Friday, April 18, 2014

4 Things the Bible Teaches about Gratitude by Chris White

 So the story goes that there was a rumor floating around Oxford University that Rudyard Kipling was such a great author he was paid one schilling per word (about 8 cents US currency).  As a prank, some of the students wrote a letter to Kipling enclosing a schilling with a note reading "send us one of your words".  Kipling promptly replied with a hand-written note.  When the students opened the envelope, on a single piece of paper was the word "thanks."

  Thanks, thanksgiving, gratitude, appreciation.  These words have long been the province of religion and philosophy but now are even commonplace in psychology and self-help circles as the value of gratitude is seen to have a beneficial effect on mood and well-being.  In the context of Christianity, gratitude of the heart is actually a commandment because thankfulness to our Creator and Lord is a rich component of worship.  In this article I would like to share 4 things the Bible teaches about being thankful and how a gracious spirit of gratitude can be cultivated even is a season of depression or difficult circumstance.

   First of all, know that God wants our eyes upon Him because He is the chief reason we should be grateful.  The Lord is the giver of all good gifts in our lives.  We should be grateful for the blessings we receive but we should never separate the gift from the giver.  In his excellent audio series on heaven, author and teacher Randy Alcorn reminds us that God desires us to be excited about being in heaven with all its delights, but not the exclusion of being excited about being with Him.  All parents love giving things to their children they know will be appreciated and enjoyed, but would never want their child to only appreciate the gift.  They want to be appreciated and loved as well.

   In a rather chilling prophecy given by Moses, we read that Israel, whom God was giving a land of milk and honey (great prosperity in agricultural terms), would eventually have to be chastened by having their prosperity removed because the gift became more important than the giver: “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, lacking everything ( Deut. 28:47-48).” It’s important to appreciate the good things in our lives, but the things should never be appreciated above the One who supplies them.

  Secondly, the Lord would have us remember Him and be grateful even in the hard places.  As Paul wrote the Thessalonian church:  give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess 5:18).”  This has echoes from Job who said to his wife that God is to be praised not only when good comes our way but also adversity (2:10).  Choosing to give thanks to God on a dark day is what one author calls looking towards the sun.  One can choose to turn their face to the shadows of hard circumstance, but that is all they will see.  When you turn towards the light of God, the shadows will diminish because they are behind you.

   Matthew Henry,  the  beloved 18th century preacher and Bible commentator, was once accosted by thieves and robbed of his purse.  Following this harrowing event he wrote in his diary:  Let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.  Sometimes we just need to be grateful that what happened to us wasn’t as bad as it could have been!  The true reason we continue to be grateful even in trials is that we know God is who orders every one of our days and therefore even our suffering is part of His good plan of growing us up and making us more fruitful as His servants.

   Thirdly, the spirit of gratitude in our lives can be cultivated by what we let captivate our hearts and minds.  In his letter to the Colossian church, Paul instructs “ Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (3:16).”  The early church was a singing church as well as being dedicated to the study of the apostles.  What is striking my heart here is the powerful synergy that exists between singing and memory.  I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t remember the “ABC” song they were taught in kindergarten.  Some people I know, now in advanced age, continue to refer to this childhood song when they are trying to alphabetize files.  Singing praise and worship songs, especially ones that are based entirely on scripture, enable you to memorize the truth about God’s love and glorious person and also the hope we should take in our relationship with him.

   Having recently experienced a great trauma in my personal life, I have found my mind wandering into some very dark and unhealthy places especially when I am alone such as my commute to work or now that I am in middle age, most every night when I lay in bed awake after having gotten up to go to the bathroom.  It has been surprising to find what often consoles me and bubbles up are praise and worship songs.  Some of these songs I have been singing for years but they were not necessarily that meaningful to me.  Now they have become quite poignant and comforting.

   Psychologists and self-help experts have long practiced the use of ‘positive affirmations’ to heal the mind and body of negative thinking and to spur on personal growth.  Although the practice has some naysayers, for the most part it is a respected tool because of its overall effectiveness.  In a way, the singing of hymns and spiritual songs by a Christian is an affirmation process on steroids.  The focus is turned towards the real source of any hope or strength we can have in this life: God himself.  Which brings me to my final point.

   The ability to have a heart of gratitude is resourced in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  This is what Paul speaks of in Philippians 4:12-13: “ I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.   I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  A very important point is made here.  It is not a denial of desire or need that the Christian strives to attain.  The secret of contentment then is not having fewer needs, although this can be an honest by-product of a lean period, but rather that Christ shall give the strength necessary to live joyfully even if one is wanting for something.  Of course we would do well to not exaggerate our neediness, for too often we mistake our personal greed for a need and this is not something that is gracious in the sight of God.  But the main point is God shall supply the strength we need to live in the day of blessing and the day of adversity.  We need not worry about conjuring up an attitude of gratitude but rather trust and lean into the strength the Lord has graciously provided.  Remember, the Lord may require you to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, or doubt, or depression, or deprivation, but He will never ask you to do it apart from the grace of His Spirit.  That, in itself, is something for which to be grateful.

   One author has made the piercing observation that the only difference between a monastery and a prison is the spirit of griping or gratitude.  Imprisoned criminals tend to spend every waking moment griping about their condition; while self-imprisoned saints (in a monastery) spend most of their day giving thanks to God.  However, if a criminal becomes a saint and begins offering thanks all the time, his prison becomes for him a monastery; and a saint who gives up thanksgiving, his monastery becomes its own form of a prison.  As Victor Frankl wrote, our ultimate freedom as human beings is to choose our attitude about our present circumstances.  God would have you to choose the freedom and well-being that accompanies a heart of thanksgiving.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Lessons from the Tabernacle of the Wilderness Pt. 10 by Chris White

“If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Jn.13:8

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 Jn. 1:9

The bronze laver stood between the altar and the tent of meeting in the Tabernacle complex.  It was a special wash-basin because it was made of polished metal that acted as a mirror.  This would allow the priests to inspect themselves and make certain that they were fully cleansed from all stains of blood from the altar before entering into the holy place.  As the tabernacle depicts Christ, the laver is a reminder that Jesus was a perfect man without spot or blemish and therefore a perfect sacrifice before the Father on the cross.  As it depicts the Christian life, the laver reminds us of baptism.  After responding to the Cross (which is represented by the bronze altar of sacrifice), the believer is to be washed in the waters of baptism.  Like the priests who became stained through their work, we too become stained with sin as we walk in the world.  We don’t need to return to the altar, but rather the laver.  After baptism we are cleansed through confession of sin and the “washing of water with the word..(Eph. 5:26).”  One of the oldest questions of humanity is “Can mankind be just before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker? (Job 4: 17).  In the cross of Christ and the continuing process of the Spirit sanctifying the believer, the answer to this is yes and amen.
In closing this series on the Tabernacle of the Wilderness I am reminded of Jesus’ words in Revelation 1:8 “I am the Alpha and Omega who was and is and is to come.”  The tabernacle was pitched in the very center of Israel’s encampment in the wilderness.  If you could look at it’s furnishings from the altar to the ark of the covenant from above, you would see they are arranged in the form of a cross.  Furthermore, the gate always faced east which is the direction from which our day and hence our lives begin.  There is no back exit for the sun to set on, because in Christ, life is without end.  Death is merely a transition from earth’s pilgrimage in the wilderness to the wonderful communion we will share in the City of God.  May Christ be at the heart and center of your great pilgrimage until then!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Lessons from the Tabernacle of the Wilderness Pt. 9 by Chris White

“And you shall make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits wide; the altar shall be square and its height shall be three cubits.” Ex. 27:1

“..I am the way, the truth, and the life; and no man comes to the Father but through me.”
                                                                                                                        Jn. 14:6

Last time we looked at the brazen altar of the tabernacle and how it points us to the cross of Jesus as the beginning and very foundation of the Christian life.  Another important aspect of this altar was its placement and accessibility.  God was very purposeful in his design of the tabernacle.  There was a fabric and post fence all around the Tabernacle complex that was high enough you couldn’t look over the top.  But more importantly there was only one entrance.  This meant that both the priests and the people had to come in the same way and the first thing they saw was the altar.  According to Jesus, He is the only way, truth, and life.  There is no other path to God and no other means of approaching God than through the sacrifice of Christ.  For New Testament believers the cross is our altar and should be “front and center” in our thinking.  Much confusion in the hearts of Christians about their lives would be dispelled if the cross and its purpose were considered more regularly.  Another point worth making is that the altar was placed closest to the outside world.  This speaks of accessibility.  Jesus’ sacrifice is accessible to all people no matter their race or station in life.  Although it is profound, the Gospel is a simple message for a purpose.  God wants salvation easily accessible to all who know they are lost and want to be saved.  Next Time: The Laver

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lessons from the Tabernacle of the Wilderness Pt. 8 by Chris White

“And you shall make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits wide; the altar shall be square and its height shall be three cubits.” Ex. 27:1

“..and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”  Eph. 5:2

We have now moved from inside the tabernacle to its outer court and its furnishings.  While all parts of the tabernacle teach us about Christ, they also tell us about the phases of Christ’s ministry and perhaps even something about our own spiritual chronology.  The outside court around the tabernacle focuses on the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ.  There the brazen altar of sacrifice, and the laver or washbasin are reminders of the front and center accomplishments of the first advent.  Atoning sacrifice and the removal of sin’s defilement were front and center during Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Inside the tent the furnishings remind us of Christ’s ministry after His ascension-that of intercession, guidance, and provision of the Spirit to His Church.  Finally, in the Holy of Holies is pictured the second advent of Christ where earth, heaven, God, and redeemed humanity will all be fully reconnected and in a state of glorification as God is now.  These differing areas also remind us of a spiritual chronology all believers share.  Our entrance is always at the altar of Christ’s sacrifice and by his teaching we are washed clean.  But as we continue in Christ we have fellowship with Him by the Spirit and grow in prayer and His illuminations of our heart.  And finally, we too go through the veil following the steps of Jesus where we enter the blessings of the heavenly realm and the fullness the fullness of God.  Though there are many phases, there is but one life and it all begins at the foot of the Cross.  Next time: The Brazen Altar Pt. 2

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Lessons from the Tabernacle of the Wilderness Pt. 7 by Chris White

“Moreover, you shall make an altar as a place for burning incense; you shall make it of acacia wood.”   Ex. 30:1

“Let our voices rise like incense, Let them be as sweet perfume. Let our praises fill the temple, Hallelujah's ringing ever new.” –song by Linda Whitmer-Bell

So universal is the perfumer’s craft that it should not surprise us to find incense offerings in a great many of the world’s religions.  In the ancient world, a world without loads of public sanitation and a definitive lack of bathing facilities, incense and perfumes were a practical, valued, and widely traded commodity.  The incense that was used in the tabernacle was a special formulation given by the Lord that was not to be copied or used outside the tent upon pain of death.  Two of the elements in this compound, frankincense and myrrh, are well-known to us because of their presence in the birth narratives of Christ.  The other two elements, Onycha and Galbanum, are well-known to the world of perfuming.  Onycha comes from the membrane of a particular sea snail that was used in making many types of perfumes in the orient.  Galbanum is the sap of a wild fennel plant which is believed to have healing properties.  Many have undertaken to find spiritual significance in each of these elements and rightly so, but I would focus the one thing they all share in common: to create them living things must be crushed, bled, and lose their life.  Does this remind you of anyone?  “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed (Is. 53:5).”  Also this incense is of the non-combustible type meaning it doesn’t burn of its own, but rather is placed on a fire to be consumed.  This should remind us that the power, privilege, and prerequisite of prayer is not founded in our great faith and eloquence, but rather because of our relationship to the Savior whose sacrifice reconciles us to God.  Next time: The Brazen Altar