Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thomas Brooks On Gratitude!

Thomas Brooks (1608-80) one of the great Puritan expositors wrote the following. 
"Is not Christ your treasure? Is not heaven your inheritance—and will you murmur? Has not God given you a changed heart, a renewed nature, and a sanctified soul—and will you murmur? Has He not given you Himself to satisfy you, His Son to save you, His Spirit to lead you, His grace to adorn you, His covenant to assure you, His mercy to pardon you, His righteousness to clothe you—and will you murmur? Has He not made you a friend, a son, a brother, a bride, an heir—and will you murmur?When you were dead, did not He quicken you? When you were lost, did not He seek you? When you were wounded, did not He heal you? When you were falling, did not He support you? When you were down, did not He raise you? When you were staggering, did not He establish you? When you were erring, did not He correct you? When you were tempted, did not He support you? and when you went in dangers, did not He deliver you?—and will you murmur? What! you who are so highly advanced and exalted above many thousands in the world? Murmuring suits none so badly as saints.”

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Language of Humility (Part Two)

(The first blog in this series discussed the importance of gratitude. This blogs moves on to define gratitude).

To think hard about biblical thanksgiving let’s start with what it is not. It is not politeness. It is not a something that all nice people do. Although thankful people are socially agreeable, biblical gratitude is more than good manners. You can practice good etiquette by continually saying “thank you,” and not get near the biblical idea of gratitude. In her book The Gift of Thanks, Margaret Visser observes that “polite people” may say “thank you” up to 100 times per day and yet experience “little or no grateful emotion.” In other words, you can go through the outward show of politeness but not even sniff heart-felt gratitude.

Not only is it more than politeness, it is also unnatural. We must be trained to be grateful. The social sciences confirm what we, who believe in Original Sin, already know. Children must be taught to be grateful, and they often push back. One experiment set out to measure children’s propensity for gratitude. The children studied spontaneously said hello and goodbye 27% of the time, but they only thanked their benefactors 7% of the time, and then often only after great pressure from their parents. There is a reason for this. Gratitude is the language of a humble heart, and our hearts are not naturally humble. They are naturally proud.

Last, biblical thanksgiving is not something we do to manipulate others. Dad gives the car keys to his teenage daughter. She says “thank you” because she knows if she does her father is apt to let her use the car more frequently. To the uninitiated this looks like gratitude, but in reality it is the exact opposite. True thanksgiving is not outward. It is not just a matter of words. It is not an external formality.

True gratitude is a matter of the heart that expresses itself with words of thanksgiving. Gratitude is the language of humility, and humility matters greatly to God. It should also matter to us because God makes amazing promises to those who pursue humility. For example, he

“God exalts the humble” (Jam. 4:10).

He “dwells with the lowly” (Isa. 57:15).

He exalts those that humble themselves (Phil 2:5-11).

He “lifts up the humble” (Ps. 147:6).

God “gives grace to the humble” (Jam. 4:6).

God looks to and is intimate with the humble (Isa 66:2).

God also honors the humble (Pr. 15:33).

In other words, thanksgiving is the language of the humble, and humility always attracts God’s attention

It is equally true that God aggressively

“Humbles the proud (Ezek. 17:24).

He opposes the proud (James 4:6).

He withdraws from the proud (Ps. 138:6).

He repeatedly promises to bring down the proud (Pr. 18:12, 29:23).

Anyone who really believes God’s promise to bless the humble, as well as his threats to judge the proud, will joyfully and single-mindedly pursue humility.

Again, here is our important point. Gratitude is the language of the humble. Jesus said, “Out of the heart the mouth speaks.” Therefore, a humble heart increasingly gushes gratitude and thanksgiving. True heart-felt gratitude is a neon sign pointing to humility.

We can say it this way: thanksgiving amplifies humility, and humility amplifies thanksgiving.

What is the connection between gratitude and humility? Why do we say that thanksgiving is the language of humility? Thanksgiving implies need. It assumes that I don’t deserve the favor bestowed. Most people don’t thank the waitress who delivers their food. Why? They paid for it. They deserve it. In Luke 17 Jesus described a servant whom his master commanded to prepare dinner. “Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded” (Luke 17:9) Jesus asks? It is a rhetorical question. It has an obvious answer. No! He doesn’t thank the servant. Why? Because the servant is a slave. He owes his master this service.

By contrast, we thank the person who gives us an expensive birthday gift. Why? We have done nothing to deserve it. We are humbled. The giver was gracious and we were needy. It was a matter of grace. It was an expression of unmerited favor. (Anecdote: Ruths Coffee Cup).

In the same way, we deserve nothing from God’s hand but judgment. We deserve judgment, but he gives us eternal life at his Son’s expense. In addition, this gift is infinitely expensive. Therefore, we are duty bound to live life in constant thanksgiving to God.

Gratitude is the language of humility. Why? It also assumes that I am the creature and God is the Creator. Gratitude is the heart-felt confession that God is God, and I am not. Gratitude humbles me. It forces me to face reality. Creature hood means we have no rights. God created us. Therefore, everything we possess is God’s gift. For this reason, the object of true gratitude is always ultimately God. A grateful heart assumes that God is his Creator. It assumes that he is a creature. Since everything—talents, I.Q., height, appearance, parents—are gifts, the proper response of the creature is unceasing thanksgiving.

Therefore, true heart-felt gratitude confesses that I have no rights. It says,

“I did not create myself, God did. I am not responsible for my I.Q. or its lack. I did not choose my DNA. I did not pick my hair color, my height or my facial features. I did not choose my gifts or their lack. I did not choose my parents, nor did I pick the generation into which I was born. I did not even pick my race, or the country of my birth. All of these, and infinitely more, are God’s gracious gifts.”

They were given to me by a gracious God. If this is true, the appropriate response to everything is heart-felt, overflowing gratitude. This is why we say that thanksgiving is the language of humility. Every word of thanks confesses that all or some of these facts are true.

When a professional athlete boasts that “I am the best. I am the greatest” all of this is denied. He might be the most talented athlete, he might be the one with “game,” but if so, it is God’s gift. His speed, his size, or his athletic ability are ultimately gifts. His attitude should repulse us. His boasting says, “I am my own god. I made myself. I am responsible for myself.”

Boasting is the speech of naked arrogance. It is a claim to deity. It is the opposite of gratitude. In summary, thanksgiving is a confession of our ever-dependent creature hood. It is the language of the humble.

When I ask one of my friends how he is doing, he always responds with joy, “Better than I deserve.” This is the speech of the humble. It says “I have been redeemed by Christ’s death on the cross.” It looks at the cross and assumes,

“I deserve crucifixion, and I am not getting it. In fact, I will never get it, and the reason is God’s amazing grace and love. I will never get the judgment I deserve. Christ went to the cross and took it in my place. That is why, for eternity, I will never cease to “abound with thanksgiving.”

Do you have cancer? Like all disease, it is an affect of the fall. However, there is cause for great hope. Because God is sovereign, your suffering is no accident. In fact, God is now using it to channel his love into your experience, to prepare you for eternal glory (Rom. 8:18). Besides, as bad as your experience with cancer feels, you are not getting what you deserve. And you never will. So be thankful.

Did your business just fail? God is sovereign. It is no accident. God is working through it to express his love for you. Besides, you are not getting what you deserve, so be thankful.

Are you anxious and depressed? Be thankful. You are not getting what you deserve.

Thanksgiving is the confession that I am God’s debtor. I owe him everything. He owes me only judgment. Words of gratitude from humble lips confess that I really believe these truths. They confess their ongoing dependence upon God. I need him. He does not need me.

In summary, humble people attract Gods’ attention. They attract God’s favor. We are not saved by being humble. We are saved by faith plus nothing. What I am saying, however, is that God gives special favor to Christians that pursue humility. True heart-felt

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Language of Humility! (Part One)

On a cold winter morning Jeff’s alarm went off. He, groaned, sat up, and put his feet on the floor. It was cold. With great sincerity he prayed, “Father, thank you for a good night’s sleep. Thank you for the soft mattress and warm blankets. God, I am even thankful for the alarm clock.”

He stumbled to the bathroom, eyes half open, mind partially there, reached for the electric razor. “Father, thank you for this shaver. Most people throughout history have shaved with a sharp knife, if at all. And while I am at it thank you for the central heating and electric lights.”

He groped his way into the kitchen, plugged the coffee pot in. “Father, thank you for this coffee pot. A gift from you. I am so grateful. No water to boil. Just plug and go. Hot Coffee! What a privilege. God, you are so good to me.”

Returning to his bedroom he opened his bedroom closet to a row of shirts, slacks, and shoes. Just yesterday he read about the average father in Southeast Asia who feeds his family on a $100 per month. He has nothing left for clothing. He prays, “Father, how great is your grace. Thank you for these material blessings. I am so unworthy.”

He gets dressed and settles into his favorite chair for prayer and Bible reading. Now he comes to the real reason for gratitude. “Father, thank you for the gospel. You chose me from before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in your sight. Why me? It wasn’t my virtues. You didn’t foresee goodness in me. That is clear. It was astounding love and grace given without assignable cause, plain and simple. Father, thank you for sending your Son to rescue me from the futile ways of my forefathers. Thank you for saving me from the wrath to come. Thank you for saving me from hell. You sent your Son to experience the horrible wrath I deserve. You did this to unite us in friendship and love. How can I comprehend such mercy? How can I thank you enough? I am so grateful for your kindness. Thank you for showing amazing grace to an unworthy sinner.”

Jeff is a man who knows what he deserves. He takes nothing for granted.

“And Father, while I’m at it, thank you for this Bible. Most Christians have never owned one, nor would they have been able to read one if they had, but I have 6 different translations, and could easily buy more. I am so grateful. And, while I am at it, “thank you for my wife and three children. Yes, they have problems. It is not all roses. None are perfect. Sometimes there is conflict, but I want to thank you for your obvious grace in their lives.”

On the way to work he takes a mental inventory of his schedule. At 10:00 he must mediate a conflict between two subordinates. “Father, thank you for this problem. How good of you to allow me to help these two. I don’t know how I am going to resolve this conflict, but I want to thank you in advance for the grace that you will provide.”

Lunch arrives. He bows his head in deep and profound gratitude. He knows that 85% of the world lives on less than $200 per month, and that huge swath of the world’s population go to bed hungry every night. He deserves worse, and he knows it. He doesn’t say grace perfunctorily or mechanically. He prays a short prayer of profound, heart-felt gratitude.

Can you relate to Jeff? Probably not. He sounds a bit Pollyanna, maybe even over the top. If you are like most Christians you know you need to be more thankful, but gratitude is a “fly-over virtue.” Yes, you are grateful, but your thanksgiving is often mechanical, and not especially sincere. Even worse, in many “circumstances” thanksgiving doesn’t even cross your mind. You know you are supposed to give thanks and be grateful, but you rarely think about it. Most significantly, you don’t consider this failure a big deal. You often grumble, complain, and give in to self-pity, but doesn’t everyone? What’s the big deal? Doesn’t God know that we are human?

But, this is not God’s perspective. Gratitude is foundational to vibrant Christianity. Its opposites—grumbling, complaining, discontentment, and self-pity—are rampant and violent statements of unbelief. They reject the gospel. They say, “I assume that I deserve God’s grace,” a grace that cost the Father his Son. They deny God’s sovereignty and his goodness. They suggest, that “God can’t be trusted.” They proclaim this message: “God isn’t really that good!” The failure to live in constant overflowing gratitude makes a simple statement: “I deserve better than I am getting.”

No well-informed Christian would ever say this out loud, but that is how God sees it. That is what ungratefulness says to God, to the angels, and to everyone watching.

Functionally, grumbling, complaining, and self pity strip God of his glory. Since God values nothing more than his glory, throughout redemptive history he has responded to this sin decisively. He aggressively punished the “grumbling” of the Jewish people. Moses called it the sin of “despising God” (Num. 14). None of us would ever think of despising God, yet that is how God sees ingratitude and its various manifestations. God consigned the grumbling Jews to death in the wilderness. For failure to be thankful they were barred from the Promised Land.

After God judged Korah, Dathan, and Abiram the Israelites grumbled a second time. How did God respond? He put 14,700 of them to death (Num. 16:49). Note: This sin wasn’t even one of the biggies—drugs, sex, or drunkenness. It was just a little grumbling.

Paul knew these stories. That is one reason that he emphasized gratitude. In fact, he exulted in it. He exhorted the churches he served, “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).

Although the Corinthian church tolerated members that practiced incest, drank too much wine at communion, and even denied the resurrection, Paul began his letter to them with gratitude. “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4). Paul was not flattering them. He was sincere.

Paul’s exhortation to gratitude also applies to our speech. “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:4). How about corporate worship? “Singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19-20).

But just being thankful isn’t enough. He commands the church at Colossae to “abound” in this virtue. “So walk in him…abounding in thanksgiving. (Col. 2:7). Some translate it “overflowing” with thanksgiving.

We can sum up Paul’s exhortations this way. Gratitude is the right way to respond to every circumstance in life. “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thes. 5:18). Gratitude and thanksgiving are not “fly over” virtues. Just the opposite. The Christian mind is to be thankful in every circumstance. In fact, Paul commands us to “overflow with thanksgiving.” We should pray with thanksgiving. We should worship with thanksgiving.

With all of this in mind, lets return to our friend, Jeff. Was his gratitude excessive? In light of these texts, I don’t think so. He was just practicing biblical Christianity. In fact, he was probably not thankful enough! He was just responding appropriately to the truths about God, man, creation and redemption that the Bible reveals. What seems excessive to us was just a fervent attempt by Jeff to be biblical, to be godly, to be the normal Christian that scripture commends.

Do you and I see it this way? By William Farley
(Continued in Part Two)