Attitude of Gratitude

Colossians 1:12 (ESV) from the Revised Common Lectionary – Nov. 24, 2019

[Paul wrote to the faithful in Colossae] “Giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.”

“Research shows that most people complain once a minute during a typical conversation … complaining isn’t good for you,”[1] wrote Dr. Travis Bradberry, President, TalentSmart. Bradberry compared the personal impact of complaining to smoking, drinking too much, and lying on the couch all day watching TV.  In a 2016 post, Bradberry explained the way our neurons rewire themselves when we repeat a behaviour, branching out to each other to ease the flow of information. This makes it easier to repeat the behavior in the future, whether harmful or helpful. In the opening of Paul’s letter to Christians in Colossae, he encouraged the followers of Christ to develop the good behavior of gratitude, beginning his letter with, “We always thank God.” Do we? I feel comfortable writing that someone reading this may have complained in the last minute. I know I must catch myself because complaining seems the thing to do these days, and I realize how unbecoming it is of a Christian. A popular acronym for prayer is ACTS: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication (plea), in that order. In other words, before I make my request of the Lord, be grateful to the Lord.  Complaining can easily become our default behaviour.” What is your default behaviour? Let’s practice an attitude of gratitude.

“When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” Willie Nelson

[1], 12/26/2016, “How Complaining Rewires Your Brain for Negativity”

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People Get Ready

Luke 65:17 (ESV) from the Revised Common Lectionary – Nov. 17, 2019

[Thus says the Lord God,] “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.”

We live within a changing universe. It is ever expanding and has been since its creation. We have yet to realize a reason for the expansion and have good reasons to believe the expansion is actually increasing, absolutely astounding. What is happening? We don’t know, but we know that every day we have “new heavens and new earth.” At its simplest understanding, everything in the sky and under our feet are moving and changing. Strangely, we humans do not like change. Even if we are miserable in our setting we are reluctant to move to another setting. This may have been the case with the first readers of Isaiah 65, miserable in exile but reluctant to change and move back to Jerusalem. So, through the mouth of Isaiah, the Lord encouraged God’s people to hope in the coming of “new heavens and a new earth.” Terrifying, perhaps, so the Lord described life in those new settings, beginning with, “the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.” That seemed to have been enough to encourage some of God’s people to return to Jerusalem.  I believe God is still making for us a new setting, where we “shall not hurt” any longer. Within an everchanging universe, change is also coming. Never let the former things come to mind. Are you hurting? Embrace God’s new heavens and new earth for you, get ready.

“God is change.” Octavia E. Butler, (1947-2006), Science-fiction author 

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You’re Alive

Luke 20:38 (ESV) from the Revised Common Lectionary – Nov. 10, 2019

[Jesus said to some Sadducees,] “Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

“You dead to me,” sings Dierks Bentley. “You broke my heart, that’s history, I’m still alive and you’re dead to me.” Bentley was singing about a girlfriend who broke his heart. Bentley had moved on with no hard feelings. I wonder if Jesus would find these words befitting. I believe we have, we do, and we will continue to break Jesus’ heart. I believe Jesus does move on, “And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.”[1] We do not always receive Christ’s message of sin & salvation. Jesus just may have been saying to those who reject him, “Shake off the dust … your dead to me.” We would deserve it, but thankfully we worship a loving God, giving us all second chances through forgiveness. Just as in today’s passage, all the husbands of the woman, and the woman had died, and seem to have entered the Kingdom of God, anyway, where God keeps them alive. I do believe we will be kept in the same way, alive to God.

“If you’re reading this … Congratulations, you’re alive. If that’s not something to smile about, then I don’t know what is.” Chad Sugg, from Monsters under Your Head

[1] Luke 9:5 (ESV)

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Dia de los Muertos

Luke 6:21b (NRSV) from the Revised Common Lectionary – Nov. 1, 2019

[Jesus said to his disciples,] “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

Today, November 1, is Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, in Mexico, Central America, and the United States. This day is a time to remember and honor those loved ones who have died. It is also a day to encourage the artistic expression of the living. Many years ago I arrived in Mexico City on this day. The city streets were filled with people wearing ofrendas, costumes. I was startled by the sight, like being dropped into a parade. My driver kindly explained. My lesson was that death’s sting need not linger. Much as Jesus taught his disciples, our weeping, our mourning, will become laughter, if we believe. To this point, within the sanctuary of the home, many celebrants will set up modest altars topped with pictures of their loved ones now gone, but there is no weeping. The occupants, before the shrine, celebrate the life of their loved ones with foods and mirth. Remembering today’s passage, though they were once weeping with grief they have been encouraged by Jesus to be joyous with laughter. By no means did Jesus want his followers to be consumed with grief over his death or any death. As Paul wrote to the people of Thessalonica, “That you may not grieve as others do … the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord.”[1] Who are you willing to celebrate this day?

“As soap is to the body, so laughter is to the soul.” Jewish proverb

[1] 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 (ESV)

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Listen Up

Luke 16:19-20 (ESV)
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores.”

       The rich man is my focus. I know if he wore purple and fine linen he had more money than most men in the streets around biblical Jerusalem. Purple dye came from a labor/time intensive process. Purple dye was expensive. Fine linen came from elsewhere, driving up its cost. To have such ensures the rich man had money. In bible times, money was distributed very unevenly. Money is still distributed unevenly. We live in a wealthy country, but 36% of the world’s population is poor, 1.85 billion. Fifty-one percent of the people in developing countries live on $1.25/day. By world standards most of us reading this note are rich. So listen up. It would behoove us to understand just what the rich man did wrong. I feel his transgression was not that he did nothing at the gate, but that he cared only about himself. In a culture where those with plenty were convinced they were blessed, there is no incentive to care for the poor. Then Jesus came along and said, “Blessed are the poor.” Jesus teachings needs repeating to this day. The same false belief is prevalent in churches today, it is called prosperity gospel, that faithful believers will become wealthy. The irony is that Jesus ministered as a poor Galilean peasant. Are you rich? 

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Squanderers All

Luke 16:1-3(ESV)

1He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 

          William the Conqueror developed the Feudal System, where the king gave out land through grants to nobles, to knights (vassals), to peasants, holding them accountable. For the nobles to receive the land they swore an oath of fealty (fidelity) to the king at all times. The king retained ownership of the land, and the land could be taken back at any time. It reflects the words of Jesus, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” Luke 12:48 Today’s passage illustrates what can happen when one who receives his master’s property displeases the master: there comes a time of accounting for actions. The master heard that the manager had been “squandering his property.” We’re not sure of what property Luke is referencing, if that were to matter. What does stand out to me, is the response of the manager. A response highlighting the severity of the master’s demand. The manager takes the command with great seriousness. God will make the same command to us: Give me an accounting of your management. Are you prepared? Consider this: God has given you a precious property, time on earth. What have you done with your time? Though God is gracious, God’s grace does not free us from accountability. Are you prepared to give an accounting?

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Grace Overflowing

1 Timothy 1:13-14 (ESV) 

“Though formerly I (Paul) was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” 

         Peter the Great, 17thcentury czar and emperor of Russia, confronted an officer of the army, a member of a secret society, who had plotted against Peter I. Because of the training of the soldiers in this secret society, though Peter I had him tortured 4 times in an attempt to break the soldier, he would not break. So Peter decided the soldier had been tortured enough, went up to him and kissed him. Peter asked him to confess the love you owe the czar, and he would grant him full pardon. In addition, as a special sign of his mercy he promised to make the man a colonel. The man confessed and was made a colonel. The point, Peter the Great showed pity on the man, but he did not show mercy until he did something to relieve the suffering. Mercy moves from feeling (pity) to action. Mercy is active compassion. Mercy begins with pity and ends with action. Mercy has three elements. First, there is recognition, “I see the need.” Second, there is motivation, “I am moved by the need.” Third, there is action, “I move to meet the need.” Christians are called to be merciful, as God is. Will God show mercy to you? Yes, God will act upon the pity felt when considering your situation, perhaps a miserable condition. Like Peter the Great mercifully acted to relieve the soldier, God mercifully acted to relieve us through Christ.

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Disown It

Luke 14:33 (ESV)

“So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

We treasure our possessions. Self-storage facilities are popping up everywhere. Self-storage, “Rentable space – such as lockers, garages, or containers – in a building or warehouse that’s used to store personal or commercial items for a short or long-term period.”[1] According to CostHelper, “the average national storage unit costs are: $40-$50 per month for a 5-by-5-foot unit. … (up to, but not limited to) $115-$150 per month for a climate controlled 10-by-15 foot unit.” A quick calculation, we may be paying for storage, $480 to $1,800 every year. Imagine the difference if one were not paying for such, not holding on to all those possessions. Now, let’s consider Jesus’ demand, to do something about all one’s possessions. We often hear that Jesus wants us to get rid of our possessions. However, that is not exactly what Jesus said. Jesus said to “renounce” all one’s possessions. Renounce means, “to give up, refuse, or resign usually by formal declaration.” (Merriam-Webster) Or, “renounce” means, to publicly give up a claim to a piece of property … to disown. There is good reason to renounce one’s possessions. Like Warren Buffett said, “Too often, a vast collection of possessions begins to possess its owner.” This helps us to see Jesus’ teaching, one is not with Jesus when one is possessed by their possessions. Renouncing does not mean to get rid of all one’s possessions. That may be easier. Jesus wants us to give up claim to our possessions. Rather than locking a possession in self-storage unit, disown it. Let the world take it away if so desired.


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The Enduring Cistern

Jeremiah 2:13 (ESV)

For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

“The trouble with good advice is that it usually interferes with your plans.” [1]We love to make plans. We may follow the good advice. Oscar Wilde[2] didn’t, “I always pass on good advice. … It is never of use to oneself.” That speaks to today’s passage. “They have forsaken me (God), the fountain of living waters, and hewn out cisterns broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Cisterns are vessels made to hold water, often rain water. I see cisterns to be like advice. Some advice is good and holds water; other advice (broken cistern) cannot hold water. God’s people had turned to foreign idols and worldly voices, broken cisterns. The disappointment when we find our cistern is empty, the advice we depended upon proven bad, and the source, too. Jeremiah wants us to know that God will forever hold the living water, the advice we need, the guidance we can count upon, and will always be here to offer such refreshment for our weary souls. Are you drinking from a broken cistern? Jesus said, “but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never thirst” (John 4:14) Making plans? Seeking good advice? Remember, Christ is the enduring cistern.

“Chasing after worthlessness, they became worthless.”

[1] Unknown author

[2] Wilde, Oscar, 1854-1900, Irish poet and playwright.

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Look to Yourself

(Luke 13:12-13 (ESV)) 

When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God.

Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” I hear in Einstein’s words, one either sees miracles or does not. In my words, one either has faith or does not. In my experience, seeing miracles requires faith. As Jesus said to the man, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”[1]R. Stedman, in Authentic Christianity, tells the story of an alcoholic who became a believer in miracles. He was asked how he could possibly believe all the nonsense in the Bible about miracles. “You don’t believe that Jesus turned the water into wine, do you? I sure do, because in our house Jesus changed the whiskey into furniture.” The money the man had been spending on liquor suddenly went to furnishing the house. A miracle! God worked a miracle in him, just like long ago when Jesus healed the woman of her disability. Is God working miracles in you? Believe it! Christ calls us to see everything and everyone as a miracle.[2]

“Don’t look for miracles. You yourself are the miracle.”Henry Miller, 20th century American author

[1]Luke 17:19 (ESV)

[2]John 14:3 (ESV)

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