Before there can be Thanksgiving, there needs to be ThanksReceiving. But ThanksReceiving is actually harder than we think. To receive something is obviously a breeze. Hold out your hands and enjoy. But to truly give thanks, from the depths of your heart and not the syrupy plastic thanks, is an act of dependence and humility. It is putting the gift-giver in a place of honor and reverence, which by definition puts us “below” and somehow “in need”, which is about the last place we all want to be. It’s too vulnerable. Too childlike. Too helpless.
But this place of dependence is one of the cornerstones of the Gospel. As long as we believe that we aren’t in shocking and paralyzing need of Jesus and his Grace, we don’t really get the unfathomable extent of Jesus’ love and gift to us. We believe that, at least to some extent, we don’t really need THAT much grace and forgiveness; we need God’s gift of forgiveness, redemption and life, but not as much as _______. (see Jesus parable in Luke 18 about a Pharisee that thanks God he isn’t like these other people.)
In truth, the Gospel is so much better than we think. The gift is so so much bigger and more valuable than we realize. And as we realize this truth, we are drawn deeper and deeper into honest, worshipful passionate thanks-giving. But Thanksgiving only comes after ThanksReceiving as we hold our needy hands open to the Gift God has given.
2 Corinthians 4:15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
Does God Care?
Does God care? Really care?
In Mark 9 we get a powerful and liberating story about a dad in dire desperation. His son had been berated by the demonic his whole life, throwing him into epileptic seizures. He tried to get the disciples to heal the boy, but they couldn’t. So in a panic, he broke through a crowd to beg Jesus for help….
And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
This dad asks for two things:
1) Have compassion. It isn’t enough for God to be powerful, we need to know that he deeply cares for us. Not just generally for the “world” but for me. For my problems. For my hurts. For my fears amidst my faithlessness.
2) Help. It also isn’t enough for Jesus “just” to care. He has to be able to do something about it. There’s plenty of folks in my life that care about my problems, but don’t have the power to truly and practically do anything about them.
So I need both. A God who Cares and a God who Helps. And both of these desperate needs became incarnate and displayed in the person of Jesus. Because God has a perfect Fatherly compassion (a deep, gut-level ache for us), he denied himself and sent his Son. He put us over himself; our needs over his position; our life over his. And intermingled with his love is the ultimate powerful help. First for our very souls and relationships (foremost our relationship with Him). But secondly for our lives this side of heaven. Jesus didn’t just tell them to suck it up and focus on heaven. He met them in their mess and healed the son by driving out the darkness that oppressed him.
And ultimately that’s exactly what the cross is about. The Father perfectly drove out our darkness by absorbing it and “being thrown down” like the boy…only to the point of death, so that death and the demonic will no longer have control over us. Yes, we will be die. And yes, we will be influenced by the demonic. But all believers have the Holy Spirit inside of us, replacing any other spirit that wants to get in. And this indwelling Spirit doesn’t cast us down but lifts us up; doesn’t try to destroy but successfully resurrects, which is the word used of what Jesus did to the boy.
…everybody knows your name.
Mark 5:25b-28 “And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”
Can can’t even imagine the life of this woman. For 12 years she had ongoing “bleeding” which, according to the old church code, meant that she was “unclean” and unable to touch or be touched, lest the other person be declared “unclean” as well. She was a total outcast and tried everything, going to every expense to be freed from this state of loneliness and ostracism. But things only got worse. So, in a last ditch effort with a cocktail of superstition and faith, she pushed her way (making everybody unclean that she came into contact with) stretched out her hand to simply touch Jesus.
Desperation. Shame. Hopelessness.
Where have you experienced this?
Modernity tells us to not be ashamed about anything. There is no right or wrong.
Classic religion tells us that Jesus is enough, but that you sin made baby Jesus cry and you ought to be ashamed of yourself.
So where do you go with it? How do you deal with your shame?
Run. Pretend. Defend. Fight.
What if, instead you simply reached for Jesus?
Instead of ignoring it. Instead of drowning in it.
Owning it and being transformed by it.
Shame comes from a shattered and humiliating identity. When my identity is the summation of what others think about me, then what is inside of me (and comes out of me in ugly actions) will bring me utter shame (a broken identity). But when my identity comes from Jesus and my public identity has been crucified on the cross with him, then my shame has been paid for and my adopted identity secured.
Hebrews 12:2 “…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Let’s finish the Mark 5 story:
5:29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
Jesus took her tiny, faulty belief, and blessed her. He not only healed her physically (which shows that he cares about our humanity), but also gave her PEACE! He restored her soul. Her heart. Her life.
And isn’t that what we are really looking for? Peace. A unified wholeness of self under his tender compassionate reign.
And that’s what he offers you and me. Take your shame to him. Your brokenness. Your shattered public identity. Your personal shame where you have shattered your private identity.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
This has been one of my favorite passages in Scripture for a long time. In it we see so much power, beauty and intimacy in the Trinity. In this passage we see all three persons of the Trinity in one place at one time for the first time since Creation in Genesis 1. This passage shows not only the intimacy between the Trinity, but also that he was re-creating creation in that moment. But this time the “new Adam” would not fail in the temptations and be sufficient to live the life we were required to live and die the death our sin requires of us. And it starts right here. At the scene of the Dancing King.
So look at that moment. Jesus the Son coming up out of the baptism waters; the Father speaking words of Hope over him; the Spirit like a dove coming not just over but INTO Jesus. This is how God works. Exists. Dancing in and around one another. And, for all who are in Christ, dancing over and in us. Inviting us to Dance with Him.
Here’s how C.S. Lewis puts it in Mere Christianity: “[Christians] believe that the living, dynamic activity of love has been going on in God forever and has created everything else. And that, by the way, is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: that in Christianity God is not an impersonal thing nor a static thing — not even just one person — but a dynamic pulsating activity, a life, a kind of drama, almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance”.
So what is that to me? Why would I care? Here is how C.S. Lewis speaks to that:
“And now, what does it all matter? It matters more than anything else in the world. The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made.”
We are invited to live a life of Spiritual Dance. Christianity isn’t about rule following or “just” being saved. It is about organic, rhythmic, relational, intimate, exciting (and sometimes dangerous) dance. Does that describe your relationship with Jesus? To be honest, it rarely describes mine…which beckons me to “repent” or dancing with the the wrong partner (but more on that in the next blog).
Just seeing that word…’anxiety’…it makes my heart beat just a tad bit faster. She (“anxiety”…and yes, it’s a she in my head) has been my nemesis, my arch-enemy, my Lex Luthor. One of my “gifts” is being able to vision and see down the road a good little ways. The shadow side of that is when I don’t see God on that potential horizon. Or, worse yet, I see God but He’s either too weak to help, or has a not-so-pleasant destination in store for me. And that ticks me off. And it makes me anxious.
So what is this so called “anxiety”? Here’s the main text I always gravitate toward:
…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I’ve “used” this passage over and over, trying to somehow achieve this elusive “peace” that I want so bad. But what IS anxiety?
As I dug down deep, I learned that anxiety isn’t that angst in my gut, but it (she) literally means “to be divided”. The actual problem is that I see down the road and I have a divided faith. On the one hand I believe that God is: 1) Present and there to help, 2) Wise, knowing how to help, 3) Loving, wanting to help, and 4) Powerful, able to help. But I ALSO don’t believe that. I do. And I don’t.
So what do we do about it? Paul tells the Philippians, who were facing real persecution and danger, to look up at Jesus rather than forward and “around” Jesus. To be “thankful” as we look back and see that throughout all of history God has always, always and always been faithful to bring his people through the desert. Not always how they might want to come through. But always through.
And this only comes in relationship. We can’t just USE God to have him make us feel better. It needs to be the organic back and forth of relationship as we learn that we can truly trust him.
Don’t take away my “man card”, but you can see this hopeful love in one of my favorite songs “Come What May” in Moulin Rouge.
Suddenly the world seems such a perfect place
Suddenly it moves with such a perfect grace
Suddenly my life doesn´t seem such a waste
It all revolves around you
And there´s no mountain too high
No river too wide
Sing out this song I´ll be there by your side
Storm clouds may gather
And stars may collide
But I love you until the end of time
The inconceivable hope that we have is in this word “Thanksgiving” — that word is literally “Good Grace”– the word Eucharist, which is what we call the Lord’s Supper. Communion. The solution to anxiety is the sacrifice of Jesus. Seeing Him and what he has done rather than the potential “what if’s” down the road. To realize that, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32).
So come along with me my friends. Battle this demon of anxiety with the satisfied and completed Hope that is Jesus.
Here is a link to the sermon I preached on this ridiculous hope.
13 I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!
14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
Psalm 27 finds David in the darkness of hardship. He’s being pursued and is afraid, betrayed and abandoned. But in the midst of the turmoil, he keeps turning to God as his provider and protector…to God to hide and protect him; to lift him up high.
Where do you turn when you are in the darkness? This Psalm can feel like just sappy placating; an effort to just try to make me feel better. But what if it’s true? What if God my Father really does hide me and lift me up? What does that look like and what do I do?
Despite being surrounded by the storm, David looked on the dark horizon for the sunrise, and was assured that he would once again “look upon” the God’s goodness. When I’m in my darkness, my head it pointed down and my hope is absent because I can’t “see it”. David’s first word to me is simple: Wait.
I hate that. I want the sun to rise right now. I want to see my hope. But often I can’t. So David’s next word is this: Be Strong. We aren’t called to a simple passive couch-waiting. We are called to actively wait. To dig deep and believe that the sun will rise. A great example of this is seen in Jesus’ followers. They stared at darkness for 3 days, seemingly losing hope in the promised revolution. An even greater example is Jesus himself. He was literally dead, the ultimate darkness. And he had to wait. Three days. We don’t know hardly anything about this period of time (did he descend to hell or not?), but we know that the end result was the ultimate sunrise (insert cheesy church “sonrise” here). And now, because of his perseverance we now have a living hope to get us through our darkness. Because he was strong, we can admit our weakness and receive his strength.
And this living hope leads to the next word David gives us: “Be Encouraged”. We can’t be strong enough in and of ourselves no matter what talk shows and self-help books tell you. We simply cannot grit our teeth enough and push our way through. We need the Holy Spirit using other people, His Word and miraculously Himself to infuse courage into us where we are weak and afraid.