Tuesday, November 22, 2016

There's Grace in Thanksgiving

Thankfulness is a core virtue in Christianity and an important attitude of heart. Of all people, as believers, we have so much to be grateful for.

Colossians 3:15-17 (ESV) states, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Paul reminds the Colossian believers three times in three verses to be thankful. Why? Perhaps they, like we, also struggled with forgetfulness. Maybe they took their blessings for granted. You see, we can only experience true gratitude when we’re re-sensitized to our undeserved blessings from God.

But there’s more. 

In the English language we can easily miss some of the subtle nuances present in the Koiné Greek in which the New Testament was originally penned. In the original language, the word for “grace” (charis) is literally located in the middle of the word for “thanksgiving” (eucharistos). Now that's food for thought! We can catch a glimpse of this reality in our word “grateful” that sounds a lot like “graceful.”

Grace is central to gratitude or thankfulness. It’s embedded in the very notion of thanksgiving. Therefore, God’s graciousness ought to be reflected in our gratefulness.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Lessons from Being Sick

A couple of weeks ago I was rather ill. To be completely honest with you, I was a pitiful mess.

What is commonly referred to as the “West Tennessee Crud”—in my nick of the woods—had its vile way with me, sending me to bed for nearly five days. Even the stout antibiotics I was on seemed useless. About all I could do was to eat chicken noodle soup and binge on Netflix. I’m only now starting to feel more like my old self again. Halfway human that is.

I absolutely hate being sick. However, at about this time of the autumn each year, my immune system craters and I’m knocked off my feet for a while. My allergic reaction to the profusion of ragweed pollen floating around likely contributes the most to my susceptibility to illness. It starts with me sneezing and having itchy eyes. Then it progresses to a sore throat, next to respiratory problems and a hacking cough, and ultimately to overall body aches. Perhaps you can relate to my pain.

Despite the hassle and discomfort of getting sick, I believe there are some valuable lessons we can all learn from illness.

First, sickness reminds us of our mortality. This body of flesh was never intended to last forever. It is temporal. James 4:14 (ESV) asks, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” For all the health crazes people go on, new fangled diets, exercise regimens, elective surgeries, etc., our bodies eventually wear out and we die. There’s no stopping it. Life—at best—is extremely brief.

Psalm 39:4 (ESV) pleads, “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” Psalm 102:11 observes, “My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass.” In the scheme of eternity, our life is but a breath. Physical sickness is symptomatic of our finitude.

Keeping the brevity of life in mind helps me to put things in their proper perspective. Those pressing matters that seem so critically important in the moment often aren’t all that significant in reality. Deadlines at work, professional presentations, and major events will come and go, and—believe it or not—the world will keep on spinning.

Second, sickness reminds us that we’re not indispensable. Human pride can sometimes give me the egotistical idea that I am way more important than I really am. I’ve noticed that my family, friends, colleagues, students, and congregation manage to get by just fine when I’m out of commission for a while.

Proverbs 11:2 (ESV) asserts,When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” Proverbs 29:23 (ESV) says, “One's pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.” Galatians 6:3 (ESV) warns, “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”

Third, sickness reminds us of our utter dependency upon God. Everything I possess—including my health—is a gift from God. Being ill helps me to be more thankful for times of more robust health. I’m led toward gratitude for being blessed to experience relatively good health during the year. This vitality is all too easily taken for granted—perhaps even expected as if I am somehow entitled to it.

Occasionally, it needs to be brought home to me that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV).

Fourth, sickness reminds us that it’s okay to love ourselves enough to take care of our own physical and emotional health. Sometimes, we get the mistaken idea that we’re unimportant and, therefore, not worth taking care of, so we lose ourselves in taking care of everyone else’s needs—all except our own.

Jesus says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39, ESV). While Christ’s focus here is certainly on serving others, an easy point to miss is that it is also permissible to love your self. Paul implies this significant concept when he asserts, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church” (Eph. 5:29, ESV).

No, I doubt anybody really enjoys being sick, but we can learn and grow because of it. That being said, I hope you stay healthy and well.