Expressing Gratitude

This month every year in the United States, people are encouraged to pause in order to express thanks for blessings which have occurred in their lives over the year. A specific day has been set aside to do exactly this. The roots of Thanksgiving Day are found in the story of English settlers experiencing their first harvest in the new world.

Prayers of thanks and special thanksgiving ceremonies are common among almost all religions after harvests and at other times.The Thanksgiving holiday’s history in North America is rooted in English traditions dating from the Protestant Reformation. It also has aspects of a harvest festival, even though the harvest in New England occurs well before the late-November date on which the modern Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated.

Pilgrims and Puritans who emigrated from England in the 1620s and 1630s carried the tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them to New England. The modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition is traced to a well-recorded 1619 event in Virginia and a sparsely documented 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. The 1619 arrival of 38 English settlers at Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia, concluded with a religious celebration as dictated by the group’s charter from the London Company, which specifically required “that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned … in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.” The 1621 Plymouth feast and thanksgiving was prompted by a good harvest, which the Pilgrims celebrated with native Americans, who helped them pass the last winter by giving them food in the time of scarcity.

Wikipedia

Thinking about the upcoming celebration of Thanksgiving once again in three weeks prompted me to consider what it means to be thankful and show gratitude. To be a bit more specific, I have been thinking about gratitude in the light of my faith. Especially since the above words found in Wikipedia make mention of prayers and ceremonies among almost all religions.

There exist a variety of ways to express gratitude. Most often we think of using words to express gratitude. This may be as simple as saying, thank you, or may be longer by expressing exactly what prompts us to be thankful and how our life has been impacted. At other times, actions we take may be an expression of our gratitude.

So how do we go about expressing gratitude to God?

As a Christian, I believe that all I have and all that I am are gifts from God. God has chosen to bestow material items, means to purchase material items, talents I use, and knowledge which I have obtained upon me. God gives to me even the breath which I take and the food which sustains me. Nothing in my life exists except through the giving of it to me by God. So how do I express gratitude for my very life and everything within it?

Scripture contains suggestions which might be helpful:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Micha 6:8

Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

Matthew 25:34-40

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

John 4:11

Many other passages can be found which prompt us to give thanks to God. I lift these passages up to you because they talk not about words, or even worship, but about attitude and action. God warns the people that they can do all forms of worship and abide by the sacrificial laws which existed for ancient Israel but that without the correct actions and attitude, their expressions are hollow. (See Isaiah 1:10-18) This warning leads me to think that the best way to express gratitude to God is through our actions and attitude. I think God finds this most pleasing.

So as you pause this month to consider those aspects of your life which generate gratitude in your heart towards God, I encourage you not to just express your gratitude in words but more importantly in actions and attitude.

Bumper Sticker Christians

When I was growing up, my dad always refused to let us put bumper stickers on the car. His reason for this was that they are difficult to get off and always leave a mark. He said that when he was ready to sell the car he did not want to get less for it because of the bumper stickers. I am really not sure why he used that as his reasoning since I never recall dad selling any of our cars. He always seemed to drive them until they would not run anymore. Whatever his true reason may have been, the truth is that I was never allowed to put any type of bumper sticker on the car.

As I became an adult, I also followed dad’s rule with most of the vehicles which I owned. My reason for not putting a bumper sticker on the car was much different from my dad’s. I did not want bumper stickers on my car because then I felt everyone would know something about me and that I would have to be representative of whatever the bumper sticker was about. If I placed a bumper sticker for a political candidate on my car, I thought my actions while driving would then represent that candidate. This was a pressure I did not want to place on myself since sometimes my driving habits are not always the best.

I have been observing a lot of vehicles with bumper stickers which have faith statements or the name of a church or a reference to God upon them. Seeing the various bumper stickers, or more accurately today there are as many window decals as bumper stickers, has caused me to ponder two questions. The first is, why have they chosen to attach that to their vehicle? The second is, do their actions stand as a fair representation of what is on their sticker or decal?

Why the first question is important to me is because the motivation behind placing a sticker or decal on the vehicle may say a lot about the type of person who attached it might be. What I mean by this statement is that if the motivation was to encourage others to investigate the thought, church, or God statement, then it serves a purpose of invitation. However, if the motivation is linked to a desire to let the world know what a good Christian the person is, then there is a major issue.

A passage from Scripture addresses this when Jesus is teaching about giving to the needy and prayer:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:1-6

Here Jesus clearly states what type of attitude is expected of his followers. We are not to seek reward for our actions which we do in faith. We are to do whatever we do as a response to our faith. If placing a sticker or decal on a vehicle is intended to get people to think better of us, then it definitely goes counter to what Jesus says above.

The other concern which I have is that some drivers which have faith stickers or decals attached to their vehicles are not always demonstrating the teachings of the Lord. Through gestures, driving behaviors, and other actions, they choose to not represent a loving attitude. I know that I am sometimes guilty of these things, so I do not place faith stickers and decals on my car. I am afraid that I will misrepresent God through my actions and will be unable to seek forgiveness from those whom I might offend.

Let me throw some caution out to those who might be what I am terming, bumper sticker Christians. Be aware that by placing that sticker or decal on your vehicle, you are representing your faith and your God in a very public way. Know your motivation behind doing so. Make sure your actions truly are representative of a loving God who offers forgiveness to all people.

Purpose of the Church – Part 3

If you have been following my posts about the purpose of the Church, you know that I have identified what I view the Church as not being and what I view the Church as being. (If you have missed them, here are the links: Purpose of the Church – Part 1 & Purpose of the Church – Part 2.) Today, I will share my final post dedicated to this specific topic.

At the end of Part 2, I quoted a passage from the Gospel of Matthew. Here it is again:

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:18-19

I indicated that the Church has the responsibility to look after the welfare of all people. But how do we live out being this Church? There are 7.7 billion people and a finite amount of resources. What aspects of an individual’s welfare should we be addressing? What do we do about those who do not even believe in God? How about people who are not Christian, do we have a responsibility to them? The Church exists for those who are members, does it not? Questions that are nothing more than a smoke screen of excuses.

Like a multitude of aspects of life, we tend to complicate that which is truly very simple. We spend so much time identifying the hurdles to whatever we may be called to do that we miss the opportunities which are right before our eyes. We think only within what we know and not what could be.

I believe that living as the Church means living where we are now. By that, I mean that we address what is around us and not what is out of our realm of touch. A friend of mine used to always do a benediction which included a line that reminded all the hearers that we are where we now are for a reason. If each of us who claimed to be part of the Church took a good look around ourselves, we would find individuals who have needs which we are uniquely qualified to meet. This does not require us to develop some new talent or skill, we already have been given that talent or skill to address that specific need. We may need to strengthen the talent or skill, or learn how to apply it better to the situation before us. Yet the core is already present within us.

Imagine if each participant in the Church applied themselves each day. The impact we could have in our community and neighboring communities could be tremendous. If this happened in every place and each day throughout the world where people claim to be a part of the Church, the Church would have a global impact which exceeds any of the world’s NGO’s today. The multiplied effect of individuals practicing this simple guidance could change the course of human existence.

Another positive reality of the Church living out its purpose is that when two or more individuals join together to follow this plan, their efforts are even stronger. This is why the Church exists as a community of people on a journey of faith together. Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20) I believe that Jesus was not only talking about being together in worship or in a class, Jesus was talking about gathering to live as the Church. We support and strengthen one another as each of us lives out our purpose within the Church. The Church gains its purpose from the ones who join together in looking out for the welfare of all people.

If this is truly the attitude which we take as the Church, then all the excuses mentioned above drift away. The resources needed have already been provided. The belief system of the one in need has no bearing on our actions. The ones who claim to be members of the Church are having their needs met as they join in fellowship and work with each other.