Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Grateful Heart (part 7)

I was invited to write one week of devotionals for the 2011 edition of the "Upper Room Disciplines." The devotionals are based on the lectionary scriptures for a week in October. Here is the seventh and final one.

Sunday – Read Deuteronomy 8:7-18

The more prosperous we are, the more we become chronically dissatisfied. What we have never seems to be enough, and we join the corporate quest for more and better. It is not just materialism. We tire of relationships and grow bored with opportunities. We shop for a new church when love gets uncomfortable and try the next fad in self-help when what we are doing doesn’t “work.”

Deuteronomy 8 is a fresh reminder of God’s provision. Meditating on the bountiful gifts of the Promised Land can help keep us authentically grounded, remembering where blessings come from.

God brought them “into a good land.” (vs. 7) God describes it with images of streams and springs as well as wheat, barley, vines, and figs. God even mentions the iron and copper ready for mining.

Yet God describes these things to Israel because God wants them to remain faithful. God warns that once they enjoy the land, they might forget where they’ve come from. Their hearts might become proud, and they might begin to think that what they have is because of the power of their own hands. Perhaps the people of Israel were not much different than us.

Trusting in God’s provision is knowing that what we have is enough to find joy. True blessings have more to do with what we’ve been through than what we own.

One of the biggest challenges in our religious culture is “prosperity spirituality.” It is rooted in dissatisfaction and the idea that if I do more for God, God will do more for me. At times, it seems to be little more than an exaltation of my own desires.

God’s greatest desire is to instill gratitude in us, not reinforce our chronic anxiety for more. Perhaps contentment is a form of liberation.

Take some time in your journal to list your blessings. Try to focus less on what you have, including relationships and opportunities, and more on where you’ve been and what God has brought you through. Give praise to the great provider.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Praise is Something We Join

I was invited to write one week of devotionals for the 2011 edition of the "Upper Room Disciplines." The devotionals are based on the lectionary scriptures for a week in October. Here is one.

Thursday, October 13, 2011 – Read Psalm 99

Reading psalms differs from reading other scripture. We step onto the ongoing prayer path of generations, hopping onto a bandwagon of continual worship that went on long before us and will keep going long after we are gone. Singing and praying psalms takes us beyond surface feelings and our verbal comfort levels into a whole new world.

If we are honest, we might note that Psalm 99 is one that we are prone to skim or skip over. It envisions God enthroned on high. The earth shakes and the nations tremble. An awesomeness accompanies the name of God. It’s not that we don’t believe this; it’s just that we’ve heard it before. And some part of us would rather think of God as warm, fuzzy, and friendly.

But the more I pause to pray the psalm, the more it sensitizes my heart to the holy. It is curious that this week’s readings remind us of God’s presence hovering over a tent and appearing in brief glimpses. This psalm recalls that God spoke to Moses and Aaron in a pillar of cloud. An anonymous fourtheenth-century writer of Christian mysticism described God's presence as the "cloud of unknowing."

The psalmist moves our spirits from the smaller picture of our needs, our hopes, and our wants to the larger picture of God’s mysterious presence. We don’t praise God because we feel like praising but because God is God.

Perhaps praise is not something we do at all; it is something we join. The psalms have a mysterious way of unlocking the secrets of true gratitude by ushering us into the ongoing praise of all creation.

Take time to read and reread this psalm. Let the words sink in. Chant or sing it if you can, letting it become the song of your heart. Let God expand your perspective beyond the blessings and challenges in front of you to a sense of the holy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Grateful Heart (part 5)

I was invited to write one week of devotionals for the 2011 edition of the "Upper Room Disciplines." The devotionals are based on the lectionary scriptures for a week in October. Here is the fifth one.

Friday – Read 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

I can’t remember exactly when my blessing changed.

I have had a wonderful twenty-one years with my wife and children. We share table blessings as part of our daily time to eat together. I don’t always lead them. But I have fallen into a certain pattern when I do. It’s not a rhyme, but it flows from a simple, predictable outline.

A few years ago, however, I suddenly changed my typical prayer. Not only did I thank God for the food, our time together, and our many blessings, I began to pray that God would help us to be truly grateful people.

One of the most often quoted scriptures is “for God loves a cheerful giver.” (vs. 7) It has taken me years to understand that this is not some banal reminder to smile and be happy when you write a check. The translation of the Greek hilaros as “cheerful” doesn’t quite do it justice. One can guess, and quite accurately, that this is the root of the word “hilarious.” Paul is talking about more than rosy cheeks. Becoming people of gratitude is about cultivating a joy as deep as your last belly laugh.

The context of Paul’s phrase is that he is making arrangements to receive a generous gift from the church in Corinth for other Christians in need. He reminds them not to give out of some sense of obligation but to give what is on their hearts.

Paul promises that the one who “supplies seed to the sower and bread for food” will provide not only the gifts but a new spirit within, which he calls the “harvest of your righteousness.” (vs. 10) Then he says “the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.” (vs. 12)

Giving doesn’t just reflect our gratitude. It deepens it.

In prayer, imagine yourself lifting your own heart before God. Let it be your gift. Ask God to make it new.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Grateful Rebellion

I was invited to write one week of devotionals for the 2011 edition of the "Upper Room Disciplines." The devotionals are based on the lectionary scriptures for a week in October. Here is one.

Monday, Oct. 10, 2011 (Thanksgiving Day in Canada) - Read Luke 17:11-19

Jesus clearly tells all ten lepers to go and show themselves to the priests. In Jewish practice, these are not unusual instructions for those hoping to get well. So they embark on the journey but, surprisingly, experience cleansing en route.

Yet one Samaritan, ironically a foreigner but one that would know about ritual washing practices, turns back as soon as his skin clears. Jesus finds him lying at his feet and commends him.

True gratitude involves more than simply following instructions and mustering up an obligatory thank you. It is being overwhelmed with joy. All ten had experienced the same miracle of healing on the outside. Yet Jesus praised the one who was changed on the inside. “Your faith has made you well.”

We have a difficult time with gratitude because we live in a world of doing and accomplishing. We solve a problem and move on. We get the job done, and we’re on to the next task.

But the tenth leper reminds us that gratitude brings completeness to our healing. I love to worship is because it deepens the thankfulness of my heart, bringing an extraordinary wholeness to the grace I have received.

In a world of functionalism, we are called not just to do our part and follow the basic requirements. We are called to be in relationship with the One who makes us well.

When have you been overwhelmed with joy? Get in touch with memories and moments that have drawn you back to the feet of Christ. Give praise in a way that makes your joy more complete.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

With All That I Am and All That I Have

I was invited to write one week of devotionals for the 2011 edition of the "Upper Room Disciplines." The devotionals are based on the lectionary scriptures for a week in October. Here is the third one.

Saturday, October 15, 2011 – Read Matthew 22:15-22

Jesus said some strange things. At times, his words project the radical values of the kingdom of God. At other times, I wonder if he simply intended to stump his critics. W

hen he says “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (NIV) he is doing some of both. Jesus certainly knows the hypocritical attitude of those quizzing him about taxes. But he answers the question nevertheless.

It is hard to live from your center when people seem to be plotting against you! Yet Jesus does not couch his answer in a way that takes sides. Instead it spurred imaginative thought for generations. For Jesus, the way of gratitude boils down to a core question. How much of who we are belongs to God?

Gratitude is not a matter of tipping God for services rendered or volunteering a portion of our time. Our giving reflects our living. My favorite phrase in the wedding liturgy is spoken at the exchange of rings: “With all that I am and all that I have, I honor you.” We might best direct that phrase to the one that gives us life itself.

Many commitments occupy a role of importance in daily life, spanning everything from family to church, from community to career, from nation to denomination. Jesus’ saying on taxes ironically holds both sides of a proverbial coin in tension. It is not that we can only serve one or the other commitment. The question is how we honor God in the midst of all our commitments.

Giving is a spiritual discipline that cultivates a grateful heart. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:34) We do not give only to change the world. Our giving also changes us.

Take time to meditate over your checkbook, credit card statement, or bank account. How might you live in a way that honors God more completely? Pray for renewal.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Continually Remembering Before God

I was invited to write one week of devotionals for the 2011 edition of the "Upper Room Disciplines." The devotionals are based on the lectionary scriptures for a week in October. Here is one.

Friday, October 14, 2010 - Read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-3

I was leading a Bible study in which participants discussed different forms of prayer. As we approached the subject of intercession, a woman exclaimed, “I don’t get anything out of praying for other people. It doesn’t do any good, so why bother? God knows what they need.”

I mustered a response, reminding the class that many people find this way of prayer rewarding. But I admit her comment caught me off guard - many of us miss out on the joys of intercessory prayer. I am also aware that her doubts resonate with where I have been many times along the way.

Paul helps my doubtful stance. Paul opens his letter with gratitude by telling the Thessalonians that he and his companions “continually remember before our God” (NIV) their faithfulness. This idea of persistent remembering captures the spirituality of intercession.

I recall the humorous experience of hearing someone pray for the sick, making sure to mention their hospital room numbers. What if we thought of prayer not as giving God information which God already knows, but as “continually remembering before God” those we pray for?

It is difficult in a culture fixated on functionalism to fathom such mystery. I find that it helps to move intercessory prayer beyond words. At times, I envision lifting those I am praying for into holy light to receive healing and blessing.

This week we have spent time with Moses, the greatest of intercessors. He boldly remembered before God all that God had promised! He interceded not to give God information but to embrace a profound truth. Prayer makes a difference for others; but in our praying, we are also changed. Lifting up others is an essential part of our journey toward gratitude.

Spend some time remembering before God others who you long to pray for. Imagine lifting them into God’s healing light.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The "High Five" Benediction

Some of the kids at church never cease to entertain me and teach me about life.

On Sunday, I was closing the morning service by moving down the aisle in typical fashion, making my benediction with the traditional raised hand. I saw it in his eyes before it happened.
Liam was sitting at the end of the row and he lit up as I approached. His hand went up to match mine. In a split second, I knew exactly what was on his mind. You guessed it. I "high fived" him as I finished the words of my benediction.
And why not? Why not play as we do the work of liturgy? Why not be fully present with people where they are, connecting with them? Why not let worship come alive as we are available for "holy play"?
I'm so thankful to be a part of a church that "high fives."