Thursday, April 28, 2016

What Gratitude Does

This past week I flew back to California where I grew up to spend a week with my mother. About a year ago, I lost my father, and my mother is struggling with his loss. It’s understandable since they were married for 68 years. That doesn’t happen too much anymore, people staying together that long. I took my mother to the cemetery, and we visited his grave. It wasn’t easy, but he gave us so much of himself that we have wonderful memories. Life is so short, and soon it will be over for all of us. My hope is not here—not on this planet; it is in Jesus, so I know that I too one day will be with the Lord. I am grateful that I got to spend a week with my mother and I got to see my daughter and her family and my sister.

I have been teaching on gratitude for the past couple of months, and it has awakened a new desire to be more grateful. I realize that it is happening—that I am becoming more grateful. Not that more good things are happening, but that I am more aware of the things that happen to me.

Gratitude protects us from becoming arrogant and full of pride, which I am prone to do. Gratitude helps us develop into who we are really meant to be. Without gratitude I am convinced the whole process gets sabotaged by our selfish perspective of life. Gratitude opens the curtains and lets the sunshine into our souls.

None of us have the promise of tomorrow, so that in itself should be enough to help us realize how much we should appreciate each new day. We have no guarantee that our loved ones will always be there beside us, so how important is it to love them while we have them. I want to use words and embraces that convey not only my feelings but leave a lasting impression of love.

Gratitude helps me let go of stuff. Without gratitude I get the idea that something really matters so much more than it really does. With a grateful heart I can hold things loosely and hold on to Jesus tightly. In short, gratitude helps me enjoy life, and after all, is there anything more important than that. I want to love Jesus and enjoy my family and friends. After that, everything is so much less important.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

True Greatness

You can’t see greatness growing in people, but you can see the fruit in small ways. You can see whether they are sitting at the table or serving. You can see their attitude, whether or not they keep their word, in the way they handle money, how they perform their work, how they value and relate to their families, and the way they treat little people, especially those who have nothing to give back to them.

Jesus turned the world’s picture of greatness on its head when he gave his perspective on greatness (Luke 9:46-50).  He acknowledged that the world’s idea of greatness is very different from his.  The world’s is based on how powerful, rich, talented, and influential a person is and how many servants they have.  He said even though this is the way people have always viewed greatness, it is not to be that way with us.  In Jesus’ definition the great one is like the youngest—the one without the advantages.  The greatest one is not the one who rules, but the one who is the subject, not the one who is served, but the one who serves. 

Jesus declared true greatness is found in service to others.  To be like Jesus is to be a servant—to emulate these qualities: humility, meekness, obedience, self-denial, selflessness, and service.  He came to serve, and that’s what he did.  Jesus believed that when a man or woman discovered the truth, they would also find a reason to serve. 

Jesus demonstrated that little people matter. He made himself accessible to people who were unimportant and even insignificant in others’ eyes. Everywhere around us are little people--children, teens, people who are marginalized and who desperately need someone who will give value to their lives.  This greatness is needed in the home, daycare, the classroom, the hospital, the convalescent center, and a thousand other places.  There is someone always trying to put the little people down.  Like Jesus, we need to lift them up and let them know how important they are. 

During our years in Argentina, I met a lady who understood greatness.  We called her Abuela (grandma).  Abuela Maria was seventy-six years old when she came to know Jesus. She didn't have much of this world's goods, but she knew Jesus.  She had such a contagious enthusiasm for God. She was always touching somebody, whether it was through a loaf of homemade bread or just her winsome way.

After church one evening, Maria told me bye, because she was taking a trip. She gave me a hug as she did to each member of my family. Early the next morning, the pastor called me. He was fighting tears as he said, "Can you come and help me preach a funeral?  Abuela Maria went home to Jesus last night. We found her this morning sitting in her chair with her Bible in her lap and three offerings posted for next Sunday.” Then he added, "Did she tell you she was going on a trip?" I found out she had told several others she was going home. At her funeral, Pablo asked, "How many have come to know Jesus because of this little lady that we are now saying goodbye to?" Everyone was surprised to see hands going up everywhere. Her life and death had made such an impact in so many in such a short time.  She understood in a remarkable way what it meant to be a servant.  I think I can say that I witnessed true greatness in that lady’s life—that’s the kind that Jesus modeled for us. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Finding the Missing Pieces

Jesus made 13 appearances after his resurrection and before his ascension to heaven. During these weeks the disciples were badly in need of being with him. The bottom had fallen out, and they were very confused. One of the most compelling stories is recorded for us in Luke 24. This account speaks to our human weakness and our discouragement, but also to Christ’ willingness to encourage us.

On that first Easter Sunday these two disciples were walking to their home in Emmaus about seven miles away. They were disillusioned and felt completely hopeless.  The one reason they had found for living was gone. The one person who had been so different than anyone they had ever known was dead.

There were so many emotions churning inside their hearts that day. They felt disappointment, confusion, loss and helplessness and most likely anger and resentment for those who had murdered Jesus. They probably experienced shame that they had not defended him. Their world had been turned wrong side up.

It had been so different when Jesus was there. He stood up to the chief priests and Pharisees because he spoke with such authority. He showed kindness and compassion to those in need and loved the hurting. If only he had not died, then things would have worked out so differently.

Try as they might there were pieces of the puzzle that were missing, and they simply couldn’t put it together. They had been so close to their dreams, and now they seemed so far way. In fact, their dreams had been buried with Jesus. Their minds seemed inadequate to figure out the mess, and to complicate it more, they were missing valuable pieces-- “but him they did not see” (Luke 24:24). Their disappointment had robbed them of hope. They now talked in if’s: “We had hoped Jesus would be our redeemer, but he is dead. Some of our companions went to the tomb, but no one has seen him.” What these disciples once believed to be true is now suspect. What they held as sacred is now nothing but ashes. They only see the problems with no solutions. They are men without hope.

Then Jesus came along side and began to talk to them though they didn’t know it was him. He explained to the two disciples the meaning of his suffering, death and resurrection. Can you imagine the excitement of hearing Jesus interpret the sacrifice of Isaac as having taken place on the very place of the cross? Their mouths dropped as he explained the book of Isaiah where Jesus is shown as the suffering servant. He must have pointed to Psalm 22 where the very words Jesus spoke from the cross were recorded.

The story reaches a climax as the three arrive in Emmaus and the stranger was invited to share a meal. During the meal as the invited guest broke the bread, they suddenly recognized that it was Jesus. Then he suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. Luke then writes what they said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:38). When Jesus touches your heart, he also opens your eyes. Life make sense when you know the one who can explain the unexplainable.