Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Overflowing with Thanks

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2.6-7)

Discipleship in a Nutshell

On occasion, as we read Paul’s letters and he’s rolling along, dispensing one illuminating truth after another, we begin to sense exasperation rising until he throws up his hands in dismay. Such a moment surfaces in Galatians 5. Legalistically prone Jewish Christians have rattled Gentile believers by insisting circumcision—i.e., conversion to Judaism—is necessary for redemption. That the Galatians would credence such nonsense alarms Paul, given how he and other Apostles constantly preach God’s grace is free for all without condition. “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love,” he says in verse 6, just before bewilderment overtakes him and he exclaims, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?” (v7) If he were writing to modern believers mired in similar controversy—say, demands that believers disavow gender, ethnicity, or orientation to qualify for God’s acceptance—Paul might put this to them: “Why are you hung up by this?” The Galatians have let patently false doctrine impede their progress, steal their focus, and shake their confidence.

Jesus tasks the Apostles with one primary mission: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28.19) But they soon learn making disciples goes beyond convincing people to believe in Jesus; it calls for unswerving commitment to Him and His teaching. Therefore, it’s equally vital for the Apostles to encourage believers to continue in the faith. New life in Christ is the key that opens the door to living in Christ. “Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness,” Paul urges in Colossians 2.6-7. Keep going. Keep growing. Get stronger. Stay thankful. That pretty much summarizes discipleship in a nutshell. And, pulling his advice to the Galatians into this mix: Don’t let anyone cut in on you and keep you from obeying the truth.

It’s Got to Be Real

Living in Christ means living by faith, and since the natural mind and senses are critically crippled by the need to know and feel, living by faith is the most elusive pursuit we can undertake. Faith gives us nothing visible or tangible to go on. Yet it’s got to be real. That’s why Paul includes “overflowing with thankfulness” in his set of instructions. Thanksgiving transforms belief into reality, faith into fact. It’s the aftermath of complete trust in God’s unfailing mercy and care for us. “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,” David writes in Psalm 23.6. As we move forward, living day by day in Christ, we take time to glance back and recognize how good God has been to us, how He’s proven Himself repeatedly, consistently.

Thanking God gives voice to His grace and concern in every detail about us. We entrust Him with our lives and He validates our faith by completely involving Himself in them. No matter is too great or small for His attention. Sometimes He reveals His presence in expected ways, answering specific prayers and honoring certain promises. Just as often (if not more so), He demonstrates His love in startling fashions—surprising us with unanticipated blessings, shielding us from unforeseen detriment, or guiding us through treacherous stretches we’d prefer to escape. However He rewards our trust, though, pausing to express gratitude for what He’s done informs blind faith in current situations with insight gained by experience. Thanksgiving makes abstract faith concrete. It secures our roots and builds us up. It keeps us going.

Faith Rises

Years ago, Fundamentalists got swept up by a teaching every bit as caustic as the circumcision doctrine that plagued the Early Church. Known as “word of faith” theology, it quickly entered Fundie slang as “name-it-claim-it.” Its advocates said all believers had to do to exercise faith was “speak the word” to remedy their problems. As usual with fringe doctrines, “word of faith” found a few scriptural hooks to bait weak, unseasoned believers, and they swallowed them whole. Overnight, churches teemed with sick people saying, “I’m healed,” financially strapped ones claiming, “I’m rich,” etc. This went on quite a while before it faded, sadly taking a lot of disillusioned, disappointed souls with it.

During this craze, I noticed believers who genuinely lived by faith didn’t “name-and-claim” anything. Nothing anyone said and nothing they faced hindered them from obeying the truth. In spite of everything around them, they kept their hearts overflowing with thanks. While others confused imagined outcomes with expressions of faith, their expressions of gratitude generated real faith that produced outcomes. They exemplified Philippians 4.6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." They obeyed 1 Thessalonians 5.18: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” They taught me living by faith is living in thanks. Confidence to move on comes by looking back at how far we’ve come. As “Amazing Grace” brilliantly reminds us: “’Twas grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me on.” Faith rises when thanksgiving overflows.

Faith for the future is borne on the tide overflowing thanks for past mercies and grace. We look back to move ahead.

(Next: Do It Yourself)


gmc said...

Hey Tim,

I've bookmarked your blog - and will work through the previous postings gradually.

It's a great find. I may pose some questions along the way as I try to get a better handle on some things. I'm straight but I have gay relatives and friends. And as a Christian I'm still not comfortable with the approach that even some more progressive churches/ministires take towards this hot button topic.

They say "love the sinner, hate the sin..." and make comparisons to other sin-list items like alcoholism, etc... This doesn't ring true for me as it leaves me with no way to approach my gay friends with anything better than an entire vocabulary that condemns their sexuality. And one thing I'm sure of is that sexuality goes magnitudes of order deeper into our being than some of our "sin-issues" like addictions etc...There's got to be a better starting point to allow discussions and growth in understandings and relationships.

So, I'm looking for better answers. I'm impressed that you've come through with faith intact and that you are still willing to make yourself vulnerable, open and straight-friendly. I'm over-joyed that you are clearly able to differentiate God's opinions from those of people who appoint themselves as his mouthpieces & followers.

Now - back to reading and to pass on your coordinates to another friend at church who is also working towards a deeper understanding.


Tim said...

Grant, welcome to Straight-Friendly! I'm sure you'll find it a safe, informative, and non-judgmental place frequented by people who love God and one another.

Here's the thing with the love the sinner, hate the sin paradigm that always gets overlooked. Jesus just commanded us to love the sinner. He left no commandments authorizing us to think, say, or do anything about sin except forgive it. (The adulterous woman episode blatantly reveals His opinion of those who exceed their charge...) Opinion and judgment of anyone's sin are beyond human capacity. Whether we love or hate what someone does really doesn't matter. It's what WE do that's important.

As believers--gay, straight, male, female, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, however you want to slice our crowd--our sole responsibility is to fulfill the law Christ: love God with our entire beings and our neighbors as ourselves.

Sexuality is neither ours to approve or disapprove; it's (as you so wisely point out) an element of being--a thing we bring with us into the world, along with gender and ethnicity.

Our acceptance of this isn't a matter of justifying homosexuality as "inherent" rather than "learned." It's actually based on the common assumption that straight people are born straight. That's what always perplexes people who want to convince me I'm "gay by choice." I invariably baffle them by asking, "So when did you know you were straight? How old were you?" Typically the response is "I've always known..." And that's the correct answer for many gay people, too. Sexuality is expression; the reflection of a Maker who sees Him/Herself in all of us. To condemn anyone's identity in any fashion is to reject the Creator Who shaped that identity. We love the sinner because, whatever his/her sin, he/she is the image of the One we love most of all.

Loving God means loving all His people and loving them requires setting aside our differences to recognize our similarities. We love them as ourselves.

As you're able to read through the posts and comments, you'll see this is the big theme here. And many of us have made it the theme of our lives.

God bless you, Grant, for your openness to God's Spirit and His call for a people that put love above self, acceptance above approval, and compassion above conformity. And thank you for sharing the S-F link with others. The more of us who find one another out here in the ether, we'll realize how many more of us there are who share this bold commitment to follow Christ rather than hew to theological fear and prejudice.

By all means, feel free to comment, ask questions, shoot over emails, etc. We're all growing together. It's a joyous journey!


gmc said...

"Loving God means loving all His people and loving them requires setting aside our differences to recognize our similarities. We love them as ourselves."

Tim, thanks for your warm welcome. I am thankful to find you. This is an issue that I can't really talk about with most of my Christian friends because of their preconceptions.. Nor can I talk about it with my gay friends because they carry some strong prejudices and pains towards Christians (understandably).

I want to tell you a little story that might indicate how these questions began forming in me many years back. I was on a business trip in New York and out taking an after lunch stroll with a business colleague. Without realizing it we wandered into the gay village and there was some sort of street festival going on. Everyone was having a lot of fun and my colleague and I were just a little out of our "zone" but taking it all in. As a Christian I was touched and happy to see that a local church yard was the center of the festival activities. I thought that was cool. But then I spotted somenoe coming up the street with a T-shirt slogan that read: "Jesus Protect Me..." Oh boy, I thought. Here's some religious zealot who's looking for trouble!? ... I became uneasy wondering if some sort of violent confrontation was about to start... Then as we got closer and passed him, I read the next line below written in fine print: "...from your followers."

"Jesus, protect me from your followers."

Ouch! As a Christ-follower that really drove home to me how far from Jesus' example most Christians have wandered.

So, I hope you have nothing to fear or need protection from with me. I certainly feel that way with you and I look forward to exploring our faith a little more. And I pray that ultimately this will help me become a safer place of "refuge" for all my friends, straight or gay.


Tim said...


Your desire to become a "refuge" is noble and worthy, and surely God will honor your prayer.

Re the t-shirt, I've seen and heard that often; it's a bit of a misnomer, though. Jesus's followers are nothing to fear or need protection from. It's those who claim to follow Him, but go their own way that cause problems.

I'm sure you're kidding about having anything to fear from you, of course. Feel free to enjoy God's love and protection here with the rest of us--He is good all the time to everyone!


Grant said...

I realized later the T-shirt said: JESUS SAVE ME from your followers. But I know you got the point.

I was thinking today how radically inclusive the new covenant is and how different and contrary that is from the old covenant and human nature. Those are about drawing lines between "them" and "us."

Then how easy it is to fear and hate those "others." My ponderings were aided by the amazing music of a friend of mine who is based just a little north of you in Winnipeg. If this link works for you, I hope you might enjoy the music and Steve's oft deep and humble musings between songs:
Steve Bell and WSO


Tim said...

Grant, how right you are: the new covenant IS radically inclusive--no "us" and "them," only "us." And I'm so glad to have brothers and sisters in Christ like you and everyone else here with "us."

I haven't yet had a chance to check out Steve's music an musings. But I'm eager to do so, and will let you know how well I enjoy it once I do. (I'm sure it will bless me, though.)

Carry on, be blessed, and grow in the love and faith of Christ, my friend. I look forward to hearing and learning more from you!