ThanksLiving Right

It’s easy to love this time of year.

The smoky smells of autumn, the traces of fall color, the countdown to Christmas…

…the thought of a better year beyond the horizon.

But perhaps you’re like me in the sense the third of week of November has become this pre-holiday rush pedestal, a calm before the storm we all know as ‘the most wonderful time of the year’.

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If so, consider this post a take among many seeking to re-establish Thanksgiving as its own sacred entity.

For while most grasp the importance of giving thanks, not all see it as an unconditional reality as the will of God in Christ Jesus for us (1 Thessalonians 5:18) where gratitude is contagious, sacrifice a cheerful obedience metric, and thanksgiving a light share as opposed to a light switch (see Isaiah 58:8, Matthew 5:15-16; more on this in a moment).

The question is: If thanksgiving is more than periodical expressions of vertical delight, what’s stopping us from employing it horizontally?

Consider the following verses…

And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres.” ~ Nehemiah 12:27 (ESV)

I wash my hands in innocence and go around your altar, O Lord, proclaiming thanksgiving aloud, and telling all your wondrous deeds. O Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells” Psalm 26:6-8 (ESV)

Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” ~ Psalm 50:22-23 (ESV)

But I am afflicted and in pain;let your salvation, O God, set me on high! I will praise the name of God with a song;I will magnify him with thanksgiving.” ~ Psalm 69:29-30 (ESV)

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,for his wondrous works to the children of man! And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!” ~ Psalm 107:21-22 (ESV)

“Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:13-15 (ESV)

Note when we drill down systematically, we find thanksgiving to be far more than temporary appreciation, but a call to invite people to taste and see that the Lord and His provisions are good (Psalm 34:8, Psalm 107:9,  Philippians 4:19). Applicably, this has profound implications.

For starters, while thanksgiving is often confined to altar calls, staged responses, and special events, when we recognize its pre-Mayflower, pre-creation context, we find sanctified space celebrating what has always been…perpetual love in continuous offering…giving and receiving simultaneously.

Unfortunately, for many of us, when it comes to thanksgiving, it’s easy to compartmentalize giving and receiving. I know for me, ego, independence, entitlement, and agenda can compromise my benevolence and negotiate my generosity if I’m not careful; however, I also know by dying to these rights, I expand the room God has to reveal Himself1

…which brings me the reason I’m writing this.

If we desire the lost and broken to see Jesus, not only must we be intentional in declaring thanksgiving, but sharing it as well. For when we engage thanksgiving as celebratory and communal worship, we inevitably position ourselves to glorify God as fresh revelations of His providence abound. Granted, this doesn’t mean we dial up the decibels of our praise to prove the goodness within. Clearly, our hearts would be misaligned if the visibility of our virtue preceded the availability of God’s power to provide it.

That said, by understanding thanksgiving as an outpouring of interdependent love and vulnerable relationship, we ultimately discover how our loved-by-God identity can extend God’s Kingdom through perfect other-centeredness.

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Think of it this way: When I praise God for who He is and what He has done, while the point of my adoration is to love Jesus first and foremost, the posture of my adoration opens me to overflow the love I receive in return. Accordingly, to the extent I abide in this rhythm, to that extent God’s heart (i.e. His love, goodness, kindness, compassion, faithfulness, etc.) inundates the people and places I encounter. Perhaps this is what the author of Hebrews meant when he wrote, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Hebrews 13:15).

Bottom line: Thanksgiving, at its core, celebrates the Trinitarian nature of God. While Pilgrims and Indians are worthy of mention, their actions in 1621 merely reflected a divine dance that has and will continue on into eternity.

As such, why not extend tomorrow (i.e. Thanksgiving) into each day? Why not [literally] give thanks as opposed to voicing it in isolation? Why not receive from the Lord as you inquire direction on what you have to offer?

After all, not only do you have something to offer, but a specific reason why. And that, my friends, is worth being thankfull for.

From my house to yours, have a Happy Thanks Giving…and don’t forget to look up as you reach out.

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Footnotes

  1. Also, the room is created for godly fear – not only loving what God loves and hating what God hates, but hearing what God says and seeing what He sees.
Cover photo creds: stmed.net

 

Chosen to Succeed: A Homily for Vocational Ministers

Shared at The Gate Community on 11/18/18

Many times in this sanctuary we have acknowledged pastoral leaders, ministerial entrepreneurs, and trailblazing missionaries, recognizing their call to churches, organizations, and nations. But until last year, seldom have we, as a local body, celebrated the ministry giftings in vocational leaders and those appointed to corporate frontlines.

For many of us in this room, there’s been a convergence of conviction in recent years centered on the idea that fivefold ministry gifts aren’t exclusive to those with fivefold ministry callings. For instance, like vocational ministers, a CPA with God-given financial skills, a physician, and a businessperson known for quality service can function in pastoral, evangelical, and apostolic anointings.

The question is: Are we helping them make connection between original design and occupation…between sacred and secular offices?

While many answers could be said, the truth is we, at The Gate, believe works of the Spirit are manifold and that there are infinite functional ministries saints can be called to. As such, it is also our belief anyone who is saved and aligned with Christ has difference-making, culture shaking potential as part of their appointed skill and spiritual gift mix…

…which brings us to today where it is with great pleasure we celebrate these individuals who have fulfilled their Commission U course requirements as part of Messenger Fellowship’s initiative to equip and empower marketplace ministers.

For those unaware of what Commission U is all about, in short, it’s more than a credentialing course, more than a biweekly small group, more than a quest for frame-able accomplishment; rather, it’s a pathway for disciple-making believers to discover and apply their spiritual gifts in worldly systems…a training ground for men and women of faith to mature their reach in fallen settings.

Scripturally, the word ‘commission’ is used several times. In Genesis, we find Joseph being commissioned by Pharaoh as the vizier of Egypt. In Numbers, we find Eleazar the priest and Joshua being commissioned in front of large assemblies. In Timothy, we find Timothy being commissioned by Paul to commit to his calling. And in the Gospels, the disciples are commissioned by Jesus to make disciples of all nations.

While these cases may seem random, the point is in each of them God appointed his chosen to succeed. And it’s for this reason we are gathered here: to charge these ambassadors not only to go and make disciples of all nations, but occupational arenas as well, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey not only what they’ve chosen to follow, but what they’re continuously choosing to learn and abide in.

So to our graduates, we employ you to build upon the insight you’ve inherited and to see the Scriptures as God-breathed in what you put your hands to.

As 2 Timothy 3:16-172 Timothy 3:16-17 says…

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth [knowing] all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

And to all of us, understand we carry a priestly, Immanuel’ (God with us) identity embodying the incarnate… with ignitable Kingdom influence wherever we walk…wherever we work.

On this note, we consecrate this moment by commissioning our Commission U graduates.

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Photo creds: Lydia Ingegneri

Bride Incredulous: Why Marriage Is Kinda, Sorta Okay (Intro)

You know the ol’ adage, the more you grow, the less you know?

If so, understand that’s where I’m at as I write this.

Not to suggest being meekly subdued is a bad thing. After all, sharing conviction as you respond to it can be a freeing process.

However, as a humbled husband fresh into Francis and Lisa Chan’s book, You and Me Forever…I can’t help but think whatever I thought about marriage a few weeks ago is no longer what I can think about it moving forward.

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Accordingly, as certitudes ignite like fireworks, I want to take a few posts to challenge our view of marriage in light of eternity. ‘Cause while marriage is certainly the apex of human love as purposed in God’s plan, it’s only kinda, sorta okay when we dare to view it against the backdrop of what we will experience in heaven.

Quick disclaimer: For all you singles out there, while this post may not seem to apply to you, consider the foundation this series will offer. True, you may not want to expose your heart discovering what you think you can’t have right now; however, if you perceive this content as an opportunity to mature your dream of holy matrimony, I truly believe you will come out better for it.

That said, let’s dig in.

I love my wife.

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In case you needed a ‘duh’ moment to compliment your cup of coffee…there you go.

But seriously, I love love. Not only does it speak to the existence of a supreme being, but it testifies to the mastermind of a relational being.

Unfortunately, in this life, it’s easy to lose sight of what love is and where it comes from. I know for me there have been times I’ve landed in hot water thinking love could be assumed in the name of ‘trust’ or purchased with a ‘happy wife, happy life‘ mentality.

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But as experience and humility have taught me, these approaches are volatile, if not, futile. For starters, they tempt you to ‘sherlock’ your way out of relational voids, seeking deeper connection through egotistic epiphanies. Additionally, and more profoundly, they invert the big picture of what marriage is. Specifically, marriage is not the ‘great life’ or ‘American dream’ applied to your spouse. Rather it is an amazing race journey prepping us to stand before our Creator and into eternal intimacy with Him.

I love how Chan captures this…

Each of us plays a tiny but significant role. Our marriages also play a significant role in His great plan. We are called to paint such an attractive picture of marriage that it causes people to long for the coming marriage with Jesus. God calls us to display the love and humility of Christ through our marriages…to tell people about God’s story…who Jesus is and what He has done.” (p. 55).

Essentially, your marriage (or future marriage) is sanctified outreach, a unique blend of discipleship and evangelism pointing people in the direction of God’s burning love for them. Thus, if we think marriage is nothing more than feeling complete within a spousal relationship, then we’re missing the ‘big picture’ as to what God has intended for it.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we forsake loving our spouse with all we have to offer. Surely most reading this understand love is a tangible, mobile, proactive entity rising far above our deepest desires to be content…to be known. Still, the reality remains: the reason why many marriages struggle is due to one or both partners feeling dissatisfied and/or insecure in their identity as loved and known by God. As a result, their desperation for better relationship becomes hinged on individual strength as opposed to joint partnership.

As Chan puts it, our marriage problems aren’t marriage problems; they are God problems (p. 20). We may think we have a beef with our spouse, but that beef had to originate somewhere. And while epicenters may vary, often times the source region is the discord between expectation and divine trust.

I remember early on in my marriage, there were several moments when I projected frustration onto Lyssah blaming her for an unmet expectation when, in fact, the root of my resentment was aimed at God for not having met it sooner. In hindsight, not only did these episodes preserve misplaced doubt, but drove a wedge into our communication and ultimately our affection.

Thankfully, as the years have gone by, maturity and awareness have increased to the point I can catch these moments and take the thoughts behind them captive fairly quickly. But as one may tell, allowing these notions to accumulate unaccounted for can lead to severe relational strain, damage, even destruction.

At some point, we must embrace the beauty of trusting God and entrusting ourselves to Him…in becoming so overwhelmed by Christ’s care for us, we can’t help but pour out onto our spouses in an extravagant way. For those married looking to lead people to Christ, love and honor the most important relationship you’ve been given. I promise you the ripple effect will bless way more than you think.

Bottom line: We may be the bride of Christ, but marriage grooms us for glory. Sure, we may be intimidated by the thought of staring at God mesmerized in His presence, but the experiences found in marriage can help get us there! And yes, while marriage is not required to advance the Kingdom, for many of us, it is necessary to understanding sanctification, sacrifice, and the immensity of God’s wholehearted devotion.

As to how this looks, stay tuned for sequel posts where we’ll dive into what a biblical blueprint for marriage looks like. Until then, rest in confidence knowing while marriage isn’t that great in light of eternity, it is perfect as an established institution and reflection of divine love drawing us and those around us closer to Jesus.

How sweet it is to love our beloved as we’re loved by our Beloved.

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Selah.

Cover photo creds: VideoBlock

Nothin’ ‘Bout The Blood

So last week I’m on a Messenger Zoom call discussing Triune worldviews when a chilling question is raised:

Are we, as rising, maturing believers valuing the bloodand living in light of that ‘precious flow [making us] white as snow’?

Certainly, it’s easy to think we are given Christ’s death and resurrection is the cornerstone of Christianity.

But what if I told you to the extent we detach God’s communal nature as a foundation of love from our corporate theological foundation, to that extent we reduce the blood as nothing more than a sacrament. Would you agree?

If not, permit me to connect some dots after laying some groundwork…

1. To construct a worldview from the core of God’s nature, we must accept the fact God is a Communion of Three Persons in perfect love.

2. From there, we can establish and grow Biblical community in the same way God does His work: by multiplying what He is as a communion of love.

3. Only then can we value the Gospel and consequentially, understand the destructiveness of sin.

Unfortunately, as we progress in this post-Millennial age, the more young believers are distancing themselves from the saviorhood of Jesus2. As a former student pastor, I can attest to this. For many youth, believing the universal lordship of Jesus having once saved is far less challenging than accepting their current need for a sovereign Redeemer who continues to save.

Granted, our culture’s emphasis of reason over revelation and self-autonomy allots sense to the trend. That said, one must wonder how a world system based on deficiency is affecting the church’s thirst for relevancy.

Take ‘mission’ for example. For most, mission is seen as a journey, an assignment or a means to an end; however, when we note the Godhead, we find ‘mission’ to be an overflow of an established nature.

You see, before love could be extended, there had to be an identity with the ability to love; hence, why so many feel the weight of performance given they’re trying to abide in love not knowing who they really are and as such, forget the key to anything starts and ends with being loved by God.

The question is…

Are we abiding in love…or are we searching in love to find ourselves? Are we trusting God to fill our needs or filling our needs to trust in God? Are we forgiving having received grace or seeking grace in order to forgive?

Either way, it’s worth reminding ourselves…

  1. There’s no depravity God can’t redeem.
  2. Abiding in who we are in Christ is the blueprint to Holy Spirit dependence.
  3. The bedrock of truth, especially as revealed in revelation, is cemented when we allow God to reveal Himself in all circumstances.

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As for the blood’s depreciation among ‘next gen’ believers, it’s important we, as the body, perceive the issue as a conflict between identity and performance. For as long as Western individualism exists, so will the temptation to approach mission as drive, fellowship as metric, sin as shame…and thus, the blood as obsolete.

Yet, when we remember we were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20), when we accept Christ’s atonement as the security of our freedom, only then will we understand the blood’s purpose in all things.

For instance…

The blood is central to our community:

Take care and be on guard for yourselves and for the whole flock over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd (tend, feed, guide) the church of God which He bought with His own blood.” ~ Acts 20:28 (AMP)

The blood is central to reconciliation:

…and through [the intervention of] the Son to reconcile all things to Himself, making peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, [I say,] whether things on earth or things in heaven.” ~ Colossians 1:20 (AMP)

The blood is central to redemption:

In Him we have redemption [that is, our deliverance and salvation] through His blood, [which paid the penalty for our sin and resulted in] the forgiveness and complete pardon of our sin, in accordance with the riches of His grace.” ~ Ephesians 1:7 (AMP)

The blood is central to cleansing:

But when Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things to come…He went once for all into the Holy Place [the Holy of Holies of heaven, into the presence of God], not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, having obtained and secured eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer is sufficient for the cleansing of the body, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal [Holy] Spirit willingly offered Himself unblemished  to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works and lifeless observances to serve the ever living God?”~ Hebrews 9:11-14 (AMP)

Let us approach [God] with a true and sincere heart in unqualified assurance of faith, having had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” ~ Hebrews 10:22 (AMP)

Get the picture?

My final thoughts are:

1. To minimize the blood is to minimize our freedom in Christ as it stresses our fear of deficiency over God’s sufficiency (2 Corinthians 12:9).

2. Instead of wanting to be relevant, why make the Good Newsprevalent? After all, the presence of goodwillis a testament to the Good News of the Gospel – the fact Jesus continues to heal the oppressed and set captives free having reconciled us to God through…(wait for it)… His shed blood.

3. Accordingly, by downplaying Christ’s sacrifice, we risk performance systems bridging the gap not only between identity and sin, but also church and mission (more on this in a future post).

I don’t know about you, but give me Jesus and the power of the cross as the divide between those medians.

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Looking ahead, stay tuned for a sequel post where I’ll dive into more detail on how we can better educate young people on how to live in God’s present ministry of reconciliation5.

‘Til then, peace be the journey

~ Cameron

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Of Jesus
  2. This coming an observation from multiple pastoral colleagues across the country
  3. Which can’t be separated from Christ’s ultimate sacrifice
  4. And our call to extend it
  5. An active reality, not a past occurrence
Cover photo creds: Mudpreacher.org

Begin Again

I’m feeling dry in mid-July as I take to a familiar scene…

…where Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo are, once again…

…deep in nightscape dialogue.

Like them, it’s been a year where nocturnal serenity has frequented my cul-de-sac of vulnerability.

Perhaps this is why I’m watching this, I think to myself.

After all, it’s not every day you catch a cinematic glimpse of what you and God do once the kids go down.

Walk and talk.

Walk and talk.

The perfect end to an imperfect day.

But this time…things are different. For once, I’m inside and idle, content in a still of a different kind.

Riding the rarity, I dive in, the laughs and prose all working towards this one moment…

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…sealed by a mic drop for the soul.

And yet, this story, in more ways than one, is just beginning.

For as credits roll, I approach the screen…

…to shelve a case of what was seen…

…only to balk and wonder why.

Why don’t I want to leave this moment, I wonder.

Perhaps it’s a sequence, a song, an emotional call. Perhaps the answer is ‘none at all’.

Either way, I’m at peace. Let it go, let it rest. Sometimes, walking away is best.

Flash-forward to mid-August and I’m cleaning again…the aura of Pledge, a fitting calm.

Then suddenly, it hits me

…what struck me that night was not the scene, but the title itself

…slowly marinating into the stubborn caverns of my disbelief.

Two words…we need, but take for granted; two words…preached, yet breached and slanted.

Two words…an answer once hoped for; two words…a truth igniting my core.

Two words for two months…and likely beyond. Now comes the part I ‘yes’ and respond.

And so it goes…there’s nothing God can’t use to find us and whisper the sweet reminder…

…that sometimes, to go forward, we must go back and…

begin again.

Roll credits.

Photo creds: 7-Themes, Pinterest