A Growing Heart Gives Thanks

A few weeks ago I attempted to get back into the lifting mode. I have been going to 24-hour fitness a few days a week to play basketball, but since my college football career ended I have not done any serious lifting. After a few games of pick-up, I pull off my basketball shoes and put on some others and head into the workout area. Jim and I were going to bench. As I and a couple guys walk that way, I notice something. Everyone seems to have on headphones. I am not a music person, so as I observe the room I wonder why people listen to music. Being curious, I ask Jim, why he listened to music when he worked out. His response was profound. “I use music for motivation. Everyone needs motivation.”

We all need motivation. We all use something for motivation. What do you do for motivation? Where do you go for motivation? Or better, what is your motivation?

God desires to grow our heart. If we are honest, this world is tough on our heart. Rather than experience a growing heart, it is easy to experience a shrinking heart with increasing skepticism, pessimism. For something like a workout, music is appropriate. For life, we need something more lasting.

TheBranch.GrowingHeart.Kyle.008For Christians, our driving motivation is something called the gospel. I love how the Three Circles Method encapsulates the message of the gospel.

Brokenness – We live in this world and it is characterized by brokenness. We do not have to look very hard to see this. It seems like every week the news gets worse. Sex scandals, violent shootings, that’s just on a national level. For you, it might be financial troubles, crazy kids, loss of a loved one. Even if you are someone who thinks life is pretty good, chances are you have a growing skepticism and concern of the world at large. Mentally you go somewhere, or practically you do something to maintain your motivation to keep going.

God’s Design – The world we live in was not God’s original design. The way that we have gotten ourselves into brokenness is something the Bible calls sin. All sin really is, is defining good and evil according to what we think is best, or better, that we can do anything better than God. Turning away from God’s Design and pursuing our own way.

Brokenness eventually leads us to death and destruction. Ultimately, separation from God.

God doesn’t want us to be in brokenness so he gives us a way through the brokenness. That way is Jesus. Jesus comes and enters into our brokenness. The death that we deserve for brokenness, Jesus takes our place and dies on the cross after living a perfect life. Then, Jesus rose from the dead making a way out of brokenness.

People try many things to get out of brokenness: religion, success, relationships with other people, education, abusing substances to escape. None of these things extract us from the circumstances of life.

The only way through is to turn from our sin and to believe that Jesus lived, died, and rose for us. We can then begin to experience God’s design in our life as we get to know Jesus. We are then sent back into brokenness to make Jesus known and help others pursue God’s Design. One day, the hope of eternity is how God will eliminate the brokenness and we will live fully in a restored world.

God wants us to experience His design and therefore grow our heart. In the midst of life, God’s desire is for us to be motivated by the future hope we have through Jesus and live in the present as if it is already here.

We see this when circumstances are far from ideal in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. The backstory for this book is found in the book of Acts. It is where Paul and his coworker Silas went to the Ancient Greek city of Thessalonica. After one month of telling the good news about King Jesus, a large number of Jewish and Greek people gave their allegiance to Jesus and became the first church community there. But trouble was brewing. Paul’s announcement of the risen Jesus as the true Lord of the world led to suspicion. As the hearts of the people changed, their actions began to reflect attitudes of gratitude and joy and action peace and love, which were subversive to the culture.

The Christians in Thessalonica were eventually accused of defying Caesar, the Roman Emperor, and they said there is another king named Jesus–they were merely following His example. The persecution actually became so intense that they had to flee the city. This was painful for them because they loved the people there so much.

This letter is Paul’s attempt to reconnect with the Christians in Thessalonica after he got a report from Timothy that they were doing more than okay, that they were flourishing despite this intense persecution. Paul writes the letter with two movements. The first is a celebration of their faithfulness to Jesus. Then, he challenges them to keep growing as followers of Jesus.

The Thessalonians lived in a culture where all of life was permeated by institutions and practices which honored the Greek and Roman gods. Transferring your allegiance from the gods of the age to the Creator God through King Jesus this came at a cost: isolation from your neighbors, hostility from your family.

But for the Thessalonians, the overwhelming love Jesus who died for them and the hope of His return made it all worth it. Everything they did was motivated by hope in the coming kingdom of Jesus, a full return to God’s Design.

As Paul concluded his letter, he encourages the Thessalonians to live out the will of God.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray constantly, 18 give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

One of the oft-said phrases when taking Xavier on a bike ride is “Look up. Look ahead. See where you are going.” Inevitably he becomes distracted, nervous, too confident, and ends up getting stuck in the grass, or getting stuck on the curb.

When we do not look up, look ahead, and see where we are going we will likely wreck.

Playing basketball on a regular basis, I am always amazed at how many guys dribble with their heads down, especially when they are pretty good players. When their head is down, their eyes are down. Because they are not looking up they miss obstacles, players trapping, and opportunities, players making good cuts.

When we do not look up, look ahead, and see where we are going we miss obstacles and opportunities.

I remember teaching my sisters how to drive. Initially, they would always look right at the front of the car, or even at the car in the next lane over. My words echo what I say to Xavier as he rides his bike–look ahead. Your eyes take you where you want to go. Good eye discipline keeps you in your lane and allows you to anticipate by making adjustments when other cars break, or you need to make a lane change.

When we do not look up, look ahead, and see where we are going we are ill prepared to travel the road ahead.

When Paul encourages the Thessalonians to give thanks [to God] in everything (or all circumstances). We are directly challenged. The qualifiers Paul adds to basic thankfulness conveys the importance of thanking God within all circumstances of life, even the difficult ones. In Thessalonica, these circumstances include suffering. It is important to notice, however, that Paul reminds the Thessalonians to give thanks in everything, not for everything.

I was reminded of this passage when I heard of the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A gunman entered a small, rural Southern Baptist church and opened fire, killing over 25 people according to reports. This horrific event has stirred up another round of cultural debate over gun laws, showing that our society is not only sharply divided but willfully politicized. Blood has not even cooled on the ground before pundits issue their pronouncements. Lost in much of the commentary was the fact that Devin Kelley was apparently denied a gun license by the state of Texas. Evil, it seems, will overcome almost any barrier. I appreciate how Owen Strachan’s response to such evil.

We know this from the Word of God: evil has an expiration date. Jesus is going to return. He is going to judge the quick and the dead. Those in Christ will be privy to experiencing God’s design in full. Those apart from Christ will get their hearts longing with life eternal apart from GOD.

Our secular age speaks much of justice, in truth. But secular justice has no Christ. Specifically, it has no Christ-centered hope of eternity. It tells us that things are getting better, that we are making “progress,” that we can solve the world’s problems. We have to. We have to get it right, now! Though we can surely make gains in our society, we cannot heal our world. Only Christ can. Only Christ will. 

The Christian approach is decidedly different when it comes to the pain and suffering of this world. Since the believer trusts in a sovereign God who can turn any situation to their good and who can make someone more than triumphant in any adversity or other circumstance. Thus, our heart grows. We can love, forgive, be selfless because the death of the body is not the death of the soul.

Thanksgiving to God is to be given in adversity and prosperity, for no matter what happens all things work together for the believer’s good. To be thankful is a fruit of grace and is in contrast to the constant grumblings and ingratitude of a godless world. Look around. Our world is filled with blame and complain. The quick politicization of every tragedy will surely provide enough example. If all you have to live for is this life, then, of course, you get upset when something happens to mess all of that up.

Gratitude is subversive to the attitude of our day.  Gratitude is a sign of God’s Design. A Christian can be thankful because they have their eyes on eternity.

 

What motivates us to go forward is being thankful for the hope of eternity we are heading toward. Keep your eyes on eternity. Look where you are going.

How to Stay in the Conversation (Step 1)

If you do a quick Google search on the definition of the word “saturate” chances are the first definition that pops up is:

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In order to understand why “saturate” is such a critical word, you have to understand the context in which it is coming from. I posted a recent blog on the idea of resilient communication. As a follower of Christ, I desire both my character and priorities to be like His. Therefore, I must be able to stay in tough conversations even when it is not convenient nor pleasant to do so. However, we will not be able to do this on our own.

Left to our own devices, we will default into pointing fingers and heaping blame. In the midst of chaos and pain, there is only one who will see us through. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is a refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

The first action step in resilient communication is consistently presenting the same message verbally and non-verbally over and over again. The only way in which Christians can stay in tough conversations and then act accordingly is when we remember that God is a refuge and strength. Remembering how God is our refuge and strength enables us to weather the storm of criticism, pain, suffering, and yet remain unmoved in mission and motive. As the refuge, God ultimately takes the brunt of the attack for us (Ps 57:1).

I asked a few others to help articulate the idea of saturating communication.

“Saturation in Jesus’s model is seen as much in rhythm as it is in my message. Regularly drawing away from the crowd for prayer; regularly explaining his message to the disciples; regularly spending time with both sinners and then religious; regularly proclaiming and sending others out to proclaim the kingdom; regularly refining his followers understanding of who he is and why he was sent to earth. Saturation is much more than a message and encompasses all of life presenting the same God-centered message. Jesus did not just say “seek first the kingdom of God” he himself sought first the kingdom of God. Saturation came through the message and the embodiment of the message.” – Andrew

Saturation is consistently presenting the same posture both in word and in deed until there is no room for any other discernable motive of my actions by the other people than that of genuine love. In communicating with others, a Christian’s posture should be so soaked in humility and grace that it overflows into the lives of others no matter the conversation. Basically, the person whom I am first listening to, and second speaking with, should see and hear a systematic kingdom worldview being expressed–because I am shaped by Christ I value you.

Please do not misunderstand valuing someone for agreement with someone. Valuing them is setting aside your response to what they may be saying in pursuit of giving what they are expressing your full attention and staying curious about it.

We have all been on the wrong end of mixed messages. It is not fun. Mixed messages usually cause conflict, harm, and prolong the underlying issues. Mixed messages do long-term damage because one side usually gets fed-up with the inconsistencies of the other. Frankly, mixed messages deteriorate the trust between people.

Christians are people shaped by the Gospel–the implications of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ.

When we are prideful enough to prescribe a solution to a problem when the person whom we are prescribing the solution to does not feel valued and loved, we are sending a mixed message. In fact, in our arrogance we are undermining the Gospel. Pride is the antithesis of humility. A display of pride does not saturate the conversation and instead absorbs all the equity between participants.

In essence, humility is laying down your rights for another’s (Phil. 2:3-4).

Regardless of the context, Jesus consistently presented a message about the kingdom  (the way) of God. The way of God which Jesus presented was both consistent with the Law and the Prophets as well as His own actions. Jesus did not just talk about the kingdom; Jesus lived the kingdom. He did so with expressed humility as Paul articulates in Philippians 2.

Jesus’s life was a life of giving–giving away what the Father had given him (John 15:15; 17:4, 8, 14). Jesus gave himself to those about him so that they might come to know through his life a similar commitment to the mission for which he had come into the world. In everything, it was made abundantly clear that the word which had been written in the Scriptures and the word spoken by Christ were not contradictory, but rather complementary to each other; Jesus’s actions clarified the motive behind the mission. Here’s the thing, consistency is key because people will not always get the message you try to communicate.

My friend Spencer rightly articulates that “Saturation is when the message finally sinks in.” Spencer continued, “When I think of this in Jesus’s life, the first thing which comes to mind is how Jesus repeatedly told his disciples he must die and after three days rise; and, their repeated failure to understand why.”

However, it was only in experiencing the implications of the Gospel when Jesus’s message and model finally sunk in. In experiencing the consistency of Jesus, people responded with self-judgment because they realized how inconsistent they were. Jesus did not ask anyone to do or be anything which first he had not demonstrated in his own life. The first-century audience could not stay in the conversation because their lives were not willing to lay down their conceptions in exchange for the kingdom posture embodied in Jesus.

The message we want to saturate our world with is one of God’s grace and love for us, our gratitude and humility toward him, and our hope in the middle of chaos and pain.

Let that message saturate your worldview so that your model of that message begins to saturate the world.