Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanks Giving

Since reading Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts I’ve been keeping my own book of thanks. I wake up early in order to spend time with Jesus; I open my little book and add a few more . . .

14. the taste of that first cup of coffee, earthy and strong
15. purple mist on morning mountains
16. Your word, lying open on my table, inviting
17. curling up comfy in my chair

It was Ann’s friend who challenged her to record one thousand gifts. Quite a project! Yet, after reaching that number, she kept on going; thanking God had grown her faith and joy in Him, the Giver of all good things and she didn’t want to miss a moment of Him.

I want to slow down and taste life, give thanks and see God. (Ann Voskamp)

67. talking with You all day long
68. Your mercy so full it never runs low
69. Your grace for me to do what’s impossible

I think of myself as a thankful person — not by temperament, but by God’s grace, so very evident daily to me. But if you start keeping a journal expressly for thanking God, you are bound to learn a few new things about yourself.

The thanks itself nourishes. Thanks feed our trust [in God]. (Ann Voskamp)

106. brothers who are friends
107. the knowledge of You, gift beyond price
108. husband’s strong work ethic
109. Your perfect heart, home to my imperfect one

I find I tend to thank God for big-picture things — His salvation, His mercy to me, His sovereignty. And for people and relationships that are dear to me — my mother, my friends, my family, my mentors.

"Wherever you are, be all there." This is where God is. In the present. I AM. (Ann Voskamp)

227. today, the only one I have
228. tomorrow, where You’ve promised to be the same, even if everything else changes
229. yesterday, the memories of Your love and faithfulness which give me strength today

But through Ann Voskamp’s example, and through daily listing the gifts God’s given me, I am learning how to watch for the small things, the familiar, regular things to thank Him for. I am learning to thank him for the smell of summer, for the way the leaves look and sound when the wind moves them. I am learning to appreciate the sound of my sons’ voices, the sensation of fuzzy socks on a cold tile floor. I am noticing that every moment of this day is unique and will not come again, and my senses open to fully experience the tiny flutter of graces from God that would have gone unnoticed before.
The life of true holiness is rooted in the soil of awed adoration. It does not grow elsewhere. (J.I. Packer)

284. drying and saucing fresh tomatoes: a rich red harvest
285. clean sheets on a firm bed
286. Mondays come only once a week!
287. comforts: cats, hugs, books, mountains

I am also learning to thank Him for things that may not look like gifts to me, but are from God’s hand for my benefit. So I thank Him for the physical suffering in one son’s life, knowing God is maturing him. I thank God for the unexpected pressures in homeschooling this year, confident He is teaching me more about trusting Him with my boys. I have even been able to thank Him for the heartbreak of a broken relationship, trusting that what lies ahead is far greater than this present weight of grief.

Who would ever know the greater graces of comfort and perseverance, mercy and forgiveness, patience and courage, if no shadow fell over a life? (Ann Voskamp)

323. that I can share this pain with You, and You understand
324. that you never despise my broken and contrite heart
325. prayer, where I touch your power for those I love and long for

It is joyfully, deeply liberating, this careful watching for my Father’s gifts. Deliberately, intently thanking God is my way of saying:
"Yes, Lord, I receive [this person, this situation, this moment] as a gift from You. Your purpose for me here is surely good, to show me more of Yourself, and to make me more like Jesus. So, thank you, Lord, for everything. Yes. For everything."

He who sacrifices thank offerings honors Me,
and he prepares the way so that I may show him
the salvation of God. (Psalm 50:23)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Running the Race of Faith (Part II): Travelling Light

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles,
and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

1) ... let us lay aside every weight.....

I’m not a marathon runner — but even I know that to run well, you must travel light. If your sneakers fit well but are too bulky, if your jogging shorts aren’t the lightest you own, you will stumble when the race turns tough.

The writer of Hebrews applies this image to our faith relationship with Jesus. Whatever brings an unnecessary burden to our race of faith — any unhelpful habit or activity or thought pattern or relationship that impedes our progress — simply has to go. The one who pursues Jesus will gladly and deliberately lay aside anything that works against her.

I find it interesting that we’re not first told to avoid sin, but to lay aside anything that drags us down. There are things in our lives that are not sin, but that are unwise if we are to live completely for Christ.

Three examples in my own life come to mind: 1) Years ago, I stepped away from a ministry I’d been involved with for years, because I knew it interfered with the ministry God was guiding me into. 2) I am an avid reader, but at one time, I set all fiction aside: I noticed that my time and thoughts were too tied up with stories, not occupied enough with God’s Word. 3) Presently, my family fasts from computers one day a week, because of their potential to distract us from keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.

Obviously, reading good fiction, using a computer and serving in women’s ministry aren’t wrong! But for me, they were like wearing bulky sneakers in my race. So I laid them aside.

John Piper puts it succinctly: Don’t ask yourself, "Is this sin?" But ask of yourself, "Does this help me run?" If not, it may need to go, at least for a lap or two of your race.

2) ...and the sin that so easily entangles...

Casting off sin is a clearer concern: any sin we see in ourselves is to be rejected, destroyed, dismissed. There’s no room for it in your transformed heart and renewed mind! It will only interfere with your relationship with Christ. Following sin’s lead always draws our eyes away from Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and veers us off our course.

Does this sound like a hurdle that’s raised too high? Every weight? Every sin? God’s immense grace toward us is stronger than all those burdens piled together! Don’t let a solitary thing stand in between you and the race of faith God has marked out for you. For as we travel light and strong and free in the race of faith, we will run with Jesus’ endurance, and with His joy.

(More on THAT part of the passage in a future blog post...)

I will run in the path of your commands,
for you have set my heart free.
(Psalm 119:32)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Running the Race of Faith (Part 1)

Listening to the Life Stories of Those who Ran by Faith

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

What a great call from God, to run with endurance the race of life He sets before us! And not by our own devices, but by being encouraged by the example of many witnesses, by letting go of all that impedes us, and by looking into the face of our Saviour! This climactic passage is even moreso if you read it on the heels of chapter 11 (or the whole book, for that matter).

Still, I just can’t help but stumble over that first strange phrase.

Surrounded by a cloud of witnesses? (A healthy imagination can conjure up a plethora of possibilities.) As a new believer, I wondered if Christians who’d already died were somehow able to peer into the private places of my life. Sounded more like Ghostbusters than God’s Word the first time I read it. What kind of cloud, exactly, has got me surrounded?

Looking back to Hebrews 11, we find quickly drawn, deeply meaningful portraits of those witnesses. Some of these Old Testament saints did crazy things: building a big boat in the desert (before anyone ever had heard of rain); moving around in tents for what seemed to be no good reason; leaving a royal palace to herd sheep in a nameless wilderness; conquering a city by singing and marching around its walls. Can you imagine all the funny glances and behind-the-back whispering that went on among their neighbors? Yet we’re told that everything they did, they did by faith — not faith in their own ideas, but in the God who had instructed them. They trusted Him and His promises.

What promises did God make? That He was building a great nation of people for His glory; that He would one day write His word not on tablets of stone but on the very hearts of His new covenant people and put His Spirit in them; that He Himself would redeem people from their sin and uphold the demands of His covenant, which no man could ever uphold.

And for all their faith in the promises of God, these Hall-of-Famers did not see their fulfillment in their lifetime. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. (Hebrews 11:39-40)

These witnesses lived by faith in the utterly faithful God! This cloud is not an invisible army of spectators, but a timeless testimony to power that comes to endure when we put our faith utterly in God. They aren’t the ones watching us; we are the ones called to look on and be encouraged by their lives of faith.

In addition to the Bible examples listed in Hebrews 11, I think of some of the present-day witnesses in my own life that spur me on: friends who live more like Jesus than I do, Christian leaders whose teaching makes a tangible difference in my faith and my endurance. (What "witnesses" of faith in Christ encourage you in your race of faith?)

As the people of God, we are all witnesses of the Word become flesh, who made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the Only Begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.

I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:20

Running the Race of Faith (Part 2): Laying Aside Every Weight