Thankful

thankful

A Google images search of nearly any word or phrase will give you a wide variety of visual representations of what the word or phrase describes. Thankful, will not.

The quick-tech flashy world we live in has a million references for almost everything.  A definition, an icon, logo, meme, gif, and different pictures for anything you can imagine can be referenced in an instant. You can type any variety of common words or phrases and get hundreds of different images to represent it. Thankful, a very common word only seems to have one. There are different angles and different people in them, but they are all essentially the same, a person standing alone in a natural setting with their arms raised as to heaven. Quotes and poems overlay some of them, all trying to express thanks or encapsulate what it means to be thankful. But why is this the image that represents it?

From our first steps to graduating from school, a job, promotion, even the number of friends we have, we measure ourselves and others by accomplishment. We’re taught our entire lives that being loved and celebrated requires something of us. We get help along the way, opportunities granted, mistakes forgiven, shortcomings accommodated. But still, we are expected to perform at some level to be accepted.

Few things in this world are just given to us, even fewer that we really don’t think we deserve on some level or have any sort of strings attached. So when it happens, it brings the best of our emotions together, and brings out the best in us. Welling up with emotions words cannot express compells us to voice our praise and reach up, reach out, try to make the giver and the gift tangible, and make them aware of our gratitude. There is a noticeable difference between someone who is grateful for what they’ve been given and those who don’t. Maybe not at first, the gushing and embracing may look the same on the surface, but true gratitude changes us. A gift we know we didn’t earn makes us step up. Not to achieve anything, we already have it. We step up to honor the gift and the giver.

Christ was crucified and defeated death for us. He gives us life and peace. We don’t deserve either, we can’t earn either. The greatest gift, the eternal gift. All we can do is accept or not accept. We can’t pay it back. There is nothing we can do to make it “square”. Being eternally grateful, in awe of God’s grace is our only possible response if we accept the way, the truth and the life that is Jesus Christ. Acceptance of this gift truly transforms us, thankfulness starts replacing pride, greed and power as the thing that drives our positive emotions until we no longer pat ourselves on the back, but reach up to heaven, overflowing with love, joy and trust.

 

Who’s Your Audience?

Royal Albert Hall

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The coliseum in Rome, The Sidney Opera House, Madison Square Garden, places designed and built for people to present a message or display the performance of some act in front of an audience. Stadiums and theaters, churches and synagogues of all sizes and shapes are in every city and town around the world. While these places are intentionally there for one or more people to share something with one or more other people, the fact is we are all performing all the time for someone. Whether we consciously think about it all the time or not, we are putting on a display for all to see any time we’re not alone. Anyone who practices or performs anything for the purpose of displaying it even when they are alone, is planning for their audience. Even the things we do by and for ourselves have an audience. But who?

“All the world’s a stage,…” William Shakespeare’s poem points out his seven stages of performance in a man’s life, regardless of who’s watching. “…know your audience.” Tennessee Ernie Ford and countless speech and performance coaches remind us to be aware of the perception others will have on our performance. An audience can be a single person, a group of people or even all people. Some things are for our own entertainment or pleasure, an audience of one. Some are for others to see, anything from the way we dress, walk and talk in public, to a particular act. Many things provoke a response from our audience, making us aware, (if we weren’t already) of our audience, and how our performance was received. While many people give great thought to their performances and the responses achieved, throughout the stages of our lives we all pay varying attention to our audience.

Everyday activities and world class performances all have an audience, both intended an unintended. Many authors and performers have recommended choosing a single person or character to focus on. People put on a certain attire or act in a certain way to draw the attention of a single person. ”Audience of One.” The Athletes in Action catch phrase recently re-made famous by Phillidelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz in creating the AO1 foundation, is about choosing and targeting our audience. Specifically, choosing Jesus Christ, as our audience for everything we do.

Long before the WWJD bracelet craze, my grandmother asked me during a particularly rebellious time in my life, “Do you think about what Jesus would think of the the things you do?” I answered yes, but up until then, I didn’t. Since then, I can’t help but be reminded that even in the performances that never leave the confines of my own mind, someone is watching. Whether we choose God as our audience and live our lives in a way that honors him or not, he sees us, and like any audience, he does respond.

Who are you performing for?

A Normal Christian

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I’m just a regular guy. Stop laughing. Ok, so I may not be your average guy in many respects. I’m taller than average, less patience than average, I have gray eyes, I’ve been told many times, “I’ve never met anyone quite like you.” Though I don’t know exactly what people mean by that, whether it’s good or bad, I take it as a compliment. I like to be seen as an individual, I think most people do. But if I take a look at my life, it’s much like the lives of countless others.

When I look at other people I tend to generalize, I think we all do to a certain degree. Not stereotyping or judging, just making associations, the kind I make about myself in seeing myself as regular guy. The more we get to know people the more individual they become as we discover the nuances that make them different than anyone else we’ve met. For years I had a general picture of a typical church going Christian, a sort of Ned Flanders type who in my eyes, was nothing like me.

Now I am a typical church going Christian. The more I get to know other church going Christians the less “Ned Flanders” they appear. I’d like to see pictures posted in the comments section from other individual but typical Christians doing things you do every day. Spend your week in a uniform? Let’s see it. Scrubs? Bring ‘em on. Filthy from head to toe and carrying a bit of an odor? Post with pride. The world needs reminded that Christians are just a bunch of individuals like them, made equal in the eyes of the Father by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Are You a Closet Christian?

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According to official sounding research companies, 50-60% of adults in America go to religious services regularly. Use of the term “regularly” is rather loose but it’s fair to say a little over half of us do so at least once or twice a year. (Church based estimates put about 18% of the population in church on a given week.) Polls of course suffer from several weaknesses, not the least of which is the total exclusion from their calculations, the positions of the population who don’t participate in surveys. Another glaring fault is the dependence on peoples honesty and\or self-perception. A lot of people who claim to do things regularly, in reality do them occasionally, or not at all but like to think they do or at least give the impression that they do. But, these are the best numbers we have so we’ll work from there.

On the other side you have 40-50% of the population who fully admit to never or rarely going to religious services. Polling the polls shows that roughly 4-10% of Americans don’t believe in God. (Unless you look at atheist propaganda, in which case the number grows to as high as 27%.) The same research says 70-85% of the population self-identifies as Christian leaving the remaining 6-21% divided among other religions, or part of the rapidly growing “nones”, who believe in God or a greater power but have no preferred religious doctrine or defined set of beliefs. Which means roughly 25-30% of the general population in the United States claims to be Christian, while never going to church.

So, every other person you see walking down the street, in the car next to you at the traffic light, or passing you in the aisle at the grocery store practices their religion among others of their shared faith. Approximately every third person you see believes in Christ, but chooses not to engage the community of their faith. Feeling the undeniable pull of spirituality while living in a primarily Christian society, they identify as Christians. Some because they are, whatever their reason for not gathering with other believers has not stopped them from believing. Others simply go with the flow, everybody else said Christian and they don’t want to be singled out.

If you are among the roughly one-third of the population who believes, or wants to believe in Christ but never consider going to church for whatever reason, I challenge you to go at least 4 times in the next two months. Even if you find no particular connection with that particular congregation, I’ll bet you feel more connected to your faith. If you are one of the regulars who isn’t so regular, slow down, remember the peace of God and share in it as often as you can.

 

Where are you?

I began this page to get people thinking, engaging and talking about the real questions they have about faith and Jesus Christ. It was never my intent to use it as a preaching platform and the articles I have posted thus far have been intended to give you a general feel for my positions on a few things, to know where I am coming from. So far there has been little to no action in the conversation-starting department.

For those of you who have taken the time to read my posts, I thank you. If the kind of articles I have posted are appreciated and you would like to see more, please like this post or let me know in some other way and I will continue. I also plan to begin posting more conversation starters. I know most of you have opinions or views which differ from mine and I’d like to hear them. If we don’t share, we can’t grow.

Merry Christmas!

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In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy-the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death\ before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,

according to your word;

for my eyes have seen your salvation

that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

and for glory to your people Israel.”

And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

Christian Patriot?

God and Country?

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Politics and religion, never to be mentioned in polite company. The former pressing its influence on everyone in a society, the latter individually influencing the views of those who belong to it. People like to be among those who are like minded, to face disagreement is to have our thoughts and intentions challenged. In a society where disagreement is equal to insult, these crucial topics, that for our own good we should be most ready to communicate about, have become very dangerous ground.

As much as people like to be individuals, even greater is their desire to be part of a group. Even the most independent, anti-social people wish more people would see things like they do, though maybe from…over there. We identify ourselves by the associations we are comfortable with and often feel compelled to lash out against those we aren’t comfortable with or simply don’t understand. Though affirmation of our own thoughts and feelings, or understanding of our shared situation can draw us into different groups, it isn’t being something, doing something or thinking something that forms groups and strengthens these associations so much as having them challenged or attacked, either as a group or individually. We seek protection from (or feel the need to protect) those who are in a similar position to ourselves, either by chance or by choice. While we may not have anything else in common, we pitch-in to further the greater cause. Safety in numbers has always been the way, not just for physical protection, but also for emotional, intellectual and spiritual comfort.
So what do we do when the expectations of membership in one group we belong to conflict with the undeniable requirements of another? I’m speaking of the difference between the opinions and actions associated with a modern interpretation of an American Patriot, versus the beliefs and spiritual fruits displayed by a Christian. Though our country was undeniably built on and around Christian values, Christian values aren’t subject to borders and our government isn’t controlled by the church. Our once Christian nation is becoming more secular, while our world is turning back to religious war. Wars in foreign nations, immigration of refugees, health insurance requirements, religious taxation, public educational bias, caring for the poor; all these things and more reveal potential conflict between serving God and serving country (and serving self).

I’d like to hear from you. What are your thoughts on a particular issue for you personally? Something you feel strongly about, struggle with or struggle with understanding in others, but please no attacks either personal or general. This is a big topic and nothing said here will solve the worlds problems, but if we continue to avoid facing and discussing the issues, both Christians and non-Christians, we will continue to weaken light the church is to shine and the nation in which we live.