While we bear the image of God He isn’t relegated to the image we want Him to be.  He is who He is.  We can’t pick one side of God’s image and ignore the other.

His Kindness, Hatred, and Severity

We tend to do this with attributes like God’s great love and mercy.  Some view God’s love in a way that nullifies all his other attributes. It is a big mistake to think that God’s love overshadows His holiness.  Over and over He reveals Himself in the Bible as Holy.  He is the Holy God, and the Spirit is Holy Spirit.  Christians can attempt to purge God’s love of anything that we feel uncomfortable with such as holiness, righteousness, or judgment. We can’t redefine His love apart from His other attributes but this is a great problem.

Paul makes this point in Romans in an admonition to have a healthy fear of God.   Rom 11:20-22… but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear;  (21)  for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either.  (22)  Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.    

Many people like His kindness but have no clue about His severity.  Therefore they see God as a kind grandfather who is obligated to love them no matter how they live.  They see Him as a lonely grandfather, or a house cat, that will harmlessly put up with anything.

Another attribute of God we can bypass in light of His love is His holy hatred.  The same God who loves also hates.  In a fallen world with an enemy that is opposed to Him, God must hate what is trying to destroy His Kingdom and the object of His love (us).  God’s attributes of holiness, purity, righteousness, and justice prompt Him to hate evil.

Heb 1:9  “YOU HAVE LOVED RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HATED LAWLESSNESS

Deu 12:31  “You shall not behave thus toward the LORD your God, for every abominable act which the LORD hates they have done for their gods.

Pro 6:16-19  There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him…

Psa 7:11  God judges the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day.

Psa 5:4-6  For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with You.  (5)  The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity.  (6)  You destroy those who speak falsehood; The LORD abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit.

 If God’s love was a trump card that nullified all His other attributes, then the horrors of the sufferings of Christ would make no sense.  God could have just pronounced love and forgiveness, and Jesus could have avoided suffering God’s wrath for us, but God’s justice and wrath had to be satisfied.

We must see, serve, and worship God as He is, and how He has revealed Himself in His word.  No spinning or attempting to domesticate Jesus to spiritual house cat.

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Reading the “New Narcissist Translation”

USA TodayI remember reading an article in USA today citing research about religious habits of Americans titled “More Americans tailoring religion to fit their needs.”   This was a very prophetic statement.  It’s nothing new.  Throughout history God’s people have often attempted to do this.  It is called “making God into our image” or the more Biblical term “Idolatry.”  It usually happened when there was something He said they didn’t like or there were circumstances that were challenging.

A great case in point was what happened when Moses was on the mountain meeting God.  The people left on the ground didn’t like that it was taking so long so they fashioned an idol in the fire and placed God’s name on it.   Exo 32:8…They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god (“Elohim”Ex 3:1-5), O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!'”

There has always been that propensity among God’s people to try to make Him into the image they desire. The philosopher Voltaire said, “In the beginning God created man in His own image, and man has been trying to repay the favor ever since.”Mark Twain once said, “God created man in His own image, and man, being a gentlemen, returned the compliment.”

Looking at the Bible through the Mirror of Self

What is the “New Narcissist Translation?”  It isn’t an actual written translation of the Bible but the one that people often have on the inside of them.  We recently conducted a gathering in which we looked at the idea of interpreting the Bible.  One of the main issues in accurately interpreting the Bible is to see it in the context it was written.  If not we take it and apply it out of context.  This opens the door to what the USA Today article reported, “tailoring religion to fit our needs.”

Narcissism is the “obsession with self.”  It is evaluating life through the lens of  self Narcissistorientation.  If that is our approach to the Bible we will see it through individualized glasses.  We will see it as Jesus’ personal love letter to me.  It becomes only about Jesus and me.  We approach it like an only child which nudges us towards self orientation.

That is not the context in which the Bible was written.  We are not an only child.  God’s joins us into His family.  The story line of the Bible is about God selecting, redeeming, and working through His people (plural).  The majority of the NT letters were written to local churches which are groups of God’s people joined together in a way of life under Christ’s Lordship through the power of Holy Spirit.  Even the letters that have a personal audience like Timothy and Titus were letters written to leaders who were working with groups of God’s people (Timothy Ephesus, Titus churches on the island of Crete).  The main content was about how to see those churches become better.  1Ti 3:15…I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.

The only NT book that was written to an individual was Philemon which was Paul writing to man who was a part of a church about his runaway slave named Onesimus that Paul encountered and led him to the Lord.  It was in a local church context that Paul met and walked with Philemon.

If we don’t understand the context of the Bible we will apply Scriptures out of context.  We have all seen this in the media.  You can hear the same story or interview reported by the Conservative and Liberal media and it will seem like it was two different interviews.  Both sides will look at it and pick out parts to make a point.  It is the same speech but it can seem like conflicting messages.  You have to listen to it in its full context.

Biblical Example

A good case where people do this with the Bible is Romans chapter 12.  It begins by telling us to give our whole lives to God and not be conformed to the world.   Rom 12:1-16 CEV  Dear friends, God is good. So I beg you to offer your bodies to him as a living sacrifice, pure and pleasing. That’s the most sensible way to serve God.  (2)  Don’t be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to him.

 If we just stop with those words and don’t put them in their context, and we have a individualized orientation, we will just see it as being about us individually.   I have seen people use this scripture to justify all kinds of self centered pursuits.  Paul didn’t stop in verse 2.  He continues with the context.  It is anything but individualized.  It is all about serving among the people He has joined you to in order to see God’s life expressed more among and through them.

 (3)  I realize how kind God has been to me, and so I tell each of you not to think you are better than you really are…(4)  A body is made up of many parts, and each of them has its own use.  (5)  That’s how it is with us. There are many of us, but we each are part of the body of Christ, as well as part of one another.  (6)  God has also given each of us different gifts to use. If we can prophesy, we should do it according to the amount of faith we have.  (7)  If we can serve others, we should serve. If we can teach, we should teach.  (8)  If we can encourage others, we should encourage them. If we can give, we should be generous. If we are leaders, we should do our best. If we are good to others, we should do it cheerfully.  (9)  Be sincere in your love for others. Hate everything that is evil and hold tight to everything that is good.  (10)  Love each other as brothers and sisters and honor others more than you do yourself...(13)  Take care of God’s needy people and welcome strangers into your home….(15-16)  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  (16)  Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.

This is an acid test to see if we are walking in the context of God’s word.  Are you laboring among God’s people to see them become all God has intended them to be so we can testify to the world around us about the goodness of God?   If not are you reading the “New Narcissist Translation.”  Here is the tag line verse under the title.

Pro 18:1  He who separates himself seeks his own desire, He quarrels against all sound wisdom.

Pro 18:1 CEV He who keeps himself separate for his private purpose goes against all good sense.

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Fruit of Bad Ideas and Christ Ideas

One of the things about getting older is that you see ideas and trends played out over decades.  You get to evaluate the fruit of them over time in real life.  As a Christ follower you see the trajectories in the lives of Christians who embraced ideas that at the time seemed “questionable” and you see the fruit of those decisions.  A phrase by my friend Dave Limmer comes to mind “How’s that working for ya?

For a Christ follower it is the difference between intellectual theology and pavement theology (how it really worked in life).  Did those ideas help them grow as a disciple who loves and follows Jesus?  Did it help them raise a legacy that loved God and lived for Him?  Did it help them to fulfill their calling to be the “city set on a hill” with the people of God shining His light of to a culture who needs Him (Mt 5:14-16, Eph 3:10-11, 20-21).

I grew up in the 60s and finished High School and College in the 70-80s.  Near the end of it I was genuinely converted.  I lived with one set of cultural philosophies then they were radically altered by Christ and His kingdom.  My generation had its fill of the prevailing philosophies of the day.  Because I had an area of emphasis in Psychology I was very familiar with the thought behind them.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Hierarchy of needsOne of the Philosophies that had taken hold of culture was put forth by Abraham Maslow called “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.”  He began to develop it in the late 50’s and by the time of his death in 1970 it had become a cornerstone of the anti establishment 60s and self-help culture of the 70-80s up to the present day.  Unfortunately, like many cultural philosophies it was widely embraced by Christians.

His theory was attractive.  Instead of the determinism (do your duty based on what life brought your way) of the previous centuries that fought 2 world wars and suffered a worldwide depression, it offered a new sense of freedom.  The previous generations life was in many ways “determined” by intense sacrifices and fulfilling duty and responsibility.

Maslow’s theories offered freedom from that bondage of duty and responsibility.  You could grow past those motivations to what he called “Self-actualization.”  Self-actualization is achieved when you are able step into fulfilling the highest expression of you (expressing your individual talents, gifts, and desires that give you a sense of harmony with the universe).  In other words you fulfill you “self-destiny.”  I think it is ironic that it is very similar to what many eastern religions call “nirvana” which is an “ultimate experience of some pleasurable emotion of harmony and joy in your life.

I remember working in a University book store in the early 80s and the growing self-help section of books were filled with different angles of Maslow’s basic premises.  They offered all kinds of advice, help, and techniques to help achieve personal fulfillment.  Now 30 + years later we see fruit of many of those ideas that have lead to the breakdown of important areas of life and culture.

Famous feminist Gloria Steinem recently released a book about her life journey called “Mygloria-steinem-book-dedication life on the road.” While I probably won’t read it I did read the opening dedication to Dr. John Sharp of London who helped her end the life of her child through abortion,

 “Dr. John Sharp of London, who in 1957, a decade before positions in England could legally perform an abortion for any reason other than the health of the woman, took the considerable risk of referring for an abortion a 22-year-old American on her way to India. Knowing only that she had broken and engagement at home to seek and unknown fate, he said, “you must promise me two things. First, you will not tell anyone my name. Second, you will do what you want to do with your life.” Dear Dr. Sharp, I believe you, who knew the law was unjust, would not mind if I say this so long after your death: I’ve done the best I could with my life. This book is for you.

 “You will do what you want to do with your life.”  Sounds pretty Maslowish.  As I read it I wondered how many children were prevented from coming in the earth due to this idea?  How many children grew up with absent or nonexistent parents due to this idea?  How many men and women have undergone the pain and abandonment by a spouse or significant other due to this idea?  How many children have grown up in foster care, like a dear friend who lives with us now, because one or both parents lived this idea?

I am not just thinking unbelievers here.  How many Christians have embraced this idea to the detriment of their own families or the family of God.  I remember a relative of a young disciple years ago make a comment to her at her graduation as she was contemplating a decision that ended up costing her walk with Jesus, “you just have to do what’s right for you.”  She did what was “right for her” and it ended up costing her dearly or as Jesus said, “what good is it to gain the whole world and lose your soul” (Mt 8:36-37).

Christian MaslowIf we are followers of Christ was need to heed His call.  His destiny isn’t rooted in some sort of Maslowian crapshoot leading to personal fulfillment.  It is about following Him and letting Him lead.  It is about valuing what He values and giving our lives to that end.  Contrary to avoiding sacrifice and responsibility that seems to limit freedom, it is through those things He guides our lives and works His will in us.

Jesus hit the core of it in the 25 times in the gospels He called people to follow Him.  Look at every one of them and you will not find Maslow’s life in it.  You do find the offer of a life in Christ that causes us to become something much better than what we would choose for ourselves.

Lk 9:23-37 MSG…“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?… Lk 14:26-27,33; Mt 10:24-40; Mt 16:24-25;  Mk 8:34-35.

 

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