Tuesday, November 25, 2014

When Thanksgiving Happens

We're two days away from my favorite American Holiday of the year. I wish it could be exported around the world instead of Halloween. I know it's a uniquely American holiday, a celebration of provision and peace between the Pilgrims and Native Americans, but remembering to be thankful is such a universally great concept beyond stuffed turkey, pumpkin pie, and football, I would recommend that we  use it as a moment to speak wisdom to our souls.

David models this for us in Psalm 103 by reminding his soul to 'forget not God's benefits.' "Bless the Lord oh my soul, and forget not his benefits, He redeems your life from the pit, He heals all your diseases, He crowns you with loving kindness." Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 5 that God's will for us all is to be thankful on all occasions. Thanksgiving, the tryptophan-empowered moment, can therefore be a catalyst towards Thanksgiving, the Jesus-empowered  lifestyle.

If this is the case, Thanksgiving happens, not so much when we take the green bean casserole out of the oven, but when we posture our souls to remember God's redemption, healing and loving kindness. So very briefly, whether we celebrate the actual holiday or not, let's look at how thanksgiving can happen as a lifestyle.

1. Thanksgiving happens when we honor the Creator's creation.
The cursory thanksgiving tradition  is to go around the table and say, "I'm thankful for..."which is great, but to say "I am thankful to God for..." is to swim against a cultural tide that glorifies creation but refuses to glorify the Creator. This is to acknowledge God as Father, Creator, Redeemer and Owner of all things, which  is to receive every good gift as a faithful steward rather than an owner.

2.  Thanksgiving happens when we are more mindful of what we have than what we want.
We tend to be forgetful of what we have and mindful of what we want. Godliness with contentment is great gain.The great irony of Thanksgiving is Black Friday. We sit and thanks God for what we have and then rush away from the table  to make a grab for the things we simply cannot live without. If you tend to be discontented, it may be a good thanksgiving discipline to boycott Black Friday, simply for the sake of practicing contentment. I know that's what I'm doing.

3. Thanksgiving happens, not when we are most blessed, but when we are least entitled.
Entitlement is a Thanksgiving killer. If we think we are entitled to God's blessing there really is nothing to be thankful for, is there? The brutality and beauty of the cross is a reminder that we are more wretched than we ever dared imagine, yet more loved than we ever dared hope. This helps us stay humble and thankful, realizing that whatever we have we have received because of God's underserved grace in Jesus, counting every gift as a blessing from Him.

So here's hoping we can use this Thanksgiving moment to kickstart us into thanksgiving momentum.
Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Cultivating Eden.

John Eldredge, the author of Wild at Heart bases his book on the idea in Genesis that Adam was created outside the Garden of Eden, while Eve was created inside the Garden. His thesis is essentially that men have an outside the garden wild side and therefore need an adventure or a mountain to conquer, while women are created with more of a nurturing instinct because they were created inside the garden.

While I don't disagree with the Biblical principles of men and women having complementary qualities, it seems to me that Wild at Heart may have missed the point quite dangerously. Besides this, countless hours and dollars may have been wasted on hunting and fishing trips in the hopes of men discovering their wild side. The book could have been sponsored by Bass Pro Shop! I encourage men to pursue adventure together, but I'm not so sure that the antedote to porn-and-play-station -addicted-couch potato-men is necessarily becoming mountain-climbing-trout-fishing-men. Both kinds of men can abdicate their God-given callings equally, simply by using different selfish distractions.

The dangerous assumption for me then,  is that Adam was placed inside a beautiful garden to tend it, and men have felt hemmed in ever since, longing for the freedom of the wild. This is simply unbiblical.  Adam left the Garden because his sin expelled him from it, rather than some God-given impulse to explore.

The problem is this. It misunderstands what it was for Adam to tend to a garden. It assumes that Adam is some domesticated gardener with a lawnmower and a weed-whacker, when actually he was a farmer.

Wild at Heart describes man essentially as an explorer, and woman essentially as a nurturer. While there may be some truth in this, it overlooks the innate call of a man and a woman to be cultivators, nurturing life and bringing flourishing from barren places.

You see, Eden was not, at first, a luscious garden. Eden was a dustbowl.

"When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up  -  for the Lord God had not yet caused it to rain on the land and there was no man to work the ground.  Genesis 2:5 

This is how Moses described the order of Eden in Genesis.
God watered the face of the land with a mist. vs 6.
God formed the man out of the dust vs 7.
And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the East, and there he put the man He had formed.  V8.

Eden was still a dustbowl. A dustbowl planted with garden life; a fertile one at that, but no plant or tree had yet sprung up.

Once God had put the man in the Garden, Genesis tells us that, "The Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food." vs 9. 

Eden was a dustbowl until the Adam was there. God had planted it with life, but only after Adam was placed in the Garden, did God cause it to grow. Adam and Eve farmed Eden together as a team.

The essence of what it is to be a man, more than a mountaineer, may well be closer to a farmer; tending to a farm, tending with his wife as a united team, tending a farm of sons and daughters,  families,  marriages, communities, cities, companies, churches, nations. Nurturing life from  God-watered, God-planted dustbowls and bringing flourishing.  This is what it is to be God's man and God's woman. 

The idea of 'exploring a mountain' is a biblical one. So is the idea of 'nurturing a home'. 
But the essence of bearing God's image is cultivating a fertile field. 

There are countless dustbowls in this world, planted with Eden potential. 

God will water them if we will tend them. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Saigon River Reflections

"Good Morning Vietnam." I can't help mouthing the timeless Robin William's line from the movie of the same name this morning as I run along the Saigon River. The buzzing  swarm of a thousand scooters, the heady steam  from a hundred street pho stands. This place has got under my skin.

We've just flown in from Australia. We were with our friends from Coastlands Church in Adelaide, who have weathered some significant storms the last few years, navigating them with courage and composure, and are now sailing into friendlier seas. We loved the time with them and  God met with us together in remarkable ways.

We love being with churches in transition. We have faith for Jesus to renovate and redirect His church through transition, because we have seen Him do it so many times; with London Road Johannesburg,  Vintage Westside, Cornerstone Newcastle, City Gates Toronto, and of course, with Southlands itself. All these churches are at different stages in their transitions, but we have been witness to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who continues His covenant of faithfulness to His people. Of course, God is the God of change and transition always brings with it change. But He is also the God of continuity, showing steadfast love from generation to generation.

My limp is for the people in transition who fall or jump off the boat because of nostalgia or offense. God wants us to be like Joseph, 'whose bow remained steady and whose arms remained limber.' He calls us to be both steady and limber in transition. Nostalgic people aren't limber because they tend to be stuck in the past, placing a template on the present for how God must work. Offended people lack steadiness, because they find their position of favor or prominence from the previous season gone, and they struggle to be faithful in a new season.

Navigating transition requires both courage and finesse. When people remain steady and limber God does remarkable things. When we find ourselves sinking in the seas of nostalgia or offense, we can call to Jesus to rescue us, not only for our sake, but for the sake of His church. He is faithful and powerful.

The church here in Vietnam also finds itself sailing into the waters of transition. I suppose it's a little like moving from the slow and steady flow of the Saigon River to shooting the Colorado Rapids. Transition is swift, bumpy and dangerous but it can also propel us on in God's grand purposes if we read the season well.

We covet your prayers, for wisdom, grace and courage to be a help to the people of Thu Thiem Community at this time. We can be here with confidence because God has given us as a people a testimony of His faithfulness in transition.

To Him be glory in His Church both now and forevermore.