And be thankful…

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts since as members of one body, you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:16)

From time to time I’ve seen posts on Facebook entitled “30 Days of Gratitude” or something similar, and each day the person posts something they’re thankful for.

I was reminded of that as I remembered the verse above. “And be thankful,” the apostle Paul says. Why? Why should we be thankful? Why do people post on Facebook something they are grateful for each day?

In his devotional book, Hidden In Christ, James Bryan Smith gives a couple of reasons why we should and some reasons why some folks believe they should.

For instance, are you among those who believe that God is mad at you if you aren’t thankful? Smith gives the example of how we raise our children. When our children receive something, we say to them, “What do you say?” At times, we transfer that thinking to our God, believing that He is looking down at heaven screaming at us, “What do you say?!?” As Smith points out, God is complete in Himself. He doesn’t need anything. He loves us genuinely and with pureness of heart. He requires nothing in return. After all, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Secondly, Smith says, sometimes we mistakenly believe that thankfulness is the “secret ingredient” to prayer, which sways God to answer. We are told to “enter His gates with thanksgiving…” (Psalm 100:4) and “in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6) However, if we think we can manipulate God, we are missing the point.

No, as the folks who post on Facebook would probably tell you, when you count your blessings, when you find things to be thankful to God for, and when you look at life closely and discover little (and big) things to be grateful about, life begins to come alive, so to speak. Your attitude changes. You begin to savor every day, not taking anything for granted, as you and I sometimes do.

As we see every day through the news and elsewhere, we are not guaranteed tomorrow. Life can change in the blink of an eye. Our loved ones here today can be gone tomorrow.

Savor this day. And be thankful.

The Natural Response…

Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13b)

In his devotional book, Hidden In Christ, James Bryan Smith makes a thought-provoking statement, in essence saying that many Christians think that God’s forgiveness depends on us forgiving others, or that we will be forgiven by God in proportion to the extent we forgive others. He points out that is simply not true. While we were sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) Before we even knew God, Christ died for us. Before we had a chance to forgive others, Christ died for us. We forgive as a natural outpouring of what Christ has done for us. In Smith’s words…

“So what is Jesus telling us when He instructs us to forgive others? And why does He connect it with the forgiveness of God in Mark 11:25? He gave several illustrations, through parables, about the necessity of forgiving others because we ourselves have been forgiven (See Matthew 18:21-35). We can easily make the mistake of thinking that divine forgiveness is determined by human forgiveness — in other words, to think that God only forgives me if I forgive others, and in the exact measure that I forgive others.

“We cannot say, ‘I accept God’s forgiveness for my sins, but I refuse to forgive others.’ This is actually impossible, not just theologically but psychologically. If we truly know – in the depths of our being – that we have been completely forgiven, then we naturally forgive those who have harmed us in some way.

“When we do find ourselves struggling to forgive someone, we should not grit our teeth and merely try harder to forgive them. Instead, we should dwell on the fundamental reality that we ourselves are people who need forgiveness, and then set our minds on the reality that God, in Christ, has forgiven us completely.”

For me personally, this is the essence of forgiveness. And I need to be reminded of it constantly. It is understanding how flawed we all are. It is understanding how depraved we all are. We all have baggage. We all have issues. We are all broken. We all have sin. As Smith says, “We are all fighting a great battle.”

And we all desperately need the healing touch of the Savior.

Once…

You used to walk in these ways in the life you once lived. (Colossians 3:7)

Once. Once upon a time. Used to. Past tense.

I’ve heard a lot of dramatic conversion stories: folks who’ve killed others or been destitute, deep in drug addiction, radically changed by God in an instant. It happens. All the time. Praise God.

For me, it wasn’t that dramatic. I had tried virtually everything to try to satisfy the emptiness in my heart that only God can fill. I had used almost every kind of drug available during my formative years. I had been with women. I was motivated to climb the ladder of success and would do most anything to get there. Been there, done that. I used to walk in those ways in the life I once lived.

Then one day in a church service, I heard an old man’s story about what it meant to live in a community of followers of Jesus. I heard about the things that God hates and I was guilty of them all. I gave my life to Christ that day.

I was changed but I wasn’t sure how or why. I didn’t long for the things I once did. I had a different mindset toward life and people. It wasn’t because I decided to be different, turned over a new leaf, or decided to follow a set of rules or guidelines. I was different. Period.

As I was memorizing my verses in Colossians 3 this morning and reading the accompanying devotional, the author, James Bryan Smith said,

“Being an apprentice of Jesus is not about rules and laws, it is about identity and place. Christian life is not an if-then obligation (‘If I do this, then God will do that.’) It is a because-therefore opportunity (Because I am one in whom Christ dwells, therefore I will…”). The better way to encourage change is to remind people who they are now, in contrast to who they once were… we should say to ourselves, ‘I am a Christ-inhabited person. What does that look like in the world I live in?’… Simply put, I am called to live differently because I am not the person I once was… It is not a matter of salvation. It is a matter of being authentically who we are.”

I used to follow my own indulgent, selfish desires. But now I’m not the same person. It’s the lifestyle I used to walk in. Not anymore. Don’t get me wrong; I still struggle just like you.

But I know who I am and I know whose I am. Currently. Present tense. Now and forever.

Starvation Diet

As I’ve mentioned, I’m memorizing a Scripture passage, Colossians 3:1-17. In doing so, it has me thinking about the meaning of certain words and phrases, prompting me to dig deeper.

In verse 5, Paul says,

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (NIV)

As I was reading and reciting this verse again, I wondered what he meant by “Put to death.” How am I supposed to kill whatever belongs to my earthly nature? The devotional book I’m reading that partners with the memorization explains it well this morning.

James Bryan Smith in his devotional “Hidden In Christ” explains that the phrase “put to death” is translated in the King James as “mortify”. It has the same root in Greek (and Latin) as mortgage. “Mort-” means death. A mortgage is the slow death of your home’s debt. When we mortify or put to death our earthly nature, it is a slow death. It is not done overnight. It takes time. It is intentional. It takes purposeful planning.

I’ve often heard that our spiritual nature and our earthly nature (our spirit and our flesh) are like two dogs. The one we feed is the one which survives. If we starve the earthly dog, our flesh, it will eventually die off. This takes planning and intent. It takes time.

There are sins that a few of us struggle with every day. We’ve struggled with them for years and they keep tripping us up. You would consider them “besetting” sins. These are the sins that have been “fed” over and over again, and to be free, now require intentional planning. Will power never works. But doing your part by planning to avoid the situations where they begin tempting you is the beginning. Avoid the temptation and you avoid the sin. (See James 1:14-15)

In our strategy, in addition to starving our flesh, we must also feed our spirits. We have the Holy Spirit inside us and He desires to show Himself more and more. However, He is a gentleman and won’t force Himself on you. You must invite Him into your life by prayer and reading His Holy Word, the Bible. The more you “feed” your spiritual nature, the more your spiritual nature will grow.

Something else to remember: If you are in Christ, then you are a child of God who has Christ dwelling within you and you live in the unshakeable Kingdom of God. You were bought at an extreme price, by the death of Jesus, God’s Son. You are priceless in the eyes of God.

Frankly, sin is beneath you. Kingdom living is your right and inheritance. Walk in it. Revel in it. Experience the joy and wonder of eternal life right now while participating in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

Abundant living is waiting.