An Invitation


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An Invitation

How to be joyful, without faking it.

Come join me on a journey into joy. We are supposed to have joy as Christians, right? How do you find joy in a world like we have seen this month? The death of two black men at the hands of police officers and the media jumping on it without knowing whether or not the shootings were “justified.” Then the sniper attack on police in Dallas resulting in five dead officers and others wounded. Then a terrorist attack in Nice, France leaving over 80 dead. Finally, a failed attempted coup in Turkey.

And that’s the world stage! Then, there’s where we live. Friends dealing with cancer, marital problems, divorce, financial struggles, pressures at work and home.

Sounds pretty grim. And we’re supposed to be joyful?

 

Relentlessjoy

 

In my welcome to this blog, I shared an experience that set me on this journey many years ago. And it is a journey. I first wrote “Extreme Thanks” in 1991, under the title “He Is a Rewarder.” I’ve tried to come up with an elevator speech to answer the question, “What’s it about?”  I’m still working on it. I’m open to ideas.

It’s about learning to give thanks always for all things. Hmmm. What’s that tell you? Needs a little fleshing out.

Well, giving thanks is a form of praying, and it’s a part of prayer. So, the book is kind of about praying. Giving thanks is also a way of telling God that you trust Him in a given situation to work that situation for your good and His glory. So, it’s about trust and faith. Giving thanks helps us let go of our fears and learn to be joyful, to find God’s strength for our trials. It helps us be joyful even through our trials. So, it’s about finding joy. It’s all of that, and more.

It really is a journey. And the journey continues as I grow and learn.

Here’s the thing…

I’m not a “professional” Christian. I don’t get paid for it. I have pastored, been a music and youth minister, but that was a long time ago. As a lay-person, I’ve led worship, led home church and cell church groups. For my entire adult life, since college, I have worked full-time at “real world” jobs. There have been times through the years that I have been more successful at living out and applying the lessons I’ve learned and written about than others. Now I’m at a place where I really need to just live it, to the extreme, to the maximum. It is my heart’s deep desire to just walk in the joy of the Lord, and I know that is wrapped up in joyfully giving thanks always for all things to a God who is faithful to work all things for my good, and His glory.

The Invitation

I submit that God’s love is relentless. His tenderness toward us is relentless. In response, our faith and our expression of faith through thanksgiving should be relentless. The result will be a relentless joy. God's love, relentless. God's tenderness, relentless. Our response - relentless faith and thanksgiving. The result,… Click To Tweet

So, I invite you to walk with me on this journey. Learn with me. Grow with me. And, while we’re at it, you can help me develop my blog and my book into something relevant, meaningful, and helpful – especially helpful.

A Jewel from My Journal


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A Jewel from My Journal

Back in ancient times, when personal computers were little more than a gleam in the eyes of men like Steve Jobs & Bill Gates, people didn’t blog. There was no web to log your thoughts on. You actually had to use paper and pen.

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I know! Right? I can almost hear your collective audible gasps!

I was reading back through one of the volumes of my spiritual journal, mainly to verify exactly what year I originally wrote the manuscript for my book, and I found a number of entries of lessons learned and prayers answered that I had forgotten about. (Hmm. Must be why I kept a journal.) Here’s an example. The church we were attending, AnchorChurch in Ft. Worth, had a prayer ministry. Because I traveled during the week, and did not want to take time from my family when I was home on weekends, I took a turn praying from 3:00-6:00 on Sunday mornings. I spent the first 2 hours praying in the prayer room over the prayer requests, and the third hour walking and praying in the auditorium for the church and the services later that day.

On Sunday, 12/2, as I was praying in the AnchorChurch meeting place, I found myself praying in the center of the platform, that from that very spot, healing would go forth.  That something would happen, and from right there, life and healing would go out to the whole body of AnchorChurch.

That morning, the pastor, Tim Taylor, stood before the church and in brokenness confessed his need of us.  He then sat down right where I had stood earlier, in order for people to gather around him and pray over him.  As he was prayed over, the father of one of our worship leaders, who was visiting that Sunday, said that during the praise time he had sensed in Anchor a “spirit of rejection,” and invited all who were dealing with that to come forward.  Almost all who were there did.  And the healing began.

It was not because I had prayed, per se, but because it was His will!  Because it was His will, He put it in my heart to pray for it.  If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, we know we have what we request of Him (1 John 4:14-15).  Because it was His will, He chose to do it, and put it in my heart to pray it and open the door for Him to work it.  He is at work, both to will and to work for His good pleasure! (Philippians 2:13).

Share a time when God put something on your heart to pray about, and then proved it by answering. Feel free to share any answered prayers.

Sometimes God inspires us to pray for something, then provides it. He wills, and He works. Click To Tweet

I Need Input

I really, really, only want your feedback with this post. I think I’m on to something, and I need to hear from you.

Tell me, when I say: “How to live the Christian life?” what comes to mind? If someone gets up to teach a class at church and says, “I’m going to teach you how to live the Christian life,” what would you expect to hear?

Time to Reboot


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Time to Reboot
When I began this blog, my intent was to blog excerpts from my book. Though some have come from there, most posts have come from then current experiences. Even so, I have been careful to only post things consistent with the intended message of the blog. I feel like it is time to get back to the book. I hope this will be a prelude to publishing the entire book. I really would like feedback from those who are seeking to better understand, and from those willing to share their experiences that further illustrate the things I share. Usually, I will ask some questions at the end of each post to act as a catalyst for feedback.
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I would love to hear your experiences with giving thanks. Most of what I have read on the subject encourages the reader to say thank you. Most deals with thanking other people, and God, too. That isn’t bad. It really does make a difference. Saying thank you can change our attitude. Saying thank you can change the attitude of the person to whom we say it. It can heal relationships. It can affect our physical well-being, and that of others. It can make bad situations good. In the comment section below: Share your experiences with giving thanks to others. What challenges have been overcome, what relationships have been healed, what other benefits have you experienced by saying thank you?
Mostly, though, the focus of this blog is on the incredible power of giving thanks to God. Where I’m headed with this is to encourage a more extreme level of thankfulness. It is not something I learned overnight, heard taught in church, or read in any one book. In fact, I am still learning it. It is a life lesson. It came out of trying to make sense of life experiences in the context of what I learned in church, classrooms, seminars, and personal Bible study. It resulted when a lot of lessons, suddenly meshed together and began making sense as a coherent whole. A lot of what I post may not speak directly to giving thanks up front, but it will lay a foundation that will help the idea of “Extreme Thankfulness” make more sense to others as well.
“How to” books, or self-help books, are often just based on pop-psychology. If it doesn’t stand firm on a foundation of Biblical truth, it won’t last. It’s just the latest fad to put a bandage on broken lives. I believe the message of Extreme Thankfulness is a powerful, life-changing message founded in the faithfulness of God. It is the result of knowing Him, understanding His atoning work, and learning to rest in His absolute trustworthiness.
If “joy is a flag flown high from the castle of my heart” as the praise chorus says, thanksgiving is the flag pole. If the “joy of the Lord is my strength,” thanksgiving is the fitness program that results in abounding joy, and strength.
The writer of Hebrews encourages us to “consider Jesus,” who is “faithful as a son over His house, whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.” Considering Jesus and His faithfulness enables us to give thanks. Giving thanks enables us to hold fast our confidence and hope. I believe faith and thanksgiving are inexorably bound. All I know of God is a basis for giving thanks to Him. I can trust Him, so I can thank Him. As I thank Him, I give expression to how much I trust Him.
So, I would especially like to hear your experiences with saying thank you to Him. What joyful experiences have become more joyful and meaningful as you thanked God for them? What Bible lessons have taken on new depth as a result of giving thanks to God? What crises have been averted through giving thanks to God? What crises have you walked through, that you would not have made it through, had it not been for faith? What crises have taught you life lessons as a result of trusting God enough to give thanks through the storm?

Why?!?


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Why?!?

Another of my friends from high school passed away this week. It’s hard to believe someone so young could be gone. Okay, so we aren’t so young anymore; but still, we aren’t all that old either. Anyway, Diane is with the Lord she loved and served all her life, even through a prolonged illness. Her husband and family are grieving their loss, and hoping the pain will subside. Why? Why couldn’t she live another 20 or even 30 years?

In 2009, I was diagnosed with and treated for cancer in my throat. The saying is, from the time you’re diagnosed, you’re considered a “survivor,” every day you live. During and after my treatment, I met a number of other survivors. Some were still in treatment. Others were a few months, two years, even three or more years out from treatment.

Most of them had stories of how their family pulled together around them to support and care for them. Others had friends who stepped in to help and encourage them. One couple had an “It takes a village” sign that listed family, friends, co-workers, and care-givers who were making a difference in their lives as they walked through the cancer experience. Almost all of them had a new appreciation for life and a joy that defied the life-threatening, scary disease that so rudely interrupted their lives.

The colored scarves represent the type of cancer – pink for breast cancer; orange for leukemia, etc.

“Why?” is usually the first question out of our mouths when anything bad happens. When we feel devastated, hurt, confused – we want to know, “Why? What am I supposed to learn?”
Separation/divorce, rebellious child, alcoholic family member, abuse, injuries, disease….

We can cop out and say, “If God is all knowing, all powerful, and loving, He would not allow this. If He could stop it, surely He would. Since He doesn’t, He’s either cruel, so I want no part of Him; or He doesn’t exist at all.” It’s sure a lot easier to respond that way. When faith is challenged, it’s hard to hold on.

The truth is, we are going to hurt. We are going to experience physical pain, emotional trauma, and faith-challenging hardships. We are going to experience the whole range of human emotions. And that is okay. It is the way we are made.

When I am really hurting, or when you are, the last thing any of us wants or needs is someone, especially someone who has not already invested time and love and relationship in our lives, telling us to, “Cheer up. Everything is going to be alright.” “God works all things for our good.” “Don’t be sad, they’re in a better place.” No matter how true those words may be, at that moment, there is no comfort in them.

One of the goals of this blog, and of my hope-to-one-day-have-published book, is to deal with the question, “Why?”. Over the coming days, I hope to offer some meaningful insight into how to understand and respond to life – both the good and the bad of it. Here are some thoughts to start the process.

The answer is really pretty simple. Maybe I am being too simplistic. Then again, maybe “simplistic” is just exercising the “faith of a child.” Children don’t question a lot, they just trust. Maybe it is time the body of Christ “simply” accept what God is doing. Maybe, the problem is, we fail to realize that God really is doing something. Sometimes, we live as though we do not really believe that God is actively doing anything.

Too often we base our conclusions on only those things that are obvious to our five, frail, physical senses. And, much of what we observe is not good. In addition, we compartmentalize our lives, separating the spiritual from the everyday. We look at the everyday stuff as the real world and the spiritual as, well, spiritual stuff. It’s kind of nice. It’s probably important. But, we are not really sure what to do with it. So we “be spiritual” from time-to-time – Sundays, maybe Wednesdays, maybe for a few minutes “quiet time” most mornings.

In addition, we compartmentalize aspects of our spiritual lives. There are the things that have to do with spiritual growth – truths about what God has done for us and will do in us and through us, and about spiritual growth and maturity. Then there are the practical everyday things about how we are to live and minister in the “real world.” We talk about the cross, denying yourself, resting in the Lord, faith…. Then we talk about ministry, witnessing, discipleship, prayer and other aspects of the Christian life as a separate line of teaching – and never the two shall meet.

What we forget is that the “spiritual stuff” is the foundation, the motivation and the power for accomplishing any of the “practical stuff.” Paul said he only preached “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” Look at how “practical” much of Paul’s teaching was. He was not saying he only preached evangelistic messages. He was saying that the cross of Jesus is key not only for salvation, but for how we live. It has implications for all of the Christian life. The cross of Jesus is the power (the ability, the inherent capabilities) of God Himself released in those who are being saved (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Start the dialogue. Have you ever found comfort in the words of the Bible when you faced a difficulty? Has anyone ever particularly ministered to you in a time of loss, grief or failure? What did they do? How did they help?

Exceeding Righteousness


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Exceeding Righteousness

Have you ever wondered what it means to be more righteous than the Pharisees?

Have you ever wondered what a Pharisee is?

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The Pharisees were a sect of ancient Judaism. The crash course explanation would go something like this. The rising Babylonian empire had conquered Judea and taken most of the inhabitants of the area to Babylon as slaves. The Jews believed the scriptural explanation that their captivity had resulted from their failure to follow God’s laws. The Pharisees arose out of a passion to make sure that never happened again. They emphasized the law. They explained it and added to it. It was like building a hedge of rules around the law. Even if you broke a few of their rules, you’d still never get close enough to the Law to break it. This was their way to ensure the safety of the nation. They saw themselves as exceedingly righteous.

The Jesus comes along. He said, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Then, he gives examples. Instead of “Don’t murder.” He says, “don’t be angry, consider someone else ‘useless’ or call them a fool.” In essence, He is recognizing that to kill someone, you must devalue them. So, He says don’t even start down the path of devaluing someone with your attitude. To devalue them “a little” with your attitude is just as unrighteous as devaluing them completely with your actions.

He gave similar examples with adultery and lust; making a vow versus just saying “yes” or “no”; repaying an affront with revenge or kindness; loving your neighbor versus loving everyone, even your enemies; giving to the poor to be noticed or to honor God alone; praying to be noticed or really spending time with the Father….

The righteousness of the New Covenant is different from that of the Old. Paul states it well in Galatians 5:16-24 (really, the point is made in the first 3 verses). He says if we walk by the Spirit, we will not carry out the desire of the flesh. We just won’t. He says it is because the flesh and Spirit are opposed to each other in such a way that “you may not do the things that you please.” I think a lot of people look at Christianity and describe it with that phrase. “Being a Christian means not doing what you please.” But the next verse says, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” Then he goes on to give descriptions of what walking in the flesh and in the Spirit look like. He lists “deeds of the flesh,” followed by the “fruit of the Spirit.” And we turn that into a list of don’ts and dos.

We think being a Christian means we have to obey all the rules and laws of the Bible – cover to cover – Old and New Testaments.

My Mom was wanting to comment about tattoos, recently, and said, “I know you’re against all this Law stuff.” She told me about a recent conversation with a friend who had pointed out Leviticus 19:28. It says to not mark your body with tattoos. After she finished what she was saying, I went back to her beginning statement. “Just so you know,” I told her, “it isn’t about opposing the Law. I’m not for tattoos either, but it isn’t because of one verse in the Old Testament. For me, it’s because, as a Christian, Jesus Christ has placed in me the Holy Spirit as a ‘seal’ that I belong to Him [Ephesians 1:13-14]. I don’t need a mark on the outside of my body that identifies me as being part of a group, or a subculture, or to set me apart as an individual. I’ve got the biggest ‘tattoo’ in the world. An internal one on my heart – the Holy Spirit marks me as belonging to God. It isn’t about the Law. It’s about belonging to Him and going beyond the Law to a righteousness that’s based on my relationship to Him, not on following a set of rules.”

Mom replied, “But it isn’t taught that way.”

“Bingo!” I thought, and I said, “Exactly. No, it isn’t. And that’s exactly what I’ve been saying all these years. The church is settling for teaching rules to live by, instead of the power of Jesus Christ as my life and righteousness.”

Disclaimer: Please don’t get side tracked by defending whether or not it’s okay to have a tattoo. My reasons for not having one are mine. I don’t judge people who do. It’s their decision. I’ve made plenty of decisions that have left a “mark” on me – choices with results I cannot erase. Some were blatantly sinful, some not-so-much. The point is, our righteousness as Christians is not based on Law. It is the result of walking in the Spirit. When we walk in the Spirit, we will not seek to fulfill fleshly desires. Instead, we’ll produce the fruit of the Spirit. Exactly how that looks in me, may be a little different than it looks in you. Red Delicious and Granny Smith are both apples, but not identical.

What are your thoughts? What are some other ways the New Testament righteousness exceeds that of the Law as taught by the Pharisees?