Tuesday, November 24, 2015


During the coming week, most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. This is a traditional harvest festival, stemming from the early settlement period of America by Europeans, where natives and newcomers communally celebrated God's provision. Nowadays families gather around a wonderful feast. Following the biblical mandate to be thankful, many people use this time to reflect on all the blessings of the past year. They recount wonderful memories with loved ones and express their thankfulness for material blessings and good health.

But what if, when looking back, the past year seemed dominated by sickness, financial struggles, perhaps even the death of a loved one. How do we find the resolve to be thankful, when we are feeling all but thankful? To me, the most challenging example of thankfulness in the face of trials, is found in a Bible passage, which also centers around a meal. This feast takes place in the upper room of a little house in Jerusalem. Here, Jesus is celebrating the Passover with his disciples, usually referred to as "the last supper". Jesus, knowing that his betrayal is underway, picks up bread, thanks God for it, and breaks it. This goes far beyond the grace we speak before a meal. In this simple act, Jesus is thanking God for his own physical body, symbolized by the bread, and acknowledges God's right and control over it. He is thankful for being part of God's amazing plan, willingly giving his body to be broken for mankind, knowing that this brokenness will be for the healing of many.

Jesus is thanking his father for pain, suffering, humiliation and grief, believing that God is good, faithful and trustworthy. In this, Jesus is challenging me to thank God for entrusting me with painful experiences, knowing that they are part of his good plan. He is challenging me to value my thorns, knowing that they are part of the path which leads me to him. Anything that makes me need God is a blessing.

Thankfulness doesn't just happen. We must make a conscious decision to "give thanks in all circumstances" (1. Thess. 5:18), asking the Holy Spirit to remind and strengthen us to "give thanks always and for everything" (Eph. 5:20). It is not easy to break the habit of focusing on ourselves, fretting, complaining and resenting, but it is well worth it! Not only are we obedient to God by practicing gratitude, but we will also reap contentment, joy, resilience and freedom.

So, when you gather around a feast with your loved ones, what will you thank God for?

For further study, read Choosing Gratitude by Nancy Leigh De Moss

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Attitude Check

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matth. 11:28-30)

If there were a top ten Bible verse chart, this passage would surely be one of them. The popularity of this verse is easily explained. We can immediately identify with burdened and heavy-laden one. Often we feel overwhelmed and exhausted by the demands of life, and are glad to claim Jesus' promise of rest. While it is doctrinally true that God provides rest in his presence, I would like to submit to you, that Jesus is making a completely different point in this passage

Jesus offers ease for labor and a light burden for a heavy load, but looking closer, there is another, unspoken, contrast. In inviting us to learn gentleness and humility, it becomes obvious that Jesus is implying that our incorrect attitude towards others and ourselves is the source of our burden. The context of this passage is the Pharisees' continual attack on Jesus and his followers for not adhering to their strict rule of conduct. The Pharisee is a prime example of someone, who continually judges others' actions, while arrogantly thinking of himself as superior. Jesus knows that a Pharisee's whole life feels laborious and heavy-laden. Such a man constantly tries to live up to his own standards and feels like everyone else should, also. In these verses Jesus expresses his compassion for the Pharisaic like me. He wants to free me from that oppressive yoke, in order for me to experience his rest.

Jesus does not reject us, when we are tempted to react judgmentally to someone else's words or actions. He asks us to come to him to learn to replace this habit with gentleness. Jesus sorrows over the burden we place on ourselves by trying to live up to our own standards. Instead, he longs for us to humbly realize that we are attempting to accomplish what only he could do. Our value comes neither from making others look smaller, nor from making ourselves look bigger than we are. God gives us value by justifying us, accepting us, loving us, and making us new. Our new yoke is to accept in humility what God has done for us.

Let these verses become our favorite for a new reason: Anytime we feel burdened by our expectations of others and ourselves, let us run to Jesus, to learn gentleness and to humbly accept, that what he has done is sufficient.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Depth of God's Love

"For I am convinced that... neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 8: 38+39)

Do you know, why? - Because both are part of God's love. In Eph. 3:18, Paul prays that we "may have power... to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ."

We all love to experience the height of his love, namely the ecstasy of his presence and the exhilaration that comes with the joys of life and the amazement about the beauty of nature. It is uncomfortable, even scary, to think about a God, who is willing to allow hardship, removing the hedge of protection, even to a point where evil seems to win the day. It explodes the neat picture of God, removing him from the box we have placed him in. Suddenly we agree with the Narnians, "He is not safe!" It is true that God does not tempt anyone to evil, but in his sovereignty he sometimes chooses to allow it.

I have experienced some of these depths,
- when checking myself into an orphanage as a teenager.
- when going through four years of depression.
- when loosing our beloved firstborn daughter and walking through the resulting marriage crisis.

That is when we stand with Job, crying out, "Why?", hammering our fists at the chest of the Almighty, only to realize that we are not to expect an answer. The key to grasping the purpose of these depths is "being rooted and established in love" which is the preceding verse to Eph. 3:18. By understanding that God is for us and that he loves us, we no longer shrink back in fear, when hardship comes our way. Knowing that God chose to allow suffering even in his only begotten son's life, does not provide answers, but enables us to trust that God is good and that his thoughts are higher than ours. Jesus descended lower than we will ever have to, namely to the depths of hell, for our sake. This gives us the courage to trust that, in his compassion, he will only bring about pain necessary for our healing.

In all these things, God purposefully removes any confidence in our own strength, or in the support of others, in order to satisfy our aching hearts, with which we finally come running to him. If we are willing to trust God, our hard times will result in knowing him more intimately and will create in us a yearning for more of him. The depth cannot separate us from God's love; God meets us and embraces us in the midst of it.

Therefore, let us pray with Paul that, "being rooted and established in love, we may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ." (Eph. 3:17+18)