As we say goodbye to Thanksgiving, I wanted to reflect on something that Sarah and I have discovered that has greatly improved the gratitude in our house. It is the discovery of a link between taking responsibility and being grateful. This may seem very simple, but it has had a profound effect on the peace, joy, and love in our household.
Taking responsibility is always a tough thing. It tends to go very much against our human nature. We tend to be self-centric, motivated by what works best for us, feels good for us, and is easiest. Taking reponsibility tends to move us away from ourselves and towards others. It can be uncomfortable and disconcerting. Stage one responsibility is tough enough. It requires us to own up to our mistakes and actions. It causes us to own the consequences of our actions or inactions, whether intended or not. While this is basic, it is not easy. Many a politician is incapable of doing this first step, especially without an accompanying explanation of why it really wasn't all their fault.
Stage two responsibility is even harder and therefore more rare. It is taking responsibility for that which is not your fault or even techically your problem. This is what Jesus did with us as He took responsibility for our sin, paying for what we did wrong. It wasn't at all His fault yet He took full responsibility for fixing a problem we caused. That's advanced responsibility taking!
So, how can that change a family dynamic and encourage thanksgiving? In our home, Sarah and I have begun working to really look at everything that needs to be done in the house as our personal responsibility. Dishes need to be washed? That's on me. Floor need to be swept? Mine. You get the idea. While that makes for an uncomfortable amount of responsibility, but then here is what happens next. When someone else does ANYTHING in the house, they have actually done one of my jobs. This makes me very grateful. Instead of thinking that its about time my wife took care of something, I am relieved that she was able to take care of that before I got to it. I am so grateful.
Just today wood needed to be brought in and the garbage needed to be taken out. I put both on my list of things I needed to get done today. Before I got that far on the list, my wife went ahead and got them done. I was filled with thankfulness and my wife was happy because she was also taking responsibility. This has changed the attitude in our house a lot. Instead of being frustrated over what isn't done yet, you take responsibility. We are more patient, more understanding, more grateful for what is accomplished, and more gentle with each other because after all, everything is our responsibility.
Now that is not to say that we are perfect in that attitude yet, but it is progress and one that we are working on teaching our children. They will struggle with it as much as we do because they are as selfish as we are. As we close off the Thanksgiving weekend, in all areas of your life, look around at your house, your church, your work, and see things as your responsibility, no matter what has been assigned to you. Realize that you are called to be a servant and see it all as your work. You will find yourself being less critical, more grateful, and more understanding with all those around you. It will take work, but that's responsible!
It has been a bit of a rough week for me. I have struggled with some of the strongest discouragement and the heaviest heart I have had in a very long time (years). Throughout this week, God has ministered to me. On Wednesday I met with one of the deacons for 15 minutes. The wisdom, love, truth and grace spoken into my heart in those 15 minutes got me through a busy day of ministry.
Yesterday I was struggling with the sermon for this Sunday. It wasn't working right and I was pretty sure that I was following my spirit much more than the Holy Spirit but I needed help to navigate because my own emotions can get in my way. I spent 20 minutes on the phone with a dear Christian brother. We went over the sermon together. He brought correction, gentle admonition, Biblical guidance and teaching, and grace to me. I cried as he prayed with me. Phone call over, new sermon written. This one is the Lord's. Grace & peace.
Today I got a phone call from Pastor Cliff. He asked if he could meet with me. I was going to be coming home past his house and told him I would come by. I spent probably 30 minutes there. He ministered the Word to me, with grace and love. Made me cry again, but out of joy and such a feeling of love.
As I left Cliff's today, I thought of Timothy & Paul. Paul was the older, experienced saint who was teaching. Timothy the younger pastor in charge of teaching a crop of new men. Paul the mentor, Timothy the mentee. Listen to Paul speak to Timothy, his younger student.
(1 Timothy 1:2) to Timothy, a true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
I write this to you, Timothy, the son I love so much. All the best from our God and Christ be yours! I write this to you, Timothy, the son I love so much. All the best from our God and Christ be yours! Every time I say your name in prayer--which is practically all the time--I thank God for you, the God I worship with my whole life in the tradition of my ancestors. I miss you a lot, especially when I remember that last tearful good-bye, and I look forward to a joy-packed reunion. That precious memory triggers another: your honest faith--and what a rich faith it is, handed down from your grandmother Lois to your mother Eunice, and now to you! And the special gift of ministry you received when I laid hands on you and prayed--keep that ablaze! (2 Timothy 1:2-6)
You've been a good apprentice to me, a part of my teaching, my manner of life, direction, faith, steadiness, love, patience, troubles, sufferings--suffering along with me in all the grief I had to put up with in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. And you also well know that God rescued me! (2 Timothy 3:10-11)
How wonderful must it have been to have Paul loving on you, guiding you, teaching you, and exhorting you. As I sat with Cliff today, I was deeply moved by how blessed I am. He is a man of God with decades of not just experience, not even just wisdom, but of gentle faithfullness. He reaches out to me, he teaches me, he constantly seeks to build me up and encourage me. I can say that in knowing him and being mentored by him for over 20 years that he has never once hurt me although he has corrected me many a time and helped me see when I was heading the wrong direction. So many pastors do not have such an incredible gift as that.
I am DEEPLY THANKFUL for Pastor Cliff Olsen. I hope that one day I might grow in stature, knowlege, and love to be like him. I'm not there yet I'll tell you right now. I am blessed. Thank you Lord for allowing this man in my life!
"The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?
As I get older, I have to be more concerned with heart disease and proper care of my heart. What I am becomming more and more aware of is that spiritually I have a congenital heart disease that presents a great danger to my spiritual life. I'm guessing you do to. Like the plaque that can block my physical vessels, this disease is sometimes very hard to detect until it builds up and then it may be too late. I am speaking of course about Pride.
Pride is an interesting thing. For many Christians, it is a fairly safe thing to talk about because we identify pride as the stuck-on-themselves, boastful, arrogant bores that think they're better than the rest of us. We aren't like that. We are very aware that we're not perfect, we seek to be modest and a bit humble. We know to avoid going on Kayne West and proclaiming ourselves the best and brightest. You just don't do that. See, no heart disease here, I feel fine! But wait, there it is. A simple word, but one that can be an important early indicator of heart issue. "I". Pride builds up in subtle and almost invisible ways. Being a very nice person can really hide an "I Heart". An "I heart" is your factory default setting. To see if that is still there, look to what your reaction is when you are worried, scared, threatened, or hurt. Concern for others get's pushed back a little and you defend yourself. You are worried about YOU. This doesn't look like pride, because no boasting is involved, but suddenly it is very hard to see past you. "I" is in the center. Insult the church down the block and I may be pleasantly apologetic. Insult the church I pastor and suddenly I'm making excuses and explanations and defense. Yup, "I".
When we move beyond that, there is another way pride sneaks past us and begins to build up. This one can be even more hard to notice. I call it "Others Heart". This one can't be pride can it? After all, aren't we supposed to put others before ourselves? Yes, Biblically (but saying that leaves out a point. More in a minute). The problem is which "Others" we choose. This is where my wife, my kids, my friends come in. Much like my example about churches, let's talk about kids. If you want to point out the problems with a child, I'm ready to listen and to talk about (lovingly of course) where that parent went wrong. What that parent ought to do. Now point out the problem with my kids. I will not deny the problem, but let me explain... Oh, there it is. It is pride. Why am I gentler with my own, well because they are MY kids. The difference is in "I". The problem is that although I am giving myself to others, I am now invested in others and therefore have pride at stake in the others. My heart looks less selfish, but this is still ultimately about me. I will tell you right now that this is a major struggle for me because I love my kids and I am hugely loyal to my friends.
God is trying to break my sick heart. He's probably after yours too. First step to to break a heart open, to tear out the "I" and "Others" that are naturally in there. Jesus called this dying to self. To lose one's life. To love Him more than Father or Mother. This is really hard. It is often only through tough times and conflict that He can even get me to see the "I's" and "Others" that have taken the seat of my heart.
So what are we to do. It is too simple to simply say that we need to let Christ rule in our hearts. It is the answer, but it is too easy to simply say it and move on. What does it mean to allow Christ to rule in your heart? I am still learning so I cannot claim to have this down or to be an expert, but here is what I have observed so far. It means constantly, daily, being aware of just how much a sinner I am. I am not talking about how much I sin any given day. Measuring the amount of sinful actions is a great way to get pride. Realizing that even if you didn't have any big sinful actions today and are still the worst kind of sinner is a much better start.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. (Romans 7:18)
Paul the apostle makes it clear. There's nothing good in there. So when you see someone bad off in sin and you see them as worse than you, it means you quietly see yourself as better off, in other words, you've got some good. No you don't! David, after being made to see his sin with Bathsheba, didn't focus on what sins he had committed but instead stated, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. " (Psalms 51:5). His point is that he has been a sinner since the womb. He was born that way, and so was I. So were you.
When I stay in that truth and realize that only Christ's daily grace, His Holy Spirit, His mercy produces anything in me, I start being able to leave behind the subtleties of pride. When I see someone deep in sin and realize that they are just like me, that the only thing that separates me from the worst sinner is God's forgiveness, God's righteousness, and God's mercy.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Now I go a step further to make sure that I am keeping Christ in the center of my heart. Christ is strong when I am weak, so when I look at myself, whether aloud or in my own eyes, I need to focus on, and dwell in my weakness.
And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
Now perhaps I am moving toward having Christ dwell in my heart. I am focused on what He has done, not what I have done with Him, for Him, because of Him, or in His service. I am nothing. Without Him I can do NOTHING. So really, I am nothing, I am an adopted kid with inherited righteousness and the glory for that goes to God. There is no one on this planet worse than me and no one that I can look down on. When I find myself doing that, or acting out of my own person, I must realize that the ever present pride has again begun to clog up my heart. This is a big battle and one that I personally am not winning yet. Oh may I continue to recognize my own weakness and let the love of Christ live in me richly!
"Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold. (Matthew 24:12)
I've been detecting a cooling trend. Now it is true that this morning the house was cold and the shower of leaves in the backyard tells me that winter is on the way, but that is not what is on my heart and mind. It is a cooling of hearts that seems to have crept into the Body of Christ. I notice it very clearly on my Facebook feed and it concerns me. Cold hearts. I'm not talking about an increasingly sinful world or the blatant lawlessness of our culture. I'm talking about the response to that by Christians, Christ-followers, the ones of whom Christ himself said, ""By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35). and "Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law." (Romans 13:8). As seen in the opening verse, as lawlessness increases in the build up toward the return of Christ, many will abandon Agape Love.
I watch this many days on my Facebook feeds as people I know as leaders in their churches or other ministries rail against society, sinners, and political opponents. Don't believe in gun rights? Condemned. Supporter of Obama? Condemned. Welfare? Don't get them started. I watch the president spoken of in incredible disrespectful terms and open mockery. It doesn't matter that New Testament writers living under the depravity of Roman emperors told us to honor such leaders by virtue of their position, No Matter their qualifications. We don't obey leaders over God, we don't have to support unjust, unBiblical, unethical decisions, but none of that requires treating others with contempt.
"But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God;" (James 3:8-9)
Often times this railing against things is defended by those doing it as fervancy for God and a hatred for sin. It is passion for God. The problem is that Paul stated clearly, "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. " (1 Corinthians 13:1-2). Ok, wait a minute Hall, you are talking about enemies. I see Obama as a fraud, those gay rights activists, those gun control people are trying to take away my rights. They are the enemy.
"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? "If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:43-47)
I fear that the love of many has grown cold because of lawlessness. We are upset by the decay of the world, the rampant sin. It makes us upset, angry, and we abandon the agape love of God and condemn the world for its sin. We do this in the name of Christ, forgetting that Jesus said, "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. " (John 3:17)
"But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36)
Has your love grown cold? When you get on Facebook, when you are with your nice Christian friends, is it easy to be so disgusted by the very sinful world we live in that you forget the grace and mercy shown to all of us dirty rotten sinners? Is it easy to publicly (I consider Facebook public) condemn, insult, roast those with whom you disagree with politically and omit the loving offer of grace that is part of what it means to be Christ-like?
I know that we live in a pagan society, but I look at Daniel & his friends, Nehemiah, Esther, and Joseph who all served leaders who were throuroughly pagan. How did they conduct themselves? When Jesus was ministering, Israel was under the occupation and domination of Rome. Roman emperors weren't known for their faith, constitutionality, or godliness, yet Jesus told people to pay their taxes. Consider what Peter teaches us about Jesus and our own conduct.
"Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. Servants, For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;" (1 Peter 2:13-23)
As I said at the outset, I am dismayed by the tone of my Facebook feed. I may have to hide some of my dear Christian brothers because I am tired of watching cursing, vitriol, sarcasm, anger, and impatience directed to enemies we are commanded to love. Tongues used to curse men created in the image of God. Voices raised not to proclaim the offer of grace, but to denounce and condemn sinfullness. I get it. The sin & lawlessness of this world gets to me too. I just don't want my love to grow cold. I don't want to give up on this sinful world before God does. "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. " (2 Peter 3:9)
Wow, these past three months represent the longest I have ever gone in not blogging since first starting the blog in 2008. I will tell you that I am frustrated and disgusted with myself for allowing so much time to pass without any entries. I can cite plenty of reasons for the drought, but none of them are sufficient to explain how I never found time to post ANYTHING. I just didn't get to it. One thing I have discovered is that once I fail to post for awhile, it actually gets harder to get back to it. I don't think I'm alone in that one. I've heard people say the same about going to church, or other good activities that you get out of habit of. You could but you just don't. So, I apologize for the terrible lapse. I am excited to get back to the blog this fall. I have been building a file of ideas that I want to blog about and I hope that they will be encouraging and challenging to you if you choose to read.
So, on this last day of September, I get an entry in for this month and look forward to a great fall. The Red Sox are in the playoffs, the Patriots are 4-0, Fall is off to a big start at church, and we're having great family times in the home. Here's to what I hope is a great October looking through the Pastor's Window.