Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Coming Back to Say Thanks

The Psalmist David was a grateful person, and his words show it: "Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?” (2 Samuel 7:18). Those words inspired John Newton to write the beautiful hymn Amazing Grace with the words: “Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come; 'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.”

Unfortunately, too many people today are completely ungrateful for what they have. In this country many have enjoyed abundance and have lacked nothing and yet have no idea how fortunate they are. They have never seen how most of the world actually lives. They are like spoiled, indulgent children and actually believe they deserve this kind of life and even expect it. As a result, this young American generation is angry and ungrateful. Far too many have a "poor me'" mentality causing them to appreciate nothing. They have no regard for family, friends and do not consider God as the source of their blessings. They are petty and focused only on their own needs.

Gratitude is so important because it enables us to see the world in focus, while ingratitude blinds us to reality. Gratitude enables us to appreciate what we have, while ingratitude always leaves us wanting what we don’t have. Gratitude helps us realize the value of those around us, while ingratitude is always wishing for a better relationship with someone else.

Jesus told us a story about gratitude in the form of a leper who came back to say thanks. Being a leper in Israel was a miserable life. By law they had to separate themselves from everyone and live apart even from their own families. When they walked anywhere, they were commanded to call out “Unclean” which meant “Stay away from me because I have a terrible disease!”

Ten such lepers met Jesus, and from a distance and they shouted "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" (Luke 17: 11-19). Desperate as they were, the lepers called out to God to have pity on them. What was the reaction of Jesus? He did have pity on them. God is not moved by our deeds, but he is moved by our need and our acknowledgement of that need.

Once while I was away from home and in California and my family was back in Puerto Rico, I received a call from my son Eric. He said, “Dad, we’ve got a serious problem; we locked the keys in the car. I know you have an extra set under the car, but I can’t find them. I don’t know what to do.” I simply told him how to lie down and which arm to lift and in which direction to move it until he found the keys. That’s how it works with God; you start with “I don’t know what to do.” “I need help.” “I’m desperate.” “I have a serious problem here.” You see, God knows what to do, but he won’t help until we acknowledge our distress.

Jesus told the ten lepers to go show themselves to the priest, but on their way they were miraculously healed. But one of the lepers was seized with an urge to go back and say thanks to Jesus. He wanted to come back to the one who gave the miracle. Because he did, Jesus said this about him: "Rise and go; your faith has made you well" (Luke 17:19). The other nine had a physical healing, but this man had both physical and spiritual healing. He was made completely whole. Life has so much more meaning when we choose to come back and say thanks to the one who gives us life.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

A Longing Fulfilled

No matter how successful your life is, there is always that feeling inside that there should be more. That is because it’s true; there is more. We are born with longings, and we live to see them fulfilled.
C.S. Lewis insightfully wrote this, “Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy.”

Our creator God has put inside each of us a longing for him and to be with him. Sadly, we often turn away the one who can and will satisfy our longings. Jesus once said this about the people of Jerusalem that he loved, “how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34). Those happen to be some of the saddest words in the Bible. They are much like these from the book of Hosea where the prophet describes the stubbornness of Israel and says all that is left is to “leave him alone!” (Hosea 4:17).

Jesus longs to take us in his arms and comfort us. As a hen gathers her chicks under wings to protect them from the approaching storm, so our Lord will shelter us from our deepest fears and anxieties. The question is are we willing? We know Jesus is willing to meet our needs if we will only turn to him. Our deepest longings are for him and for a place not to be found on this earth. We long for heaven and for God’s presence. C.S. Lewis continues driving the point home:

"Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be un­thankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same."[i]

[i] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, MacMillian Publishing, New York, 1943, pp. 119-120.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Go Show Love

I love the Minor Prophets, well all the prophets for that matter, but these Minor Prophet books have a way of speaking to the core of your heart if you let them. The prophets speak with such passion, making God’s voice so clear and powerful. For example, in the book of Hosea God showed the people of Israel that he loved them. He did that through the life of Hosea, loving his wife who was unfaithful to him as Israel had been to God. Hosea’s wife, Gomer, didn’t deserve the love of a faithful husband because she had pursued countless lovers. Two of her children were fathered by other men, but in spite of this, Hosea showed her love and invited her back into a faithful relationship. His actions were surprising to those watching. The story is a depiction of God’s marvelous love for Israel and for us.

In chapter three God says to Hosea, "Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress” (Hosea 3:1). God initiated this love by telling Hosea to love his wife. God is still doing this today. He is telling us to “Go and show love to those around us.” Most of the time loving a husband or wife can be the most difficult challenge of love, but it can also be the most meaningful. The kind of love that God shows us and asks us to show is not selfish or motivated by ulterior motives. It is not based on the other person’s performance or worthiness, but instead it is selfless love. When we learn to love people the way God wants us to, it changes us and for the better.

C.S. Lewis writes about the power of love to change us:

This same spiritual law works terribly in the opposite direction. The Germans, perhaps, at first ill-treated the Jews because they hated them: afterwards they hated them much more because they had ill-treated them. The more cruel you are, the more you will hate and the more you hate, the more cruel you will become-and so on in a vicious circle for ever. Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An ap­parently trivial indulgence is lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.[i]

Imagine that everyday God is saying to us “Go out and show love,” how much our world around us would change. This love is shown to our family, friends and all the people we meet throughout the day. This is the noble calling God has given to us.

[i] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, MacMillian Publishing, New York, 1943, p. 117.