Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Being Thankful No Matter the View

This is the time of year to be thankful. Whether we are ready or not, summer is officially in the rearview mirror, and we are supposed to be thankful for the changes that come as we journey into a new season. The difficulty comes when we look at our lives through the front windshield; sometimes it is hard to be thankful for what we see ahead of us…the problems we must face, the obstacles we must avoid, the people we have to confront, the pain we must survive. Just flipping the page on the calendar will not change what we see through the front windshield of our lives.

I don’t know what the view is through the windshield of your life. I can tell you that for some, November means family tensions we have avoided for months will now be present at the holiday table. For others, November means the last few miles before the end-of-the-year financial pressures come due. You had hoped to catch up by now, but no matter the effort there are simply more bills to pay than there are pages on the calendar to turn. For others, November reminds you about the kids you sent off to school, those who promised to stay in touch, and yet you seldom hear from. You knew letting them go would be difficult, you just never thought it would feel like this.

When we look through the front windshield of our lives and find it hard to be thankful for what is before us, we need to pull this car we call “Life” to the side of the road and look in the rear view mirror. Something happens to our perspective when we pause and reflect back on who God is and what He has done for us. We look in the rearview mirror, we see how all the obstacles and difficulties of past seasons were met by the promises of God. This brief pause, this moment of reflection in the rearview mirror, reminds us how faithful God has been and how His promises have steered us through the difficult times.

Why wouldn’t He do the same with what is before us?

Can I ask...How does the road before you look? Are you finding it hard to be thankful? Reading a few lines in a greeting card just won’t get you there, will it? A few decorations around the house will momentarily lift your spirits, but for us to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18), something has to change our perspective or thankfulness will fall from our hearts like the leaves from the trees. 

The writer of Psalm 119 says in verse 116, "LORD, sustain me as you promised, that I may live! Do not let my hope be crushed." God is the giver and sustainer of life. As we drive through the seasons of life, we often forget to be thankful because we are focused on the view through the front windshield. We are concentrating so much on the bumps in the road, the detours, and the traffic that we forget to be thankful for what we have and for what God is doing. For some, driving one more mile in our present circumstances seems impossible. Your tank is almost empty and you passed the off ramp to thankfulness a few miles back.

The View from the Rearview Mirror
I can tell you from personal experience, the view through the front windshield is scary at times. It can rob you of your joy and fog your perspective of what God is doing. If thankfulness has eluded you this season, pull your car over. Look in the rearview mirror for moment. Has He ever let you down? Have you ever found His promises to not be true?

Whatever you see ahead of you, know that your Creator promises to steer you to safety. Let Him drive. Resist the temptation to take the wheel. The road may appear difficult to navigate, but one day you will look in the rear view mirror and realize just what the Psalmist promised. God has sustained you through the journey. God has not allowed your hope to be crushed.  And my guess, on the side of the road, peering through the rear view mirror, you will be thankful no matter the view.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Learning to Love

The title of my sermon this past Sunday was “Living a Life that Glorifies God.” The text was 1 Peter 4:7-19. Peter is writing to some first century Christians and trying to encourage them to live their lives for God’s glory even in the midst of some very difficult circumstances. There was one verse in particular that God has challenged me with these past few days. These reflections came to a head at 4:00 a.m. this morning when I woke up and started pondering verse 8 of 1 Peter 4, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (TNIV). What does it means to “love each other deeply”? What will be the challenges to keep this a high value in my life? Why am I up at 4:00 a.m. thinking about this stuff?
Here are some reflections on Peter’s words…
After we have focused on our vertical relationship with God (1 Peter 4:7), Peter says the very next priority is our horizontal relationships with others.  He writes and says “above all” we should focus on how we treat others. While we live in a fallen world (i.e., this world is stained by sin and is not God’s original design), God still has expectations of how we should treat others. In fact, how we treat others takes second place only behind our relationship with Him that’s why Peter says it’s “above all.” Maybe that’s why I am awake. This is important. How I treat either reflects God’s glory or clouds our perspective of it.
What is clear, even at this hour, is how we treat each other should be characterized by a self-sacrificing commitment that puts the needs of others before our own. Peter does not use the word for ‘brotherly love’ here in 1 Peter 4:8 like he does in other places in his letter (e.g., 1 Peter 1:22; 2:17; 3:8). Instead, he chooses to the word for ‘agape love.’ This is the kind of love that God has for us, and it this kind of love that God wants us to have for others.
This takes things up a notch I’d say! We are to love others the way that God loves us. At least that’s the goal. Peter says, when we love people this way, we bring glory to God with our lives. That’s a high calling. Doesn’t God know how people act? Some don’t deserve to be loved this way? When you are up at 4:00 a.m. you have a crazy thought (or two)…perhaps this is God’s point all together. I don’t deserve to be loved this way either. Maybe that’s His design from the beginning…melt harden hearts with love. But really? Do I have to love others that way? You are God and I am part of this fallen world. I can’t love others the way you love me.
I didn’t promise answers. I only said this would be some early, real early morning reflections.
Going to be honest here, these reflections also brought some early morning fears. Lots of things are scary before I have had some coffee, but these were the kind of thoughts that kept me from closing my eyes again even after a 13 hour work day and only 4 hours of sleep. Seems like I am going to need some courage to love others the way God loves me. If I love people the way that God loves me then I am going to get taken advantage of and my needs will go unmet…so say my fears. Doesn’t God care about my needs? I know He does. If I love this way, doesn’t God know I am going to be doing a lot of forgiving? I know I will. If I love this way, doesn’t God know I won’t be able to talk to people the way they talk to me or treat them the way they have treated me? This isn’t going to be fair.
Perhaps I am getting closer. It wasn’t fair that Jesus had to die on the cross for my sins, but He did. He did because He loves me not because it was fair that He had to suffer for my wrongs. Being a sacrifice for my sin was what I needed and Jesus was willing to pay the price for what I needed. What? That can’t be right can it? If Jesus loved me sacrificially because that’s what I needed, and I am supposed to love people the way God loves me then I too have to love others sacrificially. To be willing to love them and give them what they need even though they don’t deserve it. Wow. Loving this way is not going to be easy. 
Not only am I supposed to love others sacrificially, Peter says I am supposed to also love them “deeply.”  What new dimension of love could Peter possibly be adding here? Turns out loving this way isn’t something you can just wake up in the morning and do. It takes training and effort…lots of it. Sin always makes it hard to want to love others. Clearly they are sinners, but then there is the stumbling block of my own selfishness. Wish God didn’t reveal that to me! To love deeply means to love with all our exertion, fully extended, exerted to limit of our efforts and capacity. Did I come up that at 4:00 in the morning? No. That came out of my study for the sermon. Turns out the word “deeply” is used to describe the muscle strain of horse at full gallop or the taut muscles of an athlete straining for the finish line. Learning to love others the way the God loves me is going to be a strain and take much training.
If loving is going to take this much effort, there has to be a benefit….right? Turns out that Peter is one step ahead of me. Take a look gain. It’s right in the verse: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Turns out love covers all wrongs…even mine! That is some good news! It doesn’t bury them or mask them. It doesn’t pretend they didn’t happen. Love simply doesn’t see them. God always does, but then He can see us fully and still love us wholly. We are not so gifted this side of heaven.
When I am angry I do the opposite of being a loving person. I try to find some fault, magnify it and perhaps even broadcast it to others. Why would I want to this? Why would anyone? This morning I realized that sometimes I want to be the victim and relieved of my responsibility to forgive others and to strive to love them deeply. I don’t want to go through the effort of learning to love them, forgive them, and not hold their sins against them. This is going to be more difficult than I ever imagined, but I sure want others to love me this way, to not see my sinfulness and to love me for who I am. Since I want to be loved this way by God and you, I better strive to love you in the same way! It’s going to take great courage and much effort but I am willing.
If it is going to take that much work for me to learn to love others the way that God loves me then I better pick up the pace of my training. I have a lot to learn. Why am I up at 4:00 a.m. thinking about this? I have a long way to go to love you the way God wants me too. So glad I have a good Coach in Jesus Christ and tremendous playbook in the Bible. Maybe today I can learn to love just a little bit better. Straining for the finish line!