“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever. (Psalm 107:1, NIV)
If you were to ask why it’s important for us to practice thanksgiving, the first answer would point to the simple fact that God deserves our thanks. We should give thanks to the Lord because “He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 107:1) Even as we ought to say “Thank you” to those who do something good for us, so we should say “Thanks” many times over to God for all of His good gifts to us. It’s a matter of good manners, you might say, or of recognizing the magnificent goodness of God.
The second answer to “Why should I give thanks?” focuses on the benefits of giving thanks to God. As a pastor, I’ve seen time and again how people who are grateful live better than those who are not. They appreciate life deeply. Moreover, gratitude opens their hearts to receiving even more of God’s goodness.
Recent psychological research confirms my observation of the value of expressing thanks. Robert A. Emmons, a professor of psychology at the U. C., Davis, is one of the world’s leading experts on gratitude. For years, Emmons has done extensive research on gratitude and its influence in our lives. In his article, “Why Gratitude is Good,” he cites research that shows that people who practice gratitude experience the following benefits: stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, better sleep, more joy and pleasure, more compassion, and less loneliness. Harvard Health reports on Emmons’s research in the article, in “Giving thanks can make you happier.” The article notes that, in an Emmons study, people who wrote down things for which they were grateful “were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.”
Gratitude isn’t only helpful for our personal lives. It also seems to make a difference at in the workplace. In “The Science of Gratitude,” researcher Summer Allen, Ph.D., writes, “Though there has not been a great deal of research explicitly focused on gratitude in the workplace, a handful of studies suggest that gratitude may help employees perform their jobs more effectively, feel more satisfied at work, and act more helpfully and respectfully toward their coworkers.” I know that when I thank God for my work I do feel more satisfied. I expect I also act more helpfully and respectfully toward my coworkers! At least I hope so.
Now, it would be rather selfish if we invested our time and energy in thanking God mainly because it’s good for us. Gratitude, by its very nature, turns our hearts outward, focusing on the goodness of others rather than on our personal benefits. However, the fact that gratitude can make such a difference in our lives, including our work, certainly adds to our motivation for giving thanks.
So, this week, let us give thanks to God because of His goodness to us, because God’s love for us in Jesus Christ is steadfast. But, as we are thanking God, know that we are also helping ourselves to be healthier and happier. May this fact encourage you to practice intentional gratitude, not just once a year, but throughout the year. Pay attention to God’s gifts and thank him. God deserves it … and it will make your life better.
Why do you think gratitude made such a difference in the lives of those who express it? Have you experienced that difference? If so, what happened?
Make the decision to devote an hour to intentional thanks. Be sure to do whatever helps you feel and express thanks to God.
May your life be filled with gratitude, not just this week, but every week because of our Gracious God’s immeasurable goodness to you.
43“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (Luke 6:43-45, NIV)
When we moved into our home in South Pasadena a few years ago, we had a small tree in the front yard. We didn’t know exactly what kind of tree it was. Finally, after a couple of years living in the house, to our surprise, our tree bore its fruit, and then we knew exactly what tree we had. (In case you’re curious, we had a peach tree that showed up unexpectedly in our front yard.)
Our experience confirms what has been known for centuries. Jesus alluded to this common knowledge when we said, “each tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:44). If you want to know what kind of tree you have, you need to pay attention to its fruit.
The same is true if you want to know what kind of life you’re living. Are you living a good life? Then you’ll see it in your fruit. The opposite is true as well. Bad living is correlated with bad fruit. Fruit, in this case, is a way of talking about our behavior, about what we’re producing by being alive.
So, this leads to an obvious question. What is your fruit? If you were to add up all that you’re doing in life – what you do for work, how you act in relationships, where you put your money, how you spend your time, and so on – what kind of fruit is growing on your tree? I know this is a simple question, one that you might be tempted to dispatch in a minute or so. But I’d suggest that it may be worth a little more time and thought.
As you reflect upon the fruit of your life, you might try this thought experiment. If your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers were to be given a dose of truth serum such that they had to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, how would they answer this question: What is the fruit of your life? What is your life producing? What difference are you making in this world?
I believe that, for most of us, the fruit of our lives is a mixed bag. Some of our fruit is good; some is bad. We need to be honest about this. God will use our honesty to help us shift the balance in the favor of good fruit.
When you consider the question, “What is the fruit of your life?”, what are the first thoughts that come to your mind? What would you say is your primary fruit? What do you think those who know you best would say about the fruit of your life if they were given truth serum? What would they say is your good fruit? What might they say is your bad fruit? When in your life have you felt especially fruitful? What might explain this experience of fruitfulness?
Ask the Lord to work in you through His Spirit so that you might produce abundant good fruit in your life. To God be all the glory!
20Looking at His disciples, He said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. … 24“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. 25Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. 26Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:20-21, 24-26, NIV)
Sometimes the words of Jesus bring extraordinary comfort and inspiration. They invite us to come to Jesus when we are weary and burdened, so that He might give us rest (Matthew 11:28). The words of Jesus reassure us of God’s love for those who are lost, including you and me (Luke 15:3-7).
But sometimes the words of Jesus aren’t so easy to hear. They can be downright disturbing. Take Luke 6:20-25, for example. Here Jesus says that those who are poor, hungry, and weeping are blessed. That must sound reassuring to those who are actually poor, hungry, and weeping. But what if we’re not any of these? Even more disturbing is what Jesus says about those who are rich, full, and laughing. “Woe to you,” He says; hard times lie ahead.
These words of Jesus certainly disturbed the assumptions of His first century culture. Wealth, ample food, and happiness were thought to be signs of God’s blessing. They were what people yearned for in this life. Yet Jesus turned everything upside down. For the poor, this was good news. Better times were coming. But it was not such good news for those who were well off.
Jesus’ words in our passage are disturbing today as well. We don’t want to be numbered among the poor, hungry, and weeping, those Jesus calls blessed. We’d much rather be rich, full, and laughing. So, if we’re doing well in this life, we are not comforted by what Jesus says in today’s text from Luke.
I believe that sometimes we need to be disturbed by the words of Jesus. We need to be unsettled and disrupted. I’ve been a Christian for over forty years. My familiarity with Jesus and His teaching is, in many ways, a wonderful thing. But I can become overly comfortable in my faith. I can take from Scripture only that which affirms me and my current lifestyle. I can fail to hear that which ought to challenge me to take a fresh look at how I’m living. I can get stuck in my discipleship, following Jesus only so far before I slow down to a crawl.
So, today, I’m not going to avoid or deny the discomfort I feel when I read our passage from Luke. I’m going to let the words of Jesus disturb me, even as they once disturbed many of His first listeners. I’m going to ask, with my heart as open as it can be, “Lord, what do you want me to hear today? What are you saying to me now?” I invite you to join me.
Take a few moments to reflect on your response to Jesus’ words in Luke 6:20-25? Do you find them encouraging? Unsettling? Disturbing? And as you consider what Jesus said, do you find yourself feeling defensive? Do you want to find a way to defend the life you’re living? If so, why? If not, why not?
Are you willing to let the His teaching unsettle your life? If so, why? If not, why not?
Ask God today that Jesus’ will confront you in ways that make you uncomfortable, knowing that God wants the best for you.
God wants you to experience the truest joy and meaning, not for ourselves, but for the Kingdom of God.
14For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 1 by setting aside in His flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility.. (Ephesians 2:14-16, NIV)
Two Sundays ago, I wrote that, according to Ephesians 2:15-16, Christ died in order to “create in Himself one new humanity out of the two [Jews and Gentiles], thus making peace.” Today, I want to focus on the second part of Christ’s purpose: “and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross.”
When we think of the reconciliation forged by the death of Jesus, we naturally focus on the reconciliation of individuals to God. Because of the cross, that which separated us from God – our sin – lost its grip on us. Thus, you and I can be reconciled to God. This is not just good news. It’s great news.
Yet, there is another dimension of reconciliation that we sometimes neglect. This is also a result of Christ’s death on the cross. It is reconciliation between people or people groups. It is seen most dramatically, as illustrated in Ephesians 2, in the unifying of Jews and Gentiles in Christ.
We might think of reconciliation between people as a secondary result of the reconciliation we experience individually with God. In a sense, this is true. Apart from reconciliation with God, reconciliation among people won’t be sustained. But, in Ephesians 2:16, reconciliation is seen differently. Here, Christ’s purpose is “in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross.” In this surprising verse, Christ first reconciles Jews and Gentiles, forming them into one body. Then, He reconciles them to God as a unified body of people. Curiously, this text identifies reconciliation among people as part of what happens on the way to reconciliation with God.
Remember that reconciliation is not just deciding to get along with people in the future. True reconciliation through Christ addresses the fundamental problem that divides us, namely, our sin. As we experience genuine reconciliation with others, we will necessarily deal with our sin and its implications. We will seek forgiveness and, where needed, restitution. We will strive to experience the peace of God in which justice and mercy are essential facets. As Brenda Salter McNeil writes in her book, “Reconciliation is an ongoing spiritual process involving forgiveness, repentance and justice that restores broken relationships and systems to reflect God’s original intention for all creation to flourish” (Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice; p. 26).
Why do you think Christians often tend to neglect the importance of reconciliation between people? In what relationships in your life do you need to experience the reconciling work of Jesus? How might you be able to live today as an agent of divine reconciliation?
Ask God today how you might be an agent of reconciliation
in your part of the world.
In the past few months, we were faced with the maladies of the Coronavirus pandemic. The outbreaks of such virus infection among people became a serious public health threat. We have lived in seclusion and isolation, nevertheless, we must not allow fear to control our lives. One of the most perplexing problems in understanding God’s creation and redemption, and our own life experience, is the issue of sickness and evil. No matter it be our own illness, that of others around us, or the overall situation in which we live and breathe. There are many bad things that happen in this world.
The very first question we always ask; is there a God? Why would a completely holy and all-powerful Creator and Redeemer allow such things to happen? The whole issue actually started in the garden of Eden, when through the crafty deception, the “serpent of old” corrupted the man and woman, the crowning creatures of God’s creation. This was in fact a direct attack on God, His word, and His design. Thus, sin entered into this world, and sickness, pain and suffering came with it. So, the battle began, and we are the territory under dispute. The battle is not over something insignificant; it is over us, nothing and no one else.
The Bible tell us that in a day yet future, the Lord will settle the problem of evil once and for all. He will crush the head and slay the gliding and coiling serpent. The point is every one of all times has to deal with evil and the great evil one. Though this will not end until the final apocalypse, it will in fact end, and there will be a new day in which we will be free from the pain, sorrow, sickness, and suffering of this battle. Further, we are encouraged that God has not left it all until the end of times either. Even now, He engages in battle against the evil one and his minions. We who belong to God are in it with God. We need to call upon Him, as the Psalmist says in Psalm 74, “God is my King from long ago; he brings salvation on the earth.” We cry unto the Lord, “Do not hand over the life of your dove to wild beasts; do not forget the lives of your afflicted people forever.”
In the same manner, the pandemic we are now going through, it too shall come to pass. One of these days, we will witness that God has shown His mercy and eradicated this pestilence. The Lord is forever merciful and He will not leave us nor forsake us. Prayer is the only antidote to all our fears. We must believe that God is in control and He cares for all our needs. I sincerely appreciate some of your anguish and concern, but please know that you are a beloved child of God and member of our church community. The Lord promises to be with us always. I encourage each of you to give yourself some time to reflect on the love and goodness of God, and in turn extend the same to your brothers and sisters. Amen.