Thanks, yes, and so much more!

Engaging in centering prayer on thanksgiving day, surrounded by family, can be a challenging experience. All the sounds and smells you have to let go as activities swirl around you would seem to be counterproductive to the purpose of the prayer.

Nay, not so.

Recognizing God’s presence in the midst of gathered family and allowing the Spirit to speak to one’s soul was a very joyful experience for me (the children thought I was taking a nap).

I personally feel the word thanks has become one of those words that has lost much of its power through casual overuse and unreflective utterance. 

Today, on a day set aside long ago for the purpose of unity and gratitude, I do not feel any words can fully express the depth of the kind needed heart felt response we can offer to God. In the centering prayer we offer silence and presence in the midst of wherever we are. This is an offering of thanks and so much more.

Thoughts on the Meditation from Taizé

IMAG0289The meditation from Taizé for today is: “God of mercy, when we understand that nothing can separate us from you, trust in you opens for us the road that leads upward towards a peace-filled joy.”

It is the understanding part that is so difficult. Easy to say, hard to do.

Also, what is implied in this meditation is that we have joined with you. This too can be hard to understand. In fact, most likely it can only be experienced.

To be joined is the possibility to be in the closest of relationships. A husband joins with a wife. A wife joins with a husband. No, this is not about sex, it is about two becoming one while remaining two. The other desires each other, each other desires an even closer each.

To join means to make a commitment. One joins the armed forces by taking an oath of commitment. One joins a church (Methodist) by taking a vow. There is a responsibility in joining. There are expectations. When joining is taken for granted serious consequences can occur. Purpose and promise can be compromised.

God, I believe you want to be closer to us than a spouse. I believe you have made a commitment to us that is eternal, even if it a commitment to allow us to reject you.

This is where trust comes in. Trust is not often easily developed, especially when faith is weak. Is trust harder than faith? I believe it is. Grace is a gift, a free gift, but trust requires a deeper insight.

But we are not saved by trust, are we? No, we are saved (process not event) by faith. Faith is the first step toward trust. Faith leads us to you while trust opens God to us.

My prayer is that I you Lord will give me the opportunity for faith and that I might respond in a way that guides me to a deeper and deeper trust for you so that I might travel, journey, pilgrimage upward towards a peace-filled joy! Amen.

The Way of True Thanksgiving

Colossians 1:10-20

I met a very happy and interesting man on Thursday at the Bangs Food bank. When I said to him, “bless you”, he replied to me, “Of course I am and you are too!” I had a very, positive, lively, conversation with him about faith and prayer. Then, as he was getting ready to leave, he said to me, “Got to go and continue my practicing at being a Christian. I have to practice because it is so hard to get it right!” I wanted to hug him. I really believe that statement nails it.

It is hard to be a practicing Christian. The world makes it hard. Spiritual forces make it hard. Other Christians make it hard and we make it hard on ourselves as well. We need to practice, practice, practice and practice as well as praying and being prayed for.

Paul writes to the church at Colossae, “We’re praying this so that you can live lives that are worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way.” Oh, we need this kind of prayer. We need to be praying this kind of prayer for one another.

Paul then goes on to talk about what this kind of life needs. It needs strength. It needs endurance. It needs patience. And, I believe this is perhaps the most important thing of all, it needs to be a life of thanksgiving. The word Paul uses for thanksgiving is the same word we get the word Eucharist which is another name for communion, the Lord’s supper.

It is the attitude of thanksgiving to God that comes from understanding what God has given, gives, is giving, and promises to give us. It is a thanksgiving rooted in love, love developed through faith. Faith that accepts grace, surrenders to grace, seeks grace, grows in our understanding of grace and lives to produce the gifts, the works, and the wonders God’s grace desires for our lives.

A desire that we are growing in the ability to, “Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess. 5:16-18 CEB) This takes a lot of practice. This takes a lot of prayers and praying.

You would think that because of what God has done for us this is something that should always be a priority in our lives. I mean, listen again to what God has done. First, God makes it possible for us to take part in the inheritance.

Now, this takes a bit of understanding. We often only think of an inheritance as something we get from someone after they die. It was theirs and then they will it to us. Such is the mindset of an entitled culture.

What is meant in the Scripture by inheritance is what God has made for us as God’s children. If you wish to think about this for a minute, the Scripture says God made this world for us but humanity corrupted it. Our inheritance is what God is making for us now. It will not be corrupted. It will not contain death, pain, or loss. This inheritance is not just something that we will gain when we die, but is an inheritance we can begin to claim now.

There was a movie a few years ago called, “The Rain Man.” It was a story about two brothers who did not know the other existed until their faith died. One brother has autistic. The other was self-centered and very materialistic. When the father died, he gave the self-centered son his old car. He gave the autistic son his wealth. The selfish son kidnapped the autistic son thinking he might be able to get some of the money. What he got was a brother he never new and a love he had never experienced. It transformed him and his perspective on life.

This is exactly what the inheritance of God can do for us. But note, God makes it available. Whether or not we take advantage of it depends on us.

Secondly, God grants us light, light being the chance to see reality. The chance to let holy knowledge replace our carnal ignorance. This is a gift to understand who we really are. This is a gift that offers us a path, a purpose, a perspective that allows us to discover what is truly important. This gives us the most valuable treasure a human being can possess, hope.

When you are facing a terminal illness, how much comfort do you think you would get being able to buy the newest iPhone? If your family is falling apart, how joyous will your investments bring to you? When you lose a loved one, how much money can make that hurt in your heart go away? In these situations, hope is priceless. It is also the hardest thing to manufacture in a crisis. It must be grounded in one’s soul to be truly possessed. Only God can give hope that transcends all human dilemmas.

In Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus he writes, “I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers.” (Eph. 1:18 CEB)

Then there is the third thing that Paul tells us God does for us. Paul tells us God frees us, rescues us, from the control, the authority of darkness and transfers us to the Kingdom of Jesus. The darkness is the chaos, the fallen-ness, the hopelessness of guilt, the pain of separation, and agony of spiritual emptiness that will increase and harden our hearts.

The Kingdom of the son God loves to which God offers to transfer us (literally remove us from on and take us to another) is described not as a place, but as a person, a love, a relationship where God is restoring, renewing, reviving, reconciling and rewarding those whom God loved so much, whom God desired so much, that God sent Jesus knowing full well a cross would be waiting for him.

Listen again to verses 15-20. This is where God offers to take us. This is what God offers us to experience. This is what God wants for us. This is the God who loves us and offers us more than simply being a creation, but a relationship as a child. For this, God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit gave, gives, and will continue giving forever. How could we not be thankful for this?

Yet, so many take these opportunities, these gifts for granted. So many believe they are entitled. So many ignore or out and out reject all that God does to reach them. So many trade the possibilities of God, the love of Jesus, and the presence of the Holy Spirit for the limits of their own abilities and knowledge and settle for a life of limitation that will eventually turn into lamentations.

There was a man at the Santa Anna Food bank whom I helped carry food to his car. When I said to him, “Have a happy Thanksgiving”, he replied, “Now I will.”

I am so glad that the given food would make that man’s life better, but I pray for him and myself and you that we may be thankful and “Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7 CEB)

The peace, “He brought peace through the blood of his cross.” (Col. 1:20 CEB)

How can I say thanks
for all the things You have done for me?
Things so undeserved,
yet You gave to prove Your love for me.
The voices of a million angels
could not express my gratitude.
All that I am and ever hope to be,
I owe it all to Thee.*

(*My Tribute by Andre Crouch)

Thanksgiving Message

1 Timothy 2:1-7 Doing What is REALLY Important!

There is a practice that is gaining in popularity on Thanksgiving. The practice is having people at a family gathering state for what they are thankful.

At one family gathering, a husband stated that he was thankful for how his wife forgave him when he acted like a jerk, which was quite often. He stated that he didn’t know how she did it. He said to his wife, I say so many hurtful and mean things to you, but you just take it and go on. How do you deal with? The rest of the family pressed her, how do you deal with it. She stated, I go and clean the bathroom. “You go and clean the bathroom, how does that help”, the husband retorted in a condescending tone. The wife looked at him and said, “I use your toothbrush to clean the toilet.”

The Lord we worship is a God who puts up with a lot from us. How does God deal with it? He responds to our many misgivings with love and grace. This is the true essence of thanksgiving, that our God gives us love and grace.

In the Scripture we just heard or read, the statement “I ask” means more than simply asking. “I ask” is a translation of a word centered in personal involvement in what the request desires.

The original word indicates deep concern and desire. Used here in the Word of God, we dare not ignore the request due to the results and consequences implied.

In our passage today the writer urges first of all (meaning of first importance) that we pray for all people.

Now let this sink in for a moment. If we are believers, people of faith, part of God’s family the church, we have an obligation, a duty that we are urged to perform. It is not something that is forced or commanded because to do so would go complete against the nature of God.

Now wait a minute. If we are supposed to do something ask of us by the One who gave his life so that we might have life, why would we need to be urged to do this? Why would we need to be told, “first of all?”

These are good questions. Why, we may ask, because too many of us who believe have allowed the world to stunt our spiritual growth. Far too many believers have lost the vision for God and have grown complacent about responsibilities God gives us.”

We are called to care. A call to care is a call to prayer. It is also a call to share, with others, what we know is true about Jesus. We are instructed to tell what he means to us.

In this, we find true act of thanksgiving. In this, we do what is really important.

This passage of Scripture is most likely written to the church at Ephesus. The church at Ephesus started as an outreach to the members of the synagogue, but quickly became a gentile dominated church. Then church at Ephesus became an influential church, a wealthy church. However, its success became its undoing. It became a church that thought of itself as special in an elitist manner. It was a church that became judgmental.

The Apostle John pastored this church after Timothy. The church’s failure to do what was important took center stage when John sends a letter to the church recorded in the second chapter of the book of Revelation:

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

They had forsaken their first love. This is not a way to be thankful.

On this thanksgiving week, I wonder how most of us church going people would define our relationship with Jesus? It is a relationship of familiarity? Is it a relationship of culture (good people go to church bad people do not)? Is it a relationship of habit?

God says it needs to be a relationship of love, of first importance. A love expressed in caring, praying, interceding for others. This is the way to be thankful.

If Jesus is active in our lives, then there will be evidence of a first love or else there will be an emptiness. A relationship with Jesus is established by faith, but it is sealed by the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit will not let us ignore our responsibilities. However, we can stifle the Spirit, we can grieve the Spirit.

The Spirit will urge us to do what is of first importance, we will be urged to do what really matters. We can resist the Spirit, we can learn to ignore the inner voice. We can hide behind religion, activities, or just make excuses or comparisons with others so that we don’t look as bad.

We can be like the Ephesians. God’s grace is beyond measure but we can reach the point where our love grows cold. The cure, the prevention, the recovery from a lack of love is to pray for others, actively lifting them up to God. This brings us to the second thing the really matters that we are told we must do. Look again at verse 2.

I am aware that there may be some in this room that do not like the actions of our current President, or are troubled by our president elect. There are also those who love our current and so who love our current president elect and believe he may be the best president we have ever had. There are probably some with very strong opinions for other politicians, local, state, and national. There are those some like and some loathe. That is fine. This is a country of rights and choices.

However, like or dislike we are told to pray for our leaders. This has nothing to do with politics or power. It has everything to do with peace. It has everything to do with what God says is important.

We should pray for our political leaders to have compassion. We should pray for them to have conscience. We should pray for them to have conviction. We should pray that they will be open to the leadership of Christ. This is our duty as a thankful people. When we do this we are praying for peace. We are praying for justice. We are praying that evil will not prevail.

When Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness, Satan came to him and said, all the kingdoms of the world are mine. Jesus did not dispute this.

We need to pray that Satan’s influence is limited into how he moves to create chaos in the political systems of our world.

These are things which please God. These are things which show that we not only talk the talk but walk the walk. It means we have begun to awaken to the importance of every human soul. And are thankful to God for every person.

Verse 3 tells us that when we are a people of true faith, a people of intercessory, caring, concerned prayer and our hearts are in tuned with the heart of God wanting everyone to know (that is not just right thinking but right thinking and doing) so that we they can experience the growing presence of the Kingdom of God in their lives, then God sees this a being good.

This is not good as opposed to be bad, but good as in being spiritually beautiful, in being morally righteous, as being immersed in the best. This is what pleases God.

Is this not the least we can seek to give God in light of what God has done for us? Is this not a good way of showing our thanks.

Look at verse 4. This verse states God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit wants all to be saved. Now some would say this is a one-time event. If this is what you believe the Bible teaches, good. Who am I to disagree.

However, I have come to believe salvation is more than an event, but a process. In our text, the word saved is an infinitive, its tense is expressed in a past action that is still ongoing. What God desires is that we understand so that we can live a life of being saved and saved and saved and saved.

This is a reason to be very thankful.

Each day, each encounter of life is an opportunity to live in grace, grow in grace, depend on grace, and blessed by grace.

I believe if a person is not being saved, they are in a state of being lost, separated, ignorant of the truth of grace. They are in need of our prayer and there are many in our community in this state.

2 Peter 3:9 explains this desire of God in the negative: not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. The word for want (desire) is tied to the event. God’s desire is that this event, perishing, does not happen but that repentance will happen, restoration will happen, community will happen.

Let’s think about this. Who is going to perish if they do not enter and remain in the ongoing saving relationship with Jesus? It will be someone’s child, mate, parent, or friend.

Do you want someone praying for the people you know and love? Do you want someone to be reaching out to them? Would you not be thankful if they are? Should we not do the same? This is doing what is really important! This is showing we are faithfully thankful to our Lord and our God. This is the word of the Lord.

There is a song we sing in prayer. It is a simple song. I would like to end this sermon with you singing this song with me as a prayer.

In the Lord I am every thankful
In the Lord I will rejoice
Look to God
Do not be afraid
Lift up your voices the Lord is near
Lift up your voices the Lord is near.