Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Anyone Can be Thankful - Or Can They?

Thanksgiving is always a bittersweet time for us. It was on Thanksgiving Day 12 years ago that our son, John left to hike across the Kohala mountains on the northeastern tip of the Big Island of Hawaii. It was just another Thanksgiving Day and we of course, joined with our extended family in giving thanks. Ho-hum....

John even expressed in his own words all of the things he was thankful for. This is what he wrote in his journal 6 days before Thanksgiving:
"Well, since Thanksgiving is coming up, I'm going to work on counting my blessings, which, says Mom, are many. First off, I'm living in Hawaii right near HI Volcanoes National Park. It would be hard to imagine a more unique spot on the planet. I have a job with the U.S. Geological Survey, an important organization that will be spicy on my resume. I'm working in field biology, gaining valuable experience that will help me in my decision of whether to pursue graduate studies, and if so, in what. I'm in better physical condition than I have been since I was 15 (with the possible exception of times near field day at PQQ). I have an awesome mountain bike for the first time in my life, and so far I haven't entirely killed myself on it yet. I have two wonderful, supportive parents, and an amazing sister and a cool brother. I have a set of extremely varied experiences that is broader culturally, geographically, and educationally than most people gain in a lifetime, and there is no sign that I will cease or slow down in gaining further experience. Most importantly, I'm a child of God and I know where I'm going - I just need help finding out what to do in the meanwhile."
But Thanksgiving of 1999 was the day life threw us a curve ball. And we didn't even see it coming!

So what do you do? How can you be thankful? How is it possible to fulfill the scriptural mandate to "give thanks in everything" when one of the relationships you treasured most on this earth has suddenly and ruthlessly been ripped away from you.

I must confess that it isn't easy. But it is possible!

This week I had the privilege of presenting the "counsel time" to a group of children at our church who attend AWANA club. And I posed this same question to them (ages 3 to 16) - how can you be thankful for something you aren't thankful for? As we worked through this exercise together, I asked each of them to think of something they were NOT thankful for and then to think of a way to turn that into thankfulness.

What I was trying to illustrate was that our words and attitudes have the power to change our perspective like it did in this video.

For me, Thanksgiving Day of 1999 changed my world. But on December 17, 1999 God transformed my heart by giving me His perspective. All I can say is that it was even more radical than the transformation in the video above. God turned my deep sorrow into real joy and yes, even thankfulness for the 22 years I had had with my son. Read our book, Aloha is Forever, for the rest of the story!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Urgency of Purpose

During my devotions this morning I was reading an entry called, "I bless you with the peace of Jesus" out of a little booklet titled, Daily Spirit Blessings by Arthur Burk and Sylvia Gunter. It made me think about the "tyranny of the urgent" vs "the urgency of purpose."

No one walked this earth with an urgency of purpose like Jesus. He was pressed on every side by demands of the crowds yet He filled each day with those things that were priorities in the fulfillment of His ultimate purpose. John 5:19 says that Jesus told the Jewish leaders this: "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself but what He sees the Father do, for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner." Or to put it in laymen terms, "I get my direction for everything I do from my Father. I only follow His lead." As He walked this earth, He accomplished more in the three years of His ministry than most people do in a lifetime and ultimately achieved His purpose in going to the cross. As I pondered this, I believe He was giving us a key to what it means to "walk in the Spirit" when He said He only did what He saw His Father doing.

So how do we accomplish that without being sucked in by the tyranny of the urgent that is around us and pressing in on us from all sides? For one thing, we need to develop that habit of constant communion with the Father, paying attention to the still small voice of guidance that He gives. In order to do that, we often have to quiet the clamor of our flesh and its desires that speak so loudly they try to drown out the Spirit's voice. And we have to discern whether we are listening to God's voice or satan's voice - anyone who has repented of their sin and trusted in Christ's sacrifice on their behalf, has become a child of God. Every child learns to know the sound of his father's voice and it's no different in the spiritual realm - but that's a topic for a different blog entry. Suffice it to say that the key to knowing His voice is spending time with Him, reading His Word and talking to Him on a daily basis.

Another thing we need to do is pay attention to peace. I have learned that peace, or rather, the lack thereof, is like a warning light on the dashboard of your car. When peace is gone, so is God's spirit. Jesus spoke these words in John 14:27, "Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you..." You can count on it; if peace isn't ruling in your heart, He isn't ruling either.

This line from the little devotional I read this morning stood out to me, "I bless you with being peaceful because you know ahead of time that your Father God will partner with you to provide adequacy for each day, whether a day with pain or pleasure." Peace comes from walking in that assurance that He is there, just as He said He would be, no matter what your circumstances.

All of what I've already said presumes that we know what our purpose and calling is here on this earth. Without a sense of purpose that gives us the urgency to accomplish that purpose, we will inevitably be driven by the urgencies of life; the tyranny of the urgent. Obviously there are things that are legitimate urgencies in our lives such as getting meals on the table, getting the laundry done, earning a living, etc. However, God also has a destiny He would like each of us to fulfill and until that sense of destiny becomes more urgent than the common ordinary urgencies of life, we will have great difficulty accomplishing our calling.

So today I bless you with the knowledge of your calling and the ability to walk hand in hand with Him to accomplish it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Part 2 of Rotten Egg in the Omelet

I've left you hanging and hopefully pondering long enough. Let's get back to our rotten egg in the omelet illustration. And please remember that it's only an illustration. Real truth, in my opinion, is only obtained by a careful study of the Scriptures, God's Word. (II Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness...")

So what did you think? Does God weigh the good we have done against the bad and judge whether we are worthy to be allowed into His presence? You probably already guessed that I am going to say, "No." Let me explain why.

The Scriptures are full of references to the fact that we have all sinned; no one is righteous, not even one of us. The most well known reference is in Romans 3:23. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." And in I John 1:8 it says, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."

In the beginning, Adam and Eve lived in a perfect world but given free choice to walk in fellowship and communion with their creator, they chose disobedience (sin) and walked away from that perfect fellowship. You may say, "Wait a minute! Adam and Eve? Give me a break!" OK, would you have made the choice not to disobey, especially when tempted into believing that you would become like God and have the knowledge of good and evil just by eating the forbidden fruit? I submit to you that if it hadn't been Eve, it would have been someone else and sin would have entered the world sooner or later.

BUT God is merciful and loving. The only way to exercise perfect justice was to condemn sin - in other words, all came under condemnation. Romans 6:23a says, "...the wages of sin is death." Because we all sin, we all deserve the just wage of sin; death. Without going into great detail, let me just submit to you that the death God refers to here is spiritual death, not actual physical death, and the best way to sum that up is to equate spiritual death with separation from God - as though a chasm separates man from God. (I'm being very simplistic - whole books have been written to explain this, yet it is simple enough for even a young child to understand.)

So if the wages of sin is death or to get back to the omelet illustration, throwing out the eggs with the rotten one that contaminates the whole bunch, then someone has to die; someone has to pay that death penalty. That's where God's love shines - "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8). Most of us have heard that often enough that it doesn't really sink in. What God did on the cross was this: "...He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us," (II Corinthians 5:21a). The penalty we deserved, God placed upon His Son, Jesus, calling Him unrighteous who was completely and totally righteous. Why? "That we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (II Corinthians 5:21b).

There is a lengthy passage of Scripture in Ephesians 2 starting with verse 4 that explains why God did this. It also explains how the good we do is a result of God's mercy and grace toward us. It is the effect and not the cause. Religious systems would want us to believe that we can do enough good to please God, but God says He is the one who took the first step to reconcile us to himself in Christ, resulting in a total inner transformation of the heart (like throwing out the rotten egg mixture). He gives us a completely new beginning and  even still is gracious and merciful to forgive us when we confess the sins we commit after trusting Him for salvation. Let me quote the Ephesians passage here:
But God who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. and not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:4-10 - italics are mine.)
Hallelujah! I, for one, am very glad He loved me that much. But the best part is that because we all start on a level playing field - all of us condemned sinners, we all have the same access to Him based on what Jesus did on the cross. The only requirement is to believe that what He did was sufficient and to accept His gift of life. His aloha is forever!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Rotten Egg in the Omelet

Have you ever had the misfortune of cracking open a rotten egg? I have! My daughter has been a backyard farmer girl ever since I can remember. She always collected the eggs from her chickens and we had wonderful fresh eggs to eat on a continual basis.

One day I went to break an egg into a frying pan to have my usual breakfast of a fried egg and toast. I heard some peeping noises and wondered where they might be coming from but didn't give it a second thought. The oil in the frying pan was just right and I could almost hear the sizzling of the egg as it fried. But to my shock and utter dismay, when I cracked the shell open there was a blood covered little chick just about ready to peck its way out of its shell! In case you're wondering, it didn't land in the hot oil, but it also didn't survive. One more day inside the shell might have been sufficient.

It was a long time before I could persuade myself to eat another fried egg and what had been a regular combo on my breakfast menu became a rarity.

As I was praying the other day for my AWANA class (AWANA = Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed from II Timothy 2:15) the Lord reminded me of an illustration of the gospel message.

Imagine making an omelet. First you throw in one egg, then another, then another. After 5 eggs are cracked into your bowl, you crack the 6th one and it is rotten. It falls into your bowl of eggs before you can stop it. Can you proceed and make an edible omelet out of your bowl full of eggs? No! And no matter how many good eggs you add to your bowl, it will continue to be inedible because of the one rotten egg. (If you've never smelled a rotten egg, I recommend that you let one sit out on your counter for about 6 to 8 weeks and then crack it open. This illustration will make a lot more sense to you.)

So in order to make a good tasting omelet, you must throw out the whole bowl full of eggs, wash everything and start all over. If you're smart, you'll crack each egg into a saucer or small cup first and then add it to your bowlful. Yummm...nothing better than a freshly made omelet.

What is the point? If you were God, would you accept a little sin (bad) along with all the good someone has done and let them into heaven? What do you think? What do you say? Does the good in you outweigh the bad?

To be continued...