Saturday, December 14, 2013

The One Statement I Can't Go a Day Without Saying - and It's Not "I Love You"

Saying "I love you" regularly is important, but those are not the words I strive to say daily.

I never want to go a day without saying thank you to my wife, my son, and my God.

Thank you is different than I love you.

I can say I love you when I am still hurting, angry, upset, bitter because in some sense, I own the love. In other words, love is given. When I say, "I love you," I am acknowledge that I am giving you some kind of love. In an odd way, I control the level of love I care to give and as a result I can stare directly into your eyes with a straight face and lie through my teeth about it because it's my love. Even with all that I may be holding against you, I can still say these words and pretend everything's just fine.

However, while we still "give thanks" the action implies something else first. Thank you is always an acknowledgement of a gift received. The table is turned with thanksgiving because we are remembering a reality that is not in our control. You are the recipient of some action someone did for you or someone else in your life or some thing another person gave you. Now saying thank you can still be empty and may at times be sarcastic - "thanks for doing the dishes" when they're all still in the sink - but we all know those thank you's for what they are. Think about it. When you're pissed off at someone you care deeply about, perhaps even love, can you say thank you? Think about the people in your life, your parents for example. How easy is it to say "I love my parents," but how much harder is it to say, "I'm thankful for my parents?" For some that may be easy, but for many others that's hard because the difference lies in what you can do versus what's been do for/to you.

Giving thanks means, then, you have to do the hard work of forgiving or asking for forgiveness. The only way it has a place in your heart is after all the bitterness, hatred, and anger have been destroyed and removed. I love you can be said over those, like a blanket covering the horder's nest or the vacation taken just to get away from all the problems. Thank you can only be said once they're all gone.

One of the major critiques of Millennials is how entitled we are, how much we deserve, how much we're owed. Entitlement does not have room for thanksgiving because no one says thank you for what you deserve or think you deserve. You don't go bursting into you boss' office every two weeks saying, "thanks for the paycheck!" We need a course correction, one that involves a ton of self-examination of all the bitterness that has taken root over what we think we deserve. Here is just one example (out of millions) of why the Christian worldview trumps all others. Foundational to it is the reality of what is called common grace, whereby God freely gives us all gifts without discrimination - good and evil, righteous and unrighteous, Christian and non-Christian. In it includes the very air we breathe and the lungs with which we have to breathe it. Every breath then is a gift from God for which we can be thankful. What if we were to grow in our thanksgiving, especially all of which we think we're entitled? What would happen if we became known not as the most entitled generation, but the most thankful generation? Can you imagine that?

For me, it begins by saying thank you to my wife for who she is, how she loves me, and how gracious she is towards me day in and day out. I say thank you to my son of just 4 weeks old for his utter dependence on me when I have no clue what I'm doing. And I say thank you to God for my wife and son and the countless other blessings in life I do not deserve at all, the ultimate being salvation from my own entitlement and thanklessness and the hell that will be filled with both.

And be thankful. -Paul, in his letter to the Colossian church.

By His Grace.

Friday, December 06, 2013

What Is This New Teaching?

Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, "What does this babbler wish to say?" Others said, "He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities" -- because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean." Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new." -Acts 17:18-21

"Athens was proverbial for the curiosity of its inhabitants. By the first century, Athenian desire for entertainment also extended to gladiatorial shows, drawing the criticism of several famous moralists." -IVP New Testament Background Commentary, "Acts 17:21".

I am quite fascinated by two things:

  1. That the people were only interested in new teachings. We live in a post-Christendom culture, where Jesus and talk of the resurrection is passé. But there was a time when talk of Jesus and his resurrection was new. Nevertheless, our culture is much like the Athenians, whereby all we want is something new. New today is talk of tolerance, eastern religions, and flying drones that deliver packages in 30 minutes or less. Paul's teaching was new in one sense, but as he points out later, this was never new to God.
  2. That the newness extended to entertainment. The gladiatorial games had extended from Rome to Athens, and they loved it. Moralists objected in those times and I can't help but see the parallels to our culture with football and the continuous clamoring for more stuff to consume. This is only speculation, but I am guessing that the increasing demand for new, and new entertainment at that,  by the masses aided in the decline and destruction of the two greatest empires of antiquity.
Lastly, by way of brief reflection, Paul is both preaching and teaching Jesus and the resurrection. I guess, to apply to today, we must preach and teach to a post-"new" culture, meaning Jesus and the resurrection is old news to many, but we must be more aware than ever that it is old news in terms of soundbites and faded childhood memories of church and snippets of the bible. Most people today do not know anything about the Jesus of the bible or the resurrection and the haunting thoughts of soundbites and memories keep them from wanting to know. The Athenians, then, should not serve as models for them in how they want to be entertained, but instead in how they want to learn something new. This news must be proclaimed with conviction and taught with utmost clarity, as Paul models for us here, but it should also be received with some form of willingness from people who think they know but have no idea.

So I encourage you, whoever may read this that isn't a Christian and honestly doesn't know much about the bible, to let those who want to teach and preach Jesus and his resurrection to you to do so. Chances are you will learn something you never thought you could know.

By His Grace.