Challenge 57: Give Thanks by Giving Back

Give thanks

This week is the beginning of the holiday season in North America and the beginning of a season of gratitude. But if you have been reading my blogs you know that gratitude is something that I have been consciously practicing for the last two years, prompted by “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. Gratitude has been strong on my mind today as I have contemplated the sermon husband, Flynn A. Smith, delivered at church yesterday, “A Grateful Life.” He noted that the command to give thanks is one of the most repeated commands in the Bible, the sheer volume of passages pointing to our need for constant reminding. His sermon was rich in detail about 1) the fact that we, in general, are ungrateful; 2) our need to be grateful; 3) the result of our ingratitude; and 4) what we can do to become more grateful. As soon as the recording is available, I will place it here on the blog, but for now know that Flynn emphasized that gratitude should come from the heart and not just be obligatory words off our lips. When we don’t give sincere thanks, the person may not know we aren’t being sincere but God knows and ultimately He is who we offend:

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning”(James 1:17).

When we receive good gifts, even those we don’t want, they come from God. And though some gifts that we receive aren’t good, we still need to show grace to others and truly be thankful to God. “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Our reflection on how many gifts throughout our lives that God has given should prompt us to give Him thanks with ease no matter what we are presently experiencing. This giving of thanks should be personal and not solely rely on what God has done for others. When we focus on others, we can miss the mark on showing gratitude either by trying to assume the faith of others or by condemning others. When we ourselves don’t “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) in order to build a track record of trust in the Lord we may find ourselves looking to those strong in faith and thank god for what we know He has done for them. While that is okay, we need to be able to give thanks on our own behalf. Other times we see others who may not be where we are in a certain area, and we may have disdain for them. I was a part of a conversation recently where some women were ridiculing these parents for letting their children stand on the restaurant seats and eat only bread. They discussed how they would have handled the children if they were in charge of them and what behavior they wouldn’t allow. In essence, they were thankful that they weren’t like those parents, and their attitude reminded me of the Pharisee in the following scripture, the basis for this week’s challenge to love in a radical way:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14).

Based on his scale, this Pharisee thought he was righteous in comparison to others he considered vile. His sight on his “perfection” blinded him to see that God honors the humble, those who, regardless of their position, recognize their need for God, when they were a parenting-, career-, friendship, etc. wreck. When we see others who don’t seem as mature as we are in an area, we should thank God for teaching us during our clueless days and perhaps ask Him how we might help that person. It is always easier to criticize than to strategize because strategizing takes intentional time and extra physical energy. But out of gratitude to God, let’s offer a hand instead of pointing a finger. Doing so, especially if we have the tendency to operate like the Pharisee, is truly a radical act of love.

Take a Risk Challenge: Identify someone that you have wagged a finger at in shame and strategize how you can offer your help to them in gratitude for how God helped you.

Challenge 56: Give Tough Love

roulette wheel
She hurt me because I loved her, but my brand of love was not what she wanted. She just wanted the money, to get out of a rent rut dug by gambling away her funds. I became an ogre, the cold-hearted one who may be the cause of her having to move (though the rut came long before I said no to her latest request). So she called me a once-upon-a-time whore, a false prophet and an ingrate, not in those terms, but she reminded me of how she didn’t judge me during my days of sexual indiscretions, how I misinterpreted a definite message I received from God, how she financially helped my friend in high school and how she helped me make a large purchase more than 20 years ago. My loved one has sought to crush me so I would cave in on my decision to not facilitate her receiving rent money. She’s not ready to quit the game but always thinks she can just modify her play, something she has told herself for almost 20 years. Her strikes cut deep and have wounded me, knowing her desperation would cause her to try to wound me to willingness, and that her addiction magnifies her inability to see who I now am. But I won’t cave. I am convinced that tough love is the stance I must take, but tough love is just that, tough. God, however, requires us to do so and if we don’t, someone just might lose their life.

Collins World English Dictionary defines tough love as “the practice of taking a stern attitude towards a relative or friend suffering from an addiction, etc., to help the addict overcome the problem.” Tough love requires you to tell somebody something you’d rather not because you don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, don’t want to hurt the person, and don’t want the person mad at you, all feelings I had when recently having to give tough love. According to my loved one, my past sexual immorality, a misinterpretation, helping my old friend and a one-time purchase don’t give me the authority to exercise tough love. In fact, the person doesn’t see my stance as tough love but as my attempt to be God and leave the person homeless. These are the type of attacks that come with tough love; I know that’s why so few people, at least many that I know, give tough love. Instead, we simply pray that the person will one day make a turnaround when we know God is calling us to be more active, to take a hard stand for righteousness. The Lord wants the person to surrender their will to Him, and we have been called as agents to facilitate that:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

“For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:13-17)

Many times as Christians, whenever we give tough love to someone because we want them to look to the Lord—not their intellect, intuition, net worth, network or any other works—to get from under the choke of addiction, we are sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and are likely to be persecuted. The likelihood that we will be persecuted for showing tough love shouldn’t deter us from loving this way. If those who love them don’t tell them, who will? We can’t wait for someone else. We must fulfill our call to love unconditionally, which means loving a person the way they need to be loved and not just the way they desire to be loved. And like we are admonished to stay firm in our faith by obeying God, we have to remain firm on our tough love stance in obedience to God even when it hurts (Hebrews 10:35-38).

We can’t just think about our own souls, but we must also think about the souls of those who may be blinded by reckless behavior that is wrecking their lives and, no doubt, the lives of others, physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually. We can’t follow the way of Eli the priest who failed to correct his spiritually and sexually corrupt priest-sons who defiled God’s temple and they all died as a result (1 Samuel 2:12-17, 22-25, 27-36, 4:11-18). Tough love is a weapon of war and not for the faint of heart, but we can wield this weapon to fight for our loved ones’ souls, knowing that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength (Philippians 4:13).

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:39).

Take a Risk Challenge: Consider who you might have to give tough love to and seek God for the approach and the strength to operate outside of your comfort zone. We must lose our lives in hopes of saving another. We must speak the truth to plant or water a seed that may one day grow. We must be okay with others hating us so they can eventually love Jesus. Tough love is truly a radical act of love.

Challenge 55: Model Love

multiple families
Some months before my friends’ home was sold, God told me they would be living with us. I was washing dishes or doing some other ordinary task and there came the declarative statement from the highest authority in my life. I thought it strange, for sure. My friends had talked about moving, but nothing was presently in the works. But when our friends needed a place to live when their house was sold before they purchased their new one, we offered them to come to our house. To me it was a no brainer. For years I have longed to operate in community like the church in the book of Acts: “All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had” (4:32). This was love in action, a great witness to the watching world on how Christians are to operate through the grace of God. I admit, I was a little nervous about opening my home, but I was more excited to finally have a major tangible chance to experience a degree of community that the early church had. God had declared our arrangement; my friends needed our arrangement; so it was so. While I understand that our arrangement—two families of five living together—is uncommon, I had been having a hard time understanding the reactions of both our friends and family, all of whom are Christians.

They have said, “How long are they (you) going to be there?” “You can’t live there indefinitely.” “How’s it going? I know it’s hard.” “You’re doing what?” “You’re staying where?” and the like. When our response has been that our arrangement is going exceptionally well and that our friends will be with us as long as they need to be, our inquisitionists have been baffled, even continuing to question to convince us that we shouldn’t be doing this. One friend said, “I’m glad God told you something like that and not me. I couldn’t do it.” She summed up the sentiments behind everyone’s thoughts. They could not share their space, especially indefinitely, with others, especially with an entire family. Their thinking, unfortunately, is common. I believe it stems from our everyday notions of having men caves, diva rooms, kids’ playrooms and other dedicated spaces so we can spend time in our homes away from our family members.

Yes, we all need times of refreshing. I, too, have a time and space daily for me. It is essential for my peace. But what are we to do when our dedicated space interferes with the space God wants us to give away? I had to suck in a few breaths when I knew my quiet time space in my living room that I have had for 15 years would be no more. Now that our friends moved in, my space is different than it was three months ago before their coming, and, to my surprise, it is actually better. I probably would never have thought of this new space had our friends not moved in with us. There have been other adjustments in daily living for us all, but we all have no doubt benefited from our communal space. Whether cooking, cleaning, running errands, babysitting, child training/discipleship or camaraderie, we have shared these burdens and blasts. If we had the mindset of “me and mine” instead of “us and ours” or, better yet, “God’s and God’s alone” we would not have experienced such unexpected blessings.

“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him” (Psalm 24:1—NLT).

We have to get that. Our houses, cars, clothes, our very lives do not belong to us; they belong to God. And when God tells us what to do with our lives and our stuff, we are supposed to do what He tells us to do. We have to have more than an intellectual assent but make a physical bend to declare we really believe what we say we believe. We have to do what we understand is right to demonstrate the gospel of Jesus Christ. “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). The gospel, particularly our love for Jesus, is active, when we keep His commandments:

“Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Corinthians 10:24).
“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

I want Jesus to see that I love Him and I want others to see that too. Our family is seeking to live the above scriptures in obedience to Christ, which is a radical act of love. We have not reached the level of sharing of the church in Acts where they had “all things common,” but our families are of one heart and mind that God is our provider and us living together is one way that the Lord has decided to provide for us (Acts 4:32). We know our situation is unusual but we choose to obey God rather than men and embrace this radical act of love.

Take a Risk Challenge: I believe the greatest love you can show others is how you love God. When He tells us to do something hard, we have to seek to go beyond only seeing the bad so we can imagine what good might come from our obedience to God’s commands. So this week, love somebody according to 1 Corinthians 10:21, Galatians 6:2, or Philippians 2:3 (listed above). Going beyond yourselves in such a way will model for others how you love Jesus and show them that such a radical act of love is possible.

Question: What have you done to demonstrate your love for God?