The Sword of Gratitude

Darkness closes in. The silence is deafening. My vision is clouded. I can’t see a way out. Death marches on, threatening, intimidating, and piercing the very depths of my being. There is nothing I can do but wait. . . with heavy breathing and an anxious spirit, I wait for the inevitable. These are dark times. I shovel the darkness out as fast as I can only to discover that another onslaught of more darkness has already arrived in its’ place. I just keep shoveling, but I don’t seem to be making any progress. I am overcome by the throng pressing in and I can’t seem to find a footing.

What should I do? Or maybe the better question – What did Jesus do?

Luke 22 describes the events right before Judas’ betrayal – right before the crucifixion. When the darkness had amassed its’ hordes and was preparing to destroy  Him. . . when death came knocking, with the cross just ahead of Him, Jesus sat down to a Passover meal with His friends. There, He took bread and gave thanks.  Jesus took the time and gave thanks right before His ultimate battle with darkness.  Think about it. He could have done anything He wanted, but He chose to hang out with friends (disciples), remember all His Father had done (Passover meal), and give thanks. The sword Jesus wielded that night was gratitude. And make no mistake. . . gratitude is a sword. It pierces the darkness with light!

Think about it. Gratitude is worship. It’s a recognition of who God is and what He has done. This is worship. Even when we are grateful for a kindness of another person, those things are ultimately a picture of the Gospel. A “thank you” is the acknowledgement of an undeserved kindness, and that’s the Gospel – an underserved kindness. When we are surrounded by darkness, we can choose to try to shovel out the darkness or we can choose gratitude. When we thank God, we remember who He is and what He has done and we begin to reflect the glory of the Gospel. Jesus’ light pierces that darkness as our gratitude remembers, and praises and talks about His work and His character. Darkness trembles at His name. Darkness flees. There isn’t even a battle between light and darkness. Light wins every time. With even an ounce of light, darkness hides it’s face. Gratitude is the sword that defeats the darkness. Gratitude shines the light of Christ into every circumstance. Since it brings light, gratitude always wins in a battle against the darkness.  (nerdy sidenote: Gratitude is probably more like a “Light Saber” than a sword.)

Here are a few Scriptural examples of God’s people remembering and being grateful before a battle with darkness:

        • 2 Chronicles 20:22 – Jehoshaphat and his men praised God and then the LORD set an ambush against the horde.
        • Daniel 6:10 – When he found out He would be thrown into the lion’s den, Daniel thanked God.
        • Psalm 40; Psalm 69 – David thanks God and praises Him in song over and over again in the book of Psalms.
        • Joshua 5 – Israel’s priests and trumpets lead the army around Jericho before the walls crumble.
        • The Passover meal itself (instituted by God) is a thanksgiving remembrance of what God has done and who He is intended to give His people strength and reassurance in all their circumstances.

Thanksgiving/gratitude are also good for us ‘because they reframe our thoughts about our circumstances. When I spend time reflecting on all my blessings, the things God has done for me, the things He has given me, I enter life with a willingness to give and to be a blessing to others. On the other hand, when I’m not mindful of my blessings, I’m more likely to fall into the trap of comparing myself to others. In those moments I feel inadequate and sometimes even cheated. I enter life looking for what I can get out of the situation or what I can take for myself. Gratitude allows me to see the truth that in Christ I am “more than a conqueror” and He is “all that I need.”

Ann Voskamp has done some studies in conjunction with her book, “1,000 Gifts.” She asked people to write down 3 things they are grateful for each day for a year. In the end, they will have collected a list of over 1,000 gifts. Her theory is that this practice changes our outlook, our attitudes, our choices. . . in short, it changes our lives. Here’s a quote:

“If they wrote down just three things a day they were grateful for, they were less depressed, less suicidal, less apathetic, than those who didn’t practice lifestyle gratitude. . . . Research indicated that recording those blessings was cognitive training, a way of reorganizing your brain to focus on goodness. It increases an individual’s positive focus by 25%. . . . Those who practice this type of lifestyle gratitude have higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, optimism, attentiveness, energy, they were more motivated, likeable, other-oriented, forgiving, generous, helpful, more likely to volunteer, and more likely to give back. Giving thanks and giving back are ‘Siamese twins.’ They move as one.” – Ann Voskamp

Here’s a link to download a sermon I preached on this topic:

Ruth Sermons

I had the opportunity to preach through the book of Ruth over the last few weeks @ Grace Bible Church. In my preparations I listened to sermons by Voddie Bachaum, David Platt, Alistair Begg, and Mark Driscoll. Much of what I shared comes form these resources as well as a commentary that I wrote many years ago based upon several commentaries as well as some of my own thoughts as I studied.

Download Ruth 1-2

 

Download Ruth 3

 

Download Ruth 4

 

 

Air Attack or Ground War?

I was listening to a Mark Driscoll sermon last night where he was talking about a church’s “air attack” and “ground war.” He defined the “Air Attack” as the sermon, worship, newsletters, websites, etc – ministries that you just throw out there and hope they land on someone. Of course the “Ground War” was just the opposite. It’s the Bible Studies, service projects, discipleship times. accountability groups, etc where there is a specific target. He talked about how some churches are really good at the “Air Attack” and they have lots of people coming through the doors every Sunday, but they don’t really get discipled, while others focus on the “Ground War” and people grow spiritually and connect with each other, but never have any new people join the church. The church that is healthy of course – has both. They are reaching people with an all-out air and ground assault!

I like the image. What kind of church can fortify such an all-out assault? In the heat of battle, when you start to get tired, how do we remain faithful in taking ground for the kingdom? Where do you find these kinds of Christian soldiers? Or how do you train them? How do you find a rhythm/pace for doing both the “Air Attack” and “Ground War?”

Rob Bell

Robbell OK – I’ll confess. I really like Rob Bell. There are all kinds of opinions about him and I certainly don’t agree with everything the guy says, but something about the way he thinks. Something about his ideas. Maybe it’s his speaking style or humor, I dunno, but something really stirs things in my spirit when I listen to his sermons or watch the Nooma videos.

Anyway, over the last few days I’ve been listening to his latest sermon called “We Already Are” about Matthew 28 which he preached April 15, 2007 at his church (Mars Hill) in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Here’s a link to the sermon: We already are Matthew28.mp3

Anyway, he touched on so many things this week that really struck me. First of all, Jesus said that we should “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” In studying this verse, you’ll discover that “Go” might actually be better translated “as you go.” The greek has a continuing-into-the-future tense that English doesn’t have. Anyway, he also talks about the word “baptize” which is literally translated “immerse” or “make fully wet.” (We, Methodists got this one wrong.) He also speaks of the idea that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (whom we were created in the image of) are literally a small group or community. Since we are made in His image (Gen 1:26), we long for connections and community too. Anyway, in Matthew 28, when Jesus says to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, it might also be said that we are to “immerse people into our community.” I think this is why so many “new converts” don’t stay Christian very long. They’re never fully engaged into our communities. This is not a new idea, but it’s a new idea to me that Jesus actually taught it in these verses.

It’s also interesting to note that in Jewish culture, the Pharisees had been telling people to stay away from the Gentiles – to not associate with them – even to avoid them. But in this verse, Jesus assumes, that “as we go” we will come in contact with the “ethnos” (world) and when we do, we should try to “immerse” them into our community. He doesn’t say “convert” them or “make them believe.” He simple wants us to invite others into our community – to immerse them with ourselves, and to teach them about what Jesus said. We’ll end up sharing the gospel with our lives that way. Rob relates a story of a group who was inviting others into their community and how a girl asked, “Well, when should we tell them about Jesus.” Rob’s answer? “You already are.” When we live our lives as Christians and “immerse” others into our lives, we are already telling the story of Jesus.

Anyway, these are just some great ideas and teachings that I learned from Rob Bell this week.

You can download his sermons each week for free at: http://www.marshill.org/teaching/index.php

Dumpster Diving and 3 Hags

06-05-16Quite a few of you guys told me that you really liked the “Hag Story” the other day. We were experimenting and actually recorded it. If you’d like to download the audio file and listen again sometime, here it is:

Hag Story – An fun allegory/story I heard from Rob Morris (who heard it from Dave Reaver) depicting the life/pursuit of a Christian.

Hag