Learning Gratitude

I don’t say thanks enough.  I don’t say it enough in my marriage when my wife does things like pack my suitcase for me (without me asking) when I’m going on a trip, and I don’t say it enough when somebody picks up my tab at a restaurant.  I don’t say it enough to the people who partner with us to reach college students.  I also don’t say thanks enough when somebody donates a car to me.

A what?

You read that right.  Somebody has donated a car to us!  It’s an Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight, and I’m pretty sure it’s a 1998 model.  All the paperwork hasn’t cleared, so we don’t have it in our driveway yet, but I’m expecting it within the next two weeks.  Rest assured there will be pictures.

When we got home from the summer, we had planed on buying a car to replace the one that didn’t quite fit underneath the F350.  But our finances were not in a place where we could responsibly justify a large purchase.  So I sent an email to a few friends asking if they knew of anyone selling a car for next-to-nothing.  It was a prayer-bathed stab in the dark, and I honestly didn’t think I was going to hear anything back from it.

A couple of weeks later, I got a call from the missions committee at our church, saying that someone had given the church their car, and they wanted to give it to us!  I was blown away.

God is too good to us.  You, reader, are too good to us.  And I need to learn to say that more often.

Lessons from Stan.

The guy next to me on the stationary bike could have made a career out of competitive sweating.  I’m not too shabby when it comes to perspiration, but this guy made it an art form.  I had turned to him and made small talk, trying to distract myself from the intense pain in my legs.  At some point in the conversation I mentioned how I’d been watching what I eat lately.

Stan (we’ll call him that because I’ve forgotten his actual name) immediately started helping me think through diets, and some good things to eat for high triglycerides.  He suggested I hand-grind some oats at the beginning of each week, and cook them with a little bit of honey and eat off of them all week long for breakfast.  He went on to describe his regular lunch that included (but was limited to) the words arugula, whole-grain, free range, and unsalted.

I nodded a lot.

After a while, he said a line that rang in my ears.  He said “one more thing, and then I’m done preaching at you about your diet…”

What an interesting way to phrase it.  It’s OK, and perfectly natural for a guy who is passionate about eating healthy (and organic, in Stan’s case) to call others—even perfect strangers beside him on a bike at the YMCA—to do it.  Especially if there’s a window in the conversation that gives him the opportunity.  He simply can’t keep quiet about it.

Initiative evangelism has gotten a bad rap in recent years.  Students regularly tell me that it feels forced and unnatural to approach a stranger with the goal of talking to them about Jesus.  And while some of the bad rap is deserved (loveless “Christians” holding hateful signs at funerals or leaving fake $20 bill tracts on the street), most of the aversion to initiating a conversations with a stranger is based on a faulty view of the message being shared.

Tim Keller rightly says “the gospel is news as opposed to instruction.”  When we share the gospel with a stranger, we ought not be telling them how to change, or how to repent, or how to pray a prayer or walk an aisle.  We ought to be telling them that God became a man to rescue sinful men and women from themselves.  It’s the most amazing truth ever told!  And it affects EVERYTHING!  Why in the world would I not share it with someone, especially if they indicate they are willing to listen?

We should look for opportunities in conversations to share with people, in a natural, respectful way (much like how Stan shared the benefits of organic nutrition).  If we really believe the gospel, and are being changed by the gospel, it is something that we will share with others.  And while it’s true that sharing with a close friend is natural, it shouldn’t be forced or awkward to share the gospel with a sweaty stranger beside you on the cardio machine.

All that I need.

While we’ve been off campus developing a team of ministry partners (because “support raising” erroneously implies I’m more about the dollars than the relationships), I have noticed a recurring theme popping up in my life.

I am living in anticipation of the next stage of life, which indicates a lack of understanding of the gospel.

Let me explain.  I frequently think things like “once I’ve raised the support, things will be better,” or “if my son grows up to be a godly man who leads people to Christ (or at least a godly man who plays point guard for the Tar Heels), then I’ll be complete.”  I’d never really verbalize those thoughts in exactly that way, but I am prone to making plans under the faulty assumption that I don’t currently have all that I need (or could ever want!) in Christ.

I think “if I got a book deal and a speaking tour, then I’d be worth something…” or “if I led worship at a church full-time, then I’d be living the dream.”  All the while, I forget the gospel.  Like an alcoholic going back to the fridge for another beer, I’m convinced that this next _________ will change things.  It’ll make it all better.

But I have all I need in Christ.

Exodus 14:14
Psalm 40:17
Psalm 116:6
Isaiah 58:11
Luke 12:29-31
2 Corinthians 9:8
Ephesians 1:3 (check the verb tense)
Philippians 4:19
Hebrews 7:26
2 Peter 1:3

What’s filling Christ’s blank in your life?

RIP Mary.

Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul, and Mary… and if that’s not enough of a clue, google it, young’n.) died today.

And I cried about it.

I was checking out her website and the touching things that her bandmates had to say about her and was struck by the fragility of life.  Do I know where Mary Travers is currently spending eternity?  Nope.  I didn’t know her, and only in passing listened to her music growing up.  But her death reminds me that good works are not enough.  She was an activist from birth.  According to her wikipedia page, her parents moved to Greenwich village in NY when she was just 2 years old.  She spent her entire life working for the causes of the underrepresented, the downtrodden, and the powerless.

But that’s not enough.

Again, I don’t know anything about her spiritual life, and so I am by no means pronouncing judgement on her.  My concern is that people not look at her life, which was spent living for a cause, and think that causes are enough to render you acceptable to God.  No amount of lobbying for abortion rights, gun control, animal rights, or racial reconciliation can get rid of the problem.

Her problem (and mine) is that we have declared war on God.  We’ve said to God that he isn’t doing a good enough job, and that we could do it better.  I still do it about once a day (on a particularly holy day), and Mary Travers did it too.  God, being perfect, and holy, and all of the things that we aren’t, can’t just let us off the hook for our rebellion.  He has to finish the war.  He has to win.  So, 2000 years ago, he won the war, by putting his perfect son on the front line of the rebels.  He killed his son so that infidels and rebels like me could go free.

All of the things that Mary Travers fought for (freedom for oppressed people, environmental awareness, etc) are worthy of fighting for.  But, until you deal with your own bankruptcy before God, you’ve still got a problem that no amount of activism can fix.

May the death of Mary Travers point us to the only cause worth fighting for.

Dear minister, meet your congregation.

Link: Dear minister, meet your congregation.

Yesterday on SCL, Jon asked what we’d be afraid to confess/admit at our church. I think that as ministers it’s time we stop assuming that our church is the exception to the rule, and start focusing less on sin and more on the one who came to seek and save sinners. This ought to be a sobering reminder for us that, as I said in my comment over there, the gospel is NEWS as opposed to instruction. Stop telling your people how to stop sinning and clean up their act. Tell them of the one whose act was clean, who offers his record in exchange for their broken, ugly one.