An Attitude of Gratitude

I found out that a friend of the family is currently walking through his own valley of the shadow of death in dealing with incurable cancer. To hear the word “cancer” coming out of the mouth of a doctor is scary enough, but to hear it preceded by “terminal” has to be frightening to an almost paralyzing degree.

Yet this friend of mine has faced this diagnosis with dignity and peace and an unswerving faith in the God who is still in the miracle business. While the odds seem insurmountable, I’m reminded yet again that what seems impossible to us isn’t even remotely difficult for God. Just ask any of the blind or lame men that Jesus healed. Or the lepers. Or Lazarus.

My friend said that it all starts with an attitude of gratitude. I truly believe that. A positive mental outlook is half the battle when dealing with a grim medical diagnosis.

Yet it’s more than that. This attitude of gratitude comes from the same place that allowed the Apostle Paul to pen the words that to live is Christ and to die is gain. It’s literally a win-win with Jesus.

Either my friend gets healed here and becomes a witness of God’s healing power or he is resurrected and finds ultimate healing and stands in front of Jesus to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

When you think about it, we’re all terminal. After sin entered the world, death followed close behind and that proverbial hourglass started on each one of us. Unless Jesus comes back soon, all of you reading this will come to the place where you breathe your last.

Thanks to Jesus death will not have the final word. The grave is only temporary. The resurrection truly does mean that the worst thing is never the last thing and Jesus will have the final word in your story.

I’m praying for my friend for healing here and now knowing that no matter what happens, God is always good and we are always loved and that grace still wins in the end.

 

Resurrecting Hope

“Easter was when Hope in person surprised the whole world by coming forward from the future into the present” (N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope).

That was the topic of today’s sermon at The Church at Avenue South– that after being crucified and buried, Jesus actually and physically rose from the grave.

The Apostle Paul says that if Jesus didn’t rise from the grave, then our faith is useless and futile and we are all still dead in our sins.

If there is no resurrection, then Jesus’ death was meaningless and He wasn’t who He claimed to be, but just another in a long line of those so-called “Messiahs” whose words were forgotten and whose followers immediately abandoned them after death to look for the newest “Messiah.”

But Jesus stepped out of the tomb on Easter Sunday morning, forever proving that He is the ultimate God-Man, Savior of the world, the true Messiah.

Our hope is in more than a great teacher who gave us some great ideals to live by before he died. It’s in more than Jesus being “resurrected” by keeping His memory alive in the hearts of His disciples.

Our hope is in the Jesus who made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf and died on the cross, then bodily rose from the grave and appeared to the apostles as well as over 500 other witnesses.

Because Jesus lives, our hope is alive. Because He lives, we live and can face any tomorrow that comes. Because He lives, we know that there is nothing that comes up against us– illness, death, or the grave– that can separate us from the love He has for us.

“We could cope—the world could cope—with a Jesus who ultimately remains a wonderful idea inside his disciples’ minds and hearts. The world cannot cope with a Jesus who comes out of the tomb, who inaugurates God’s new creation right in the middle of the old one” (N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope).

 

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I have friends that are dealing with health issues. I have friends who are walking through that dark valley of the shadow of death in grieving over a loved one. So many are struggling through finances, stress, anxiety, and depression.

Sometimes, life can seem overwhelming. It’s hard to look five years down the road when it’s all you can do to breathe in and breathe out and make it through the next five minutes.

The good news is that you can say with confidence, no matter what, “Whatever my problems and no matter how big and insurmountable they seem, my God is bigger. My God is able.”

Struggles are temporary. Even the worst of days only last 24 hours. God is eternal. His promises are true through all seasons and through every passing emotion.

Sitting in the doctor’s office facing the worst possible scenario is scary, but God’s perfect love still casts out all fear. The God who brought you this far in your journey will be faithful to get you through even the darkest and most terrifying circumstances.

Even in those moments, there is nothing that God can’t redeem and turn into something good and glorious. Not even death, for to live is Christ and to die is gain. It’s a win-win.

The Apostle Paul walked through every kind of trial and suffering both from within and without, yet was able to pen some of the most hopeful words ever written not because of a great big faith in God but because of faith in a great big God:

“I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us” (Romans 8:38-39, The Message).

 

Blinded by the Light

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about something I heard recently about the Apostle Paul. Hopefully, you’re familiar with the story of how Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus and how he was blinded by the radiance of the risen Christ.

The gist of what I heard was this: Paul’s subsequent blindness wasn’t from the absence of light but from too much of it. All Paul could see for the days and weeks that followed was the brilliant light of Jesus’ countenance. Even after, his sight was affected by this encounter (I think) to the point that he called it the thorn in his flesh.

That’s what I want. I want to be so captivated by the radiance of Jesus’ face to the point that He’s all I see. To the point where it changes the way I see everything else. To the point where everything else grows strangely dim in the glory of His resurrected presence. To the point where all the trinkets everyone else seems to be chasing lose their luster for me.

I want to be like Moses whose face literally glowed from the effects of his encounters with God, speaking face to face as with a friend. He was so transformed by his time with God that it unnerved people and they asked that he cover his face because it bothered them so much.

I don’t want people who meet me to say what a great guy I am or how witty or intelligent I am. I hope and pray they will remark on how wonderful Jesus is in the way He can take a single life and completely transform it. If they completely forget about me and remember that they encountered Jesus in a real and lasting way, I will have done what I was put on this earth to do.

Still B-L-E-S-S-E-D

If you read the first chapter of Ephesians, you will notice how often the Apostle Paul makes use of the word blessed.

Blessed. It’s a word that people use in any number of ways with any number of different meanings.

The idea Paul wants to convey when he speaks of blessing and being blessed is one of having God’s favor over you.

That doesn’t necessarily mean instant and immense wealth. Sometimes it means walking through some dark valleys and difficult pathways through circumstances that are hard to understand but in the end yield a reward and ultimate glory for God.

I’m blessed.

I have God. I have Jesus. I have salvation that I can’t lose and a love that I don’t deserve. I have family and friends who continue to love me day in and day out and so many who model Jesus for me.

I woke up this morning. That’s a huge blessing that so many (including me) will take for granted until someone they love is snatched away in death.

I’m blessed even if tomorrow I lose my job and I end up on the streets. I’m blessed even if I don’t have anything to eat tomorrow. I’m blessed even if I end up alone.

I’m blessed because God in Jesus is my blesser and my blessing. He’s both my giver and gift. He’s the journey and the destination. He’s the race that I run and the prize at the end.

Once you realize how blessed you are, it changes everything. It changes how you see, how you speak, how you live, how you love.

Blessings aren’t for hoarding. You and I are blessed in order that we might be a blessing to someone else. That’s where the greatest blessings come– in the very act of giving away blessings.

So, on this Tuesday, March 29, I say once again that I’m blessed.

 

Happy New Year’s Adam Again!

Happy New Year Quote - Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Happy New Year Quote – Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Once again, it’s New Year’s Adam, which precedes New Year’s Eve, which itself precedes 2016.

For better or worse, 2015 is coming to an end.

For some of you, it’s a year to remember and you wish it could go on a little longer.

For some, it’s a year to forget and it can end quickly enough.

For most of us, it’s been a mixed bag of blessings and hardships, of joys and sorrow, of good days and bad days.

My boss where I worked previously used to say that any day without a toe tag is a good day. I take it to mean that any day that you wake up is already a good one. Any day you get a chance to be alive is better than all those yet to come that you may or may not get.

As a believer, I do believe that death is only a gateway to greater joy than I can possibly imagine. To be absent from the body, wrote the Apostle Paul, is to be present with Jesus. I believe that.

I also believe that life here and now is too precious to be wasted on fretting about what might have been or what could be. As one of my new favorite movie quotes says, “There’s no present like the time.”

“And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been” (Rainer Maria Rilke).

“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, ‘It will be happier'” (Alfred Lord Tennyson).

Best of all, with Jesus every moment and every breath is a second chance to start over and be the person you always wanted to be, the person God made you to be.

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F-E-A-R

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“God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love” (1 John 4:17-18, The Message).

Everyone has fears. Everyone.

Maybe yours is a fear that you will end up alone in the end.

Maybe you’re afraid that people will see the real behind the well-rehearsed act and the painted-on smiles and not want to have anything further to do with you.

Maybe you’re anxious over the future, wondering where the money is going to come from to pay the bills.

Maybe you’re scared that you’ll never find out what your purpose in life is.

Ann Voskamp put it best: “All fear is but the notion that God’s love will end.”

As a black pastor put it so well, fear is False Evidence Appearing Real.

Fear only shows you half the picture. Fear envisions a scenario where God either isn’t present or is unwilling to help. Fear leads you to think that the way things are now is how it will always be.

But God’s love is stronger than fear. As the song says, “Every fear has no place at the sound of Your great Name.”

When you focus on fear, you live defeated. When you focus on the love of God and choose gratitude and thanksgiving and joy, you’re showing fear the door.

Choose joy. Choose gratitude. Choose life.

I’m not saying I have fear and anxiety mastered. Some days, it can feel overwhelming. But I know that the future Jesus has promised me is more real than the present fear that I’m feeling.

Perfect love casts out all fear. Just remember that.

 

 

Be Encouraged. B-E Encouraged.

“God didn’t set us up for an angry rejection but for salvation by our Master, Jesus Christ. He died for us, a death that triggered life. Whether we’re awake with the living or asleep with the dead, we’re alive with him! So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, The Message).

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to read this verse aloud at least once a day for the next five days. Unless you feel really weird reading it aloud, in which case you may read it in your “inside-your-head” voice. You have my permission.

Remember, Jesus didn’t die to give us a get out of hell free card. It isn’t about something that’s waiting in the bye and bye.

It’s here and now. It’s life– abundant and full and overflowing life– right now.

Some of us are having a hard time remembering that right now. Some feel so weighed down by grief or stress or despair that it’s hard to feel alive. It’s hard to live abundantly when you feel as if all you’ve been doing is treading water to stay afloat in the flood.

That’s why Paul tells us to encourage each other. He didn’t say think good thoughts toward each other and have the best intentions to let them know that their in your prayers. No. He said to actively encourage them through any and all means at your disposal, whether that be pen and paper, face-to-face affirmation, smoke signals, social media, or morse code.

Who needs your encouragement most? Who is God putting on your heart? Your real mission is to encourage that person in a real and tangible way in the next 24 hours. Go!

 

Small Potatoes

Side note: I’m feeling very patriotic with this being my 1,776th blog post. I just thought I’d throw that in for free, as it has nothing to do with the rest of this post.

I heard this at my friend’s dad’s funeral and I thought I’d pass it along. I hope it encourages you in whatever hard times or difficulties you are facing. God’s love outlasts anything you will ever face.

“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, The Message).