Friday, November 19, 2010

Being Formed by Thanksgiving

These are our discussion notes from our Formation Group last night. It is helpful to me to reflect on as we head towards the holiday next week.

What is one of your favorite Thanksgiving traditions?

“The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.” (Henri Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son)
(Nouwen sees that the way home for the elder son is a path of trust and gratitude vs. resentment and entitlement.)

“To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives-the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections-that requires hard spiritual work. Still, we are only truly grateful people when we can say thank you to all that has brought us to the present moment. As long as we keep dividing our lives between events and people we would like to remember and those we would rather forget, we cannot claim the fullness of our beings as a gift of God to be grateful for.” (Nouwen, Bread for the Journey)

Think about the limits of your life, the unique context in which you are called to live and move. Are you thankful for these limits? Or, do you feel resentment?

“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Tim 4:4-5 ESV)

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18 ESV)

“do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7 ESV)

would you describe yourself as a thankful person? If so, why? If not, why not?
can you receive others’ gratitude?
how does giving thanks form us? how does resentment form us?
what habits do you have that promote a thankful heart?
what habits do you have that undermine a thankful heart?

For further reflection, a New Testament Theology of Thanksgiving:
The Gospels introduce and the Epistles develop the concept that gratitude for God's deliverance in Christ characterizes the believer. When a sinful woman interrupted a dinner party to anoint Jesus with precious perfume, Jesus told his shocked host that her action sprang from gratitude for forgiveness (Luke 7:40-47). When Jesus healed ten lepers as they walked to the temple, he marveled aloud that only one, a Samaritan, returned to thank him (Luke 7:11-19). Paul agrees that believers should be thankful for every individual provision, and that gratitude for God's saving grace envelops the entire Christian life. Those whom God has brought from death to life should offer their bodies to him as instruments of righteousness (Rom 6:13). In view of God's mercies, knowing they were bought at a price, they should offer their bodies to God as living sacrifices in general and honor him with purity in particular (Rom 12:1 ; 1 Cor 6:20). Those who have received an unshakeable kingdom from God should be thankful, worship God, and faithfully endure the hardships of persecution (Heb 12:28 and context).
A general attitude of thanksgiving in both the trials and blessings of life distinguishes the Christian. Paul enjoins his churches to give thanks for all things, in all circumstances (Eph 5:20 ; 1 Thess 5:18), even in suffering (Rom 5:3-5 ; James 1:1-4), and to do everything in the name of Jesus out of a spirit of gratitude (Col 3:17). On the other hand, thanklessness marks godless and wicked men who suppress the truth about God (Rom 1:18-21).
Believers retain joy and peace especially when, "in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving [they] present their requests to God" (Php 4:6-7). Thanksgiving is a central component of prayer for Paul. He prays that his churches will be thankful (Col 1:12), and gives thanks in turn for answered prayer, especially for the extension of the gospel and the strength of his churches (2 Cor 4:15). Paul begins most of his letters (Galatians, 1 Timothy, and Titus being the exceptions) with expressions of thanksgiving to God for the church or individual to which he writes. The thanksgiving usually leads to a prayer, and the two together ordinarily introduce some of Paul's themes for the letter. For example, Paul thanks God for the faith of the Romans (1:8), for his grace given to the Corinthians so that they lack no spiritual gift ( 1 Cor 1:4-7 ), and for the Philippians' partnership in the gospel (1:3-5 ; see also 1 Thess 1:2-3 ; 2 Thess 1:3-4). from article by Daniel Doriani in Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Thankfulness, Thanksgiving'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology"1997.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Holiday Formation in Christ

Advent is nearly here (first Sunday is 11/28/10). I've been thinking a lot about how the holiday season (Thanksgiving, Christmas) can be used by God to further our transformation in Christ. I directed our Spiritual Formation Group to look at this meditation last week:

So much gets provoked in us during the holidays - pain & anger from our family of origin, sorrow over loss, anxiety over finances & schedules, etc. - when we are overwhelmed it is too late; we need to prepare for these moments beforehand through gaining a compelling vision from God we can draw upon through grace.

What provokes you?

In holidays past (Thanksgiving/Christmas) what ideas, images or emotions typically form and shape you? (negatively - anxiety, fear, need for control, positively - the reasons why Jesus came, etc.)

What kind of person do you want to be during this holiday season? In other words, how can we be intentional about what shapes us? Ask God about this and listen.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Economy of God

I found this quote strongly encouraging today.

From the Letters of John Newton (Banner of Truth, 1869/2007), page 364:

I believe the liveliest grace and the most solid comfort are known among the Lord’s poor and undistinguished people. Every outward advantage has a tendency to nourish the pride of the human heart, and requires a proportional knowledge of the deceitful self and the evil of sin to counterbalance them. It is no less difficult to have great abilities than great riches without trusting in them. …

If I were qualified to search out the best Christian in the kingdom, I should not expect to find him either in a professor’s chair or in a pulpit. I should give the palm [prize] to that person who had the lowest thoughts of himself, and the most admiring and cordial thoughts of the Savior. And perhaps this person may be some bedridden old man or woman, or a pauper in a parish workhouse. But our regard to the Lord is not to be measured by our sensible feelings, by what we can say or write, but rather by the simplicity of our dependence, and the uniform tenor of our obedience to his will.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:6-11 ESV)

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10 ESV)

I remind myself of these truths this morning after the second night of intense spiritual attack which robbed us of sleep.

I am convinced more than ever that the quickest swipe against the throat of the enemy is the gospel grace identity of Beloved.

He is tempting me to fear and to clothe myself once again in the orphan. He is tempting me to doubt the identity gifts God gave me on retreat this past weekend. Instead, by grace I will step into these gifts with more fervor and fan them into flame until the enemy and his devices are consumed.