Friday, November 29, 2013

True Christian Gratitude and Thanksgiving

For they shall not be ashamed who wait for me.
Isaiah 49:23

I love the message of the Bible.  I just completely love it.  The words are just like candy to my ears.  I just want to hear it.  So I love this Bible app I have, and I'll set it playing on my phone as I'm trying to get to sleep, right before bed.  And it's just Wow, this is the word of GOD!

That's so incredible!  This is what GOD SAYS!  WOAH!  Actually and totally, it's completely factual in that this is the maker's communication to us.  Can you look out the window of your house and see whatever is out there and just realize for a second, God made that.  He made it.  And if you're a Christian reading this, that's your Dad.  Wow.  I put my faith there, in his word. His words says that he made all things.  The word just glows and shines in my ears, as I listen before bed.  It's wonderful to listen to the Psalms in particular.  It's called "You Verse Bible App."  Give it a try, totally free.  I've been putting together some free onlines resources, pdf Bibles and commentaries and such things.  Check it out: Free Resources for Seekers And also, thank you for taking some time to be here :)

I'd like to wish you all a very happy and joyful Thanksgiving.  I hope your time with family was full of love and communion, and if it wasn't, my heart aches for you.  But don't worry, because we, the body of Christ, are your family.  You are never alone.  You are one with us, in Christ.

I've been quite ill with the flu for the past week, and thus my ability to put pen to paper, or more aptly, put hands to keyboard has been somewhat handicapped.  The studies at Liberty continue well, as well as the church plant for The Edge Church here in town I'm currently helping with.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful day to spend with family in reflection of the many ways that God has blessed us.  I've heard great men infer that true happiness is found in gratitude.  I believe that to be true.  There is certainly enough mention of giving thanks in scripture.  As Christians, let's give thanks everyday.  It's in the repetition of thanking Our Father for things that an attitude of gratitude is developed.

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

I have a wonderful daily reading book that helps me to understand the principle of gratitude, among many other principles.  It's called "Jesus Calling" by Sarah Young.  It interprets pieces of scripture, adjusting them into daily readings as if being spoken directly to the reader.  I've found it wonderful thus far.

Worship itself is a powerful method for growing as a Christian.  We can thank God as we go about our days, but what about actually getting on our knees and just praising him?  I've found this to be such a powerful experience.  The experience of praising the one true God, on my knees, for even a short period of time is transformative.  For a few minutes we are taken into the direct presence of God where we speak directly to him who authored all things.  By the time I finish, whatever pain or misery that was in my heart has been comforted by his presence, by his Spirit.

At the same time we are adjusted internally when we fall to our knees and worship God.  We are brought a little closer to the Father, and as a result our world view changes, and our actions change.  The Bible calls this sanctification, a progressive process of being made Christ-like!  Of course prayer must be matched with private Bible study so we continue to grow in admiration and love for his truth.  According to Ironside, a theologian, "The Word of God is the foundation on which we build.  Prayer keeps the soul in touch with the power by which alone we build aright.  Mere Bible knowledge may make one heady and doctrinal.  Prayer alone, if unguided by Scripture, tends to fanaticism; but the Word and prayer together give a good firm base on which to rear a sturdy Christian character."
(Source: Theology for Today by Elmer Towns, p.305)

One could say that as a Christian I am not even capable of being truly grateful or giving true thanksgiving without God, or more specifically, the Holy Spirit teaching me how gradually.  It's this process of sanctification that I place a heavy emphasis on in my writings.  Ravi Zacharias once said that one of the hardest issues he has with his faith, is that so many Christians claim the power and majesty of the transformation given by Christ, yet so few show evidence of that transformation.

Personally I want to be a Christian who shows by his words and his actions, that a great transformation has taken place, and is taking place progressively day by day.

Hebrews 10:14 (NIV) says "For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy."

Let's be people who are being made holy.  Let's pray on our weak areas.  Let's pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us to resources and experiences we need to be sanctified.  Let's read books on Christian counseling techniques to clear out our character defects, like the judgmental nature, rudeness, envy, greed, laziness, and so on.  Let's journal about our problems and increase Bible study time.  Let's watch Youtube sermons and listen to Christian mp3 sermons.  Let's attend conferences and seminars.  Let's take an active role in becoming better Christians everyday.  Let's cooperate with the Holy Spirit as he changes our wants and desires.  These are the fruits of the spirit, the character being developed in Christians.

Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT) 22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Fitch, a theologian, gives a wonderful description of what this fruit of the spirit looks like in a mature Christian, describing the result as: "A loving, affectionate spirit, radiant with peculiar joy, and full of tranquility; it is very patient in disposition, even when provoked; it possesses unusual insights into the needs and wants of others, is generous in judgment and is utterly loyal; it is by nature very humble, forgets itself in the happiness of others, never allows itself to get out of control, and is always reliable because of it's unusual adaptability and self mastery."
(Source: Theology for Today by Elmer Towns, p.306)

Our God is a generous God.  He is a loving God, full of mercy.  But he is also a holy God.  Our heavenly Father is quite literally perfect.  And I recall looking at pictures from the Hubble telescope and getting some of my first tastes of that perfection and how overwhelming it was.  The picture at the top of this post is not art or photoshopped, but an actual photograph taken by the Hubble telescope of far off clusters of stars and galaxies.  That is the power and glory of our God.

Who have we all sinned against?  We've all sinned against the perfect creator of galaxies, of this planet, of everyone around us.  We have done great wrong.  So?  What of it?  I know my past, and I know my future as well, the place I will be with Jesus Christ one day soon.  It is a fact and a reality.  We as Christians are already victorious in Him.  And I see too many Christians not living victorious but rather living defeated.

Do we need to live as defeated Christians, miserable and guilt-ridden because we've sinned against God?  Do we constantly need to be reminded of our old state as doomed sinners?

Absolutely not. 

By the reception of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ we are indwelt with his presence.  We receive the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth.  And the architect and creator of all things becomes our personal Father.  We are gifted with the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ and the life he lived, and by the death he died, all our mistakes and failures are blotted out permanently.  Once for all time!

Hebrews 9:28 (NLT) so also Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him.

I love the message of the Bible because it's such timeless truth.  I love it because it's real and defensible, reasonable, coherent, loving, forgiving, and completely holy.

The message of Christ is so very beautiful to me.  My heart sings when I hear it.  I ache for it.

It's the message of an outcast.  And that makes me feel so much better about it.  I was always an outcast, one who went against social norms, and I still do.  I was and always will be distrustful of authority.  Why?  Well, let's see.  Public education taught me evolution and nothing more and forced me to come to a place where I was verbally and physically abused for 12 years.  As far as church I was brought up in a Catholic congregation, taught by nuns who pounded the ten commandments into my head, but taught me nothing of how to properly understand Jesus Christ and what he did.  A media taught me that I would become a rock star or wealthy man one day, then I was ejected from high school to face some very brutal realities of existence on this planet.  Not to mention the government of my country is so incredibly corrupt I don't even have a clue what to do about it but pray hard and pray often.  And I could just go on and on, you know even lately I see so many Christians, our own side in this spiritual conflict, who give the gospel a bad name! 

It breaks my heart.  But I have to keep my eye on the government.  And I have to keep my eye on the body of Christ.  And absolutely on myself.  I try to be easy on non-believers, moderate on fellow Christians, hard on church leaders and hardest on myself.  That is not an easy thing to do.  Being a Christian is hard sometimes. But it is much better than what someone like me would probably normally be doing...

The normal is to try to get laid, for a guy like me.  It's to find a wife or whatever.  It's to go to secular college and get a secular job.  It's to grab all I can.  It's "YOLO, you only live once!"  Those are the norms... everything is fine, economy on the rise, watch sports, go to the bars, never develop a belief, and never ask questions.  Well that isn't what I'm doing.  It's not what I'm going to do.  I've tasted that and there is nothing there.  Just nothing... Nothing of substance, nothing that brings the best out of me...  Nothing that strums the strings in my heart, the ones made of eternity, and my desire for it.  When the strings on that harp within me are played, by God himself, I taste a piece of my future!  That is what I have today, and yes, that is much much better.

We all have eternity planted on our souls.  Nothing here can strum the strings of that eternity, nothing but God.  And the only way to Him is Jesus Christ.

The Bible is the message of one who walked against the norms.  Christianity is indie to me.  Well real Christianity, the one in the Bible, being followed by actual Christians who have actually received Christ, is the real indie-outcast Christianity to me.  It's the modern flock around the John the Baptist type preacher, preaching in the wilderness without fear, feasting on wild honey and quite unconcerned with what "people might think." 

Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. Exodus 23:2

We don't need to live defeated as Christians, following the crowd of defeated half-asleep Christians who "play church" every Sunday.  We don't get a big long list of rules to follow when we receive Jesus Christ.  The message of Christ is of freedom, freedom from sin and freedom from all manner of addictions to this world and all it's "stuff."  

Let me encourage you today to live as a victorious Christian.  When we live in victory, we have confidence in our salvation and we have confidence that we can go out and make new disciples.  Victory is our reality as Christians.

1 Corinthians 15:57 (NIV) But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

And now tell me, if your eyes are reading this.. and wondering about things, the world around you, the night skies, wondering about meaning and reality, and reaching for something outside yourself, earnestly seeking the truth... I wonder, would you want to be a Christian?  One of the true indie-outcast Christians?  Are your burdens heavy?  Have you tried to find pleasure in the world and been left empty?  Is the weight of your mistakes and regrets destroying you? Are you sad?

There is a solution.  And that solution has a name.  His name is Christ Jesus.  I beg you, put your trust in him, as I did.   I was a miserable drug addict at the end of his miserable sad little life.  I was given rest. 

At the same time, I understand if you're not there yet!  Willingness, oh sweet willingness... right?  I have to be willing to give my life to Jesus Christ!  Sometimes we're just not there yet.  But if that's you, let me encourage you to pray for willingness to receive Christ.  I wish someone had told me that a few years ago.

Why did it take so long to become willing?  Why so much pain and destruction?  Those questions run through my head from time to time.  But they're always replaced by so much gratitude that I have it now.  And I become so grateful all I can say is, "Thank you Holy and Loving Heavenly Father, for granting me the ability to want that which I ought to have wanted in the first place, yet wanted to want, yet for some reason could not want!  Until I cried out to you save me from that which appears to me now as original sin, planted into my soul from my first waking eyes, and left with me for 27 and a half years, to my utter ruin, until the grafting of Christ onto that nature.  Now willingness is as a fountain, most of the time, enough to spare me from physical death outright at the hands of degenerative and chronic sin, with the promise in my heart and soul of eternal life, as well as the redemption of my body one day, so says your perfect word."

No one has perfect faith.  No one 100% knows.  But we believe.  :)

"Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable." 

“Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods." C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Thank you so much for being here.  And once again I hope your Thanksgiving was a blessed one!  Let's go in peace and love and victory today.  Let's be a part of the work the Holy Spirit is doing in us.  Let's live in true gratitude and thanksgiving every day of this Christian journey.  Let's remember how our Savior lived, and if we haven't received him yet, maybe we've struggled long enough.  Maybe we need rest as much as anyone else.

Matthew 11:25-30 (ESV)
25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.[g] 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”