Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving Thoughts

I used to assume that gratitude came bubbling to the surface when I was overwhelmed with wonderful things. However, since that hasn’t happened since I was five years old at Christmas, I’ve come to understand that giving thanks requires discipline on my part. I have to set aside my gloomy, grumpy thoughts, and deliberately list my blessings, and then maybe I’ll feel the gratitude.

Thanksgiving is also an expression of faith. The Bible instructs us to give thanks even while we express our concerns because we know that God will bring us through our struggles.

The hardest thing for me is giving thanks specifically FOR my hardships. I understand saying thank you for my blessings. I even understand expressing hope that I’ll be delivered from my struggles. But being thankful for illness, unemployment, the loss of a child, or a divorce? How do I say thank you to God for those things?

It helps when I look back on past issues with grief and sadness. I can see how the hardest, most humiliating moments actually defined me and made me a better man. But saying thank you while I’m crying is not something I’ve been able to do, so I guess that’s my growing edge.

Thanksgiving Day will be much easier. I’ll sit at a table full of good food and look around at my beautiful wife and handsome sons and maybe it will feel like Christmas when I was five and was so delighted with all I had gotten.

I wish the same for you this holiday.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The End is Near... Again

I just saw a brochure for a seminar on Revelation. It had lots of ominous quotes and promises of insight as to the end of the world, so we’ll be ready.

It gave me the same feeling as when an accountant offers to show how to prepare for a tax audit.

I have some respectful disagreement with many people’s understanding of apocalyptic literature. And I’m annoyed with books, seminars, and TV shows that ramp up our anxiety with their sensational but poor interpretations.

You can’t say that monsters described in Revelation are going to be tanks and helicopters. The antichrist is not going to be one specific person. And no one, not even Jesus, can pull out the calendar and point out the date when the end of the world will occur.

Look, bad things are going to happen. They’re happening now: wars, rumors of war, persecution, false teachers, etc. There’s nothing unusual or unexpected about that. But Jesus says that on the other side of our tribulations there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Things will glisten with newness and the glory of God will ring out through the cosmos.

There are many ways of looking at last things. But we can agree on some basic thoughts. Everything that went wrong will be made right. The wicked will have been defeated. The righteous will be vindicated. A shout of victory will sound.

How we get there, when we get there, it will be worth it. We will have won. It’s something we look forward to, not worry about.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Moving Mountains

You can read about the following event in Mark 11.

The day before had been big. I mean BIG.

First, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and was greeted by thousands of people, who waved their palm branches, laid down their cloaks in a kind of red carpet treatment, and shouted their allegiance to their next king.

Then Jesus entered the temple courtyard and chased the liars and cheats who swindled people in the name of God. The people cheered again that their champion overturned the tables of the moneychangers and drove out the overpriced livestock.

Could the disciples even sleep that night? If they did, what might they have dreamed about? The magnitude of possibilities must have been almost frightening.

And maybe that was a problem.

You know what they talked about the next morning? A fig tree.

Jesus had cursed it the day before for not having produced its fruit and by the next morning it had shriveled and died. “Wow,” they marveled. “Look at what you did, Jesus.”

That’s what they wanted to talk about? A dying fig tree?

Not the crowds. Not the showdown with the temple officials. A tree.

Jesus said, “THAT what impresses you? You’re going to see and do much bigger things. One day you’ll be able to level mountains if you have enough faith.”

I think the problem most of us have with such a sweeping promise is that we don’t actually want to move mountains. Doing the big things requires commitment on our part (that’s part of the faith).

We’d rather focus on fig trees. Little stuff. Things that we can fit in our budget and spare time (whenever that is).

Faith to move mountains requires a shift in commitment and the calendar. It requires thought and imagination. It requires people to work together (that’s why in the next sentence Jesus talked about forgiveness.).

But moving mountains does something for us. It keeps us from being bored. It gives us a purpose. And perhaps we get satisfaction in knowing that we’re participating in something bigger than ourselves.

What would you rather do? Move a mountain or curse a dying fig tree?