Check the Tank

I have a question for you today:
How’s your gratitude tank?
Is the needle where it needs to be, buried past the full line?
Or is it sunk on the other side, lower than the E?

If salvation is your helmet and faith is your shield;
if truth is the belt that holds you together and your heart is covered in Christ’s righteousness;
if your feet are ready to take ground for the gospel and you are in the Word, sharpening that sword;
if prayer is the covering that ties all of the armor of God together –

– then gratitude is the oil that lubricates all of life.
The fluid that oozes through every crack, all of the joints, each of the hinges of your world;
that softens the friction that is the daily grind;
that allows the gears to keep turning the wheels of forward progress in the journey of faith.

It is much, much easier to allow the grit of your circumstances into the cracks
where it rubs and wears and irritates.

It is much, much easier to focus on what you lack, the holes in your life, what you are missing instead of fixing your gaze on all that you have, all that has been mended, all that you have been given.

I think that, perhaps, the opposite of gratitude is not ingratitude as much as it is bitterness.

We forget to be thankful.
And instead focus on our problems.
Which pulls our gaze from the Master and His goodness.
And makes us hone in on the temporal
The things that will fade
The stuff the will burn
The situations that irritate
The people that annoy
The circumstances that are challenging at best and devastating at worst.

And as our gaze lingers on what is wrong, that seed of ingratitude sends out tiny tendrils into our hearts
The beginnings of the root of bitterness
Fed by the fertilizer of comparison
And watered by a critical spirit and an unthankful heart

And suddenly, everything you have and everyone you know loses some of their luster, some of their glory, some of what you loved about them.

What once was a refreshing giggle turns into an irritating guffaw.
What once was a home you loved turns into a burden you carry.
What once was a precious bundle of unspeakable joy in your arms turns into a millstone around your neck.
What once was a cherished friendship turns into an obligation.

Because of the disappointment caused by sin – yours and others.
And the whispers of the enemy.
The truth that this life is filled with trials.
And the fact that sometimes God doesn’t make sense to us –
These pieces of grit, both large and small, impact the gears of our lives.
When they have not been washed away by gratitude or at least lubricated by the oil of joy that remembers the goodness of God even in the darkest times –
Then the gratitude tank is empty
And the roots of bitterness begin to grow.

We forget that we are incredibly blessed children of God
Joint heirs with Jesus
Clothed in righteousness
Bound for heaven
Created in the image of God
Designed for eternal things
Made for His purposes and His glory

We forget that Jesus willingly poured out his life in our place
Taking the guilty verdict that He did nothing to deserve
As well as the spit in his face, the punches and slaps, the mocking and the torture
That should have been ours

We forget that He said, “Forgive as I have forgiven you, not keeping track, not remembering wrongs but for MY sake, forgive them.”
We forget that He has lavished on us all that we NEED for life and godliness, lavished on us good gifts, and empowered us by His own Spirit, the very Breath of God in our lungs.
We forget that He has called us first to love
ALL people
Masked and unmasked
“Right” political party or “wrong” political party
Smelling of garbage or smelling of roses
With a history full of mistakes or one to be proud of

We forget that WE are loved like that
That while we were yet sinners, Christ died
That we have been saved ONLY by amazing grace
And that we are not any better than any other human on the planet

We forget that God has carved our names in His palm
That He rejoices over us with singing
That He calls us “Beloved” and “Mine”
We forget that this life is blip on the radar compared to the eternity that awaits
And we forget that we are no more or less worthy of His love than anyone else

There are none righteous.
There is no human perfection.
There is no one who deserves God’s love. His favor. His blessing.

And yet, if you are a Christ-follower, if you have been born a second time into the family of God, you have it.
His mercies new every morning.
His grace that is sufficient for every trial
His love pouring through you as a conduit so that you CAN love that person even when you CANNOT love that person.

You have all of that – and more.

So how’s that gratitude meter?
Do you need to repent of an ungrateful heart?
Do you need to rip out any roots of bitterness? Even the tiny tendrils? Especially the tiny tendrils?
Do you need to confess a lack of love for someone?
Do you need to refocus your gaze?

Here’s one more thing to be thankful for:
You don’t have to conjure up any of the love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness or self-control that you need in order to be grateful.
Those are fruit of HIS Spirit in you.
All you have to do is tell Him you want them.
Seek His face.
Seek His Kingdom and His glory.
Keep your eyes fixed on Him.
Making prayer like breathing.
Making His Word a continual feast.
If you will do that – fall in love with the God who loves you madly – He will do the rest.

And that, indeed, is something to be thankful for!

What Do YOU See?

He was trying to get to where God had called him to be.
Had started the journey weeks earlier.
But every time he turned around, there was a roadblock.
His friends thought this trip was a bad idea.
They even told him that God said it was a bad idea.
Or, at least, that God had shown them what fate awaited him at the end of the journey.
He traveled part of the way by ship – and that ship ran into a FOURTEEN-DAY storm before it was eventually shipwrecked.
Thankfully, it wrecked near an island and no lives were lost.
But then, on the island, he was bitten by a poisonous snake!

Have you figured out that the man was Paul?
He was heading for Rome.
Because he desperately wanted to share the good news of Jesus there.
You can read about his journey to get there in Acts 27 and 28.

But here’s the thing:
I fear that if we were to encounter as many obstacles today as Paul did then, our incredibly poor theology of suffering would have caused us to throw in the towel.
“There are so many roadblocks! This must not be the will of God!”
“If this was of the Lord it would be easier.”
“Look at these circumstances! God MUST be saying “no” to this.”

Our theological equations tend to run like this:
Good circumstances = Good God = this must be what He wants me to do.

But as I read my Bible there is only one part of that equation that is true.
God is a GOOD God.
Always.
No matter what my circumstances are.
He is a GOOD God.

And He has a good plan.

But in story after story in the Bible, His chosen ones, His heroes, the people He chose to record for our benefit, rarely enjoyed favorable circumstances.

I think of David.
Anointed by God to be the next king before he could shave.
And then things looked promising for that fulfillment!
He killed a giant in the name of the Lord.
Was shoulder tapped to play the harp for the current king.
Was beloved by the people.
Even married the king’s daughter!
But then, suddenly, he became a fugitive.
Forced to hide out for YEARS in the wilderness and among the enemies of God’s people.
Hunted.

By today’s theology, he was out of the will of God. Or in sin. Or he hadn’t given enough tithes and offerings. Or God didn’t love him. Or was against him.
All of that was untrue!
David was in the CENTER of the will of God even while he ran for his life.
Even when he was camping out in caves instead of reclining in the palace.

Or I think of the disciples.
How many times did Jesus say to them, “Get in the boat” and then a storm came?
Sometimes when Jesus was with them; sometimes when he was still on shore.
But more than once, the center of the will of God found them in a violent, terrifying, we-gonna-die storm!
Were they out of the will of God?
Absolutely not.

All of these people – Paul, David, the disciples – were EXACTLY where God wanted them to be.
In storms.
In a shipwreck.
Being attacked.
Being hunted.
Being tempest-tossed.

Why were they there if they were in the will of God?
Because God didn’t love them?
Because He had turned His back?
Because He had forgotten to be kind?

Nope.

They were there because God had a bigger purpose than their comfort in mind.
He had lessons to teach them.
Lessons to teach the people with them.
And lessons to teach us!

They were there because miracles only happen when impossibilities define the circumstances.

So the next time you are in a storm…
Are attacked…
Are falsely accused…
Are facing roadblocks…
Are in a sinking boat…

How will your theology interpret you circumstances?
Will your circumstances inform your view of God?
Or will your view of God put your circumstances in perspective?

Will you remember and remind yourself that you only see an inch where God sees infinity?
Will you remember and remind yourself that this life is just a dot on the radar screen of eternity?
Will you choose to trust the God who made you?
Will you choose to focus on His goodness instead of your grumpiness or grief or gut-wrenching pain?

Will you see the storm? Or the One who controls it?
Will you see the evil king? Or the enemy who is controlling him?
Will you see your circumstances? Or will you see the One who loved you enough to die for you?
The One who rose for you?
The One who lives inside of you, giving you power and strength and the ability to go on?

Paul, David, the disciples, and so many others in Scripture had to learn and demonstrate the lesson of perspective.
They had to choose to lift their eyes from what they could see to the Face of the One who sees all.
Paul put it this way:

“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (2 Corinthians 4)

Where is your gaze today?
The things we see that will soon be gone?
Or the things we cannot see that will last forever?

Preaching the Word to Myself

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I write encouraging blog posts and put awesome quotes up on Facebook, if I use social media to post wise and pithy and correct things –
but don’t post or say or write those things from love, with love, in love, because of love, I am only as useful as the loudest noise pollution that exists.

If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.

If I have all the answers to all the questions – masks, cures, racial tensions and reconciliation, the role of government, who should govern, how people should behave, even what the Bible says about ALL of these things –
but don’t love YOU, (with NO caveats or conditions – no matter who you are, what you look like, which side of the aisle you are one, how hateful you are acting, how much I disagree) – if I don’t LOVE you, I am nothing. NOTHING.

If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Even if I sacrificially give of my time, talent and treasure; even if my actions are correct; even if I am perfectly aligned in my deeds with the Word of God, but I don’t love EVERYONE, (with NO caveats or conditions – no matter who you are, what you look like, which side of the aisle you are one, how hateful you are acting, how much I disagree, how sinful your choices are or how much you don’t align with Scripture) –
I have gained nothing.

Love is patient and kind.
Even on social media.
Even when what you posted makes my blood boil.
Even when I cannot see it from your point of view.
Even as I engage with you in respectful conversation.
Even as we disagree.
Love is patient and kind.
I may evaluate your choices against the Word of God and understand that they don’t align with HIS thoughts and therefore, are sinful. But even then, I am patient and kind. Even then. Because “It’s His kindness that leads us to repentance.” (Romans 2)

Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
Ever.
Under any circumstances.
Regardless of my emotions.

It does not demand its own way.
It does demand God’s way – but His way is to love the sinner enough to die in his place – and to hate the sin with the same level of passion.
But it is never about my rights.
My feelings.
My point of view.
It is not about me.
It is about God. His point of view.
And about loving as He loves:
passionately for the sinner even as He is passionately against the sin.

It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.
Love forgives. Again and again and again.
Speaking up against injustice?
Yes. That is love, too.

But always forgiving the perpetrators.
Always.

Every time.
Whether they asked for it or not.
Whether they deserve it or not.
You have been forgiven much.
You must forgive.

It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
Loving the good actions, good results, good efforts.
Hating the bad.

But always loving the people.
Always.

Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
This is a fight.
Not against people.
Against the enemy of our souls.
Who is seeking to divide and conquer.
Seeking to destroy and devour.
Seeking to make the Church act like the world so that no one wants to be a part of the Body of Christ.
And he is succeeding.
Because we are letting him.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.
Human wisdom always, always, always fails.
Godly wisdom, based on His Word, will never fail.
This world will burn.
The end will come.
And when the time of perfection comes, we will recognize how much He loves every tribe, tongue and nation of the world.
Every color of skin.
Every language.
Every culture.
And how much we didn’t love as we should have.
How much I didn’t love as I should have.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.
I put away having to lash out at you because you didn’t understand.
I put away seeing you as the enemy.
I put away speaking the Truth without love and not speaking the Truth because of a misguided idea of love.
Instead I spoke and thought and reasoned the Truth in Love.
Saying the hard things.
But checking my heart first to see why I am saying it.
I put away seeing you first by your labels.
I can and will respect your labels. I can and will celebrate who you are and how God created you. The ways that are like me. And the ways that are not.
But first, and always, I will see you as someone created in the image of God.
Deeply loved by Him.
And in desperate need of knowing Him.
I put away my rights.
And lay down my life for you.
Because He laid down His life for me.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
The puzzle pieces are complex.
But Creator of the puzzle never asked me to figure it out.
He asked me to do three things:
Love Him.
Love others.
And make sure they ALL knew about Him.
ALL.

The ones who look like me.
And the ones who don’t.
The ones who share my culture.
And the ones who don’t.
The one who “get it”.
And the ones who don’t.
The ones who encourage me.
And the ones who infuriate me.
The ones that the enemy is freely, openly, blatantly using.
And the ones that he is freely, hiddenly, subtly using.
The ones who bear His name.

And the ones who don’t.
I have three jobs.
Am I doing them?
If I am focused on loving Him, the conduit between the Holy One and myself will remain open, unhindered by willful sin, and His love, wisdom, grace, mercy, compassion and joy will flow back through me and splash onto you.

If I am focused on loving you as He loves you, we will both be transformed for His glory. It will get messy because we are both sinners. But He will give me all I need to love you – and all you need to love me.

And if I am loving Him with all I am and loving you with all HE has, then telling the world will be easy. Because they won’t understand that kind of love.
And they will ask why.
And then we can share all that He is with them.
So that they, too, can love Him.
Love others.
And go tell the world.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. I Corinthians 13 (NLT)
Eternal things:
God.
His Word.
And the souls of people.
Everything else is ashes and dust.

Will you love God?
Will you love the people He has created?
Love them until they ask you why?
The greatest of these is love.