Giving Thanks

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By Jeff Foerster

Have you ever been around thankful people? Do you notice the effect it has upon you? Listening to their positive talk and glass-half-full attitude makes one feel just a little bit better, just a little warmer, as if the sunshine of possibility is rising up inside of you. Rodgers and Hammerstein is flowing through your noggin and out through your whistler: “Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I’ve got a wonderful feeling, everything’s going my way.” When those folks are around there ain’t nothin’ that can get you down! That is, unless you’re not feelin’ it.

Sometimes I ain’t feeling it. Sometimes I can’t relate to what they say. While they are zip-a-dee-doo-dah-ing along their yellow brick road, I find myself looking for a bucket, just in case, and trying to cleanse my figurative palate of a generic plastic taste. I am not feeling like giving thanks. And that’s when I start to get it. I look around and realize that many of those giving thanks are not doing so because “sunshine” is always on their doorstep each morning. There are many in our congregation that could make “dour” a lifestyle choice; they bear circumstances and are confronted with feelings that would make such a decision quite easy, even somewhat justifiable.

And there we go … it’s a decision. Giving thanks is a choice. It is not birthed of circumstance and emotion; rather, thanksgiving is an attitude which blossoms in praise, like a plant well-watered by truth about who we are, who God is, and what He has and is doing for us. More than that, I believe its roots go deeper into the soil of trusted, experienced relationship with Jesus.

So I don’t have to wait for emotion to come over me and usher me into thankfulness. I don’t have to sit and wonder why some people “get to” be thankful. I don’t have to be “feelin’ it.” Instead, I can choose first thankfulness and place circumstance and emotion in the able and loving hands of my Creator.

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Guardians of the Galaxy

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By Dan Amos

Women’s retreat weekend found me home alone, with some free time on my hands. Sure, there were things I could be doing, many of them actually productive. But instead I burrowed into the couch and watched Guardians of the Galaxy (trailer). Again. For the third time.

I felt some guilt over it, so I started thinking of a way to justify the experience. I’ll share it with you.

I first watched the movie on an airplane, and I didn’t quite catch everything, so right there I was justified in watching it again. And Guardians is based off of a graphic novel series with lots of detail compressed into two hours. It takes more than one viewing to catch everything. It probably takes two or three additional viewings …

So, here’s the lesson I came up with while musing on the subject. Each time I have watched this movie, I have seen new things in it. Parts of the plot make more sense as I understand the characters better and what motivates them. The music is really catchy, and I start to remember the songs.

This reminded me that I should be reading the Bible the same way. There’s a whole universe of God revealed in the Bible, and it takes more than one reading to understand it. The more I read it, the better I understand the character of God. The events of this life make more sense in the context of what the Bible says. The words are so powerful, they should be committed to memory.

It’s okay to watch Guardians of the Galaxy. I just need to spend more time with the Creator of the Universe!

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Moses Anyone?

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By Jeff Foerster

Have you ever pretended to be Moses when you were younger? Standing there before the water (gutter stream), arms held high with a staff (tree branch) in hand, holding back raging waters while a multitude of Israelites (ants) crossed through the sea. Maybe you became David facing a giant with a sling and a few smooth stones, or Esther, about to risk your life before the king.

Maybe this wasn’t you as a child, but have you as an adult imagined yourself in the role of a famous biblical character and wondered if you would have made the same choices? What might it have been to experience those “mountain-top” periods of victory or encounter with the power of God?

So, I find myself considering Moses. What was it like to see that bush aflame and then to hear the voice of the living God? What awe was inspired when standing before Pharaoh, lord over the ancient world, and proclaiming judgment upon him, watching God display power through plagues? And what of the adrenaline-junkie experience of walking between walls of water?!

That’s not my life. Mine is much more ordinary, filled with routine and repetition. Over a period of time, one week looks like the next with little to mark its passing save for a seasonal change in weather or holiday celebration. I can begin to wonder what God has for me and if my “adventure” will be coming soon. In this mode I long to have my days filled with experiences rivaling those named in Scripture. Where is my adventure? How can I achieve greatness in life? How can I actualize the skills God has given me, doing something no one else can do? All of this is a longing for significance. And all of this is focused on me.

There was but one Moses. What of the Israelite slaves? 400 years of dust, and mud, and searing sun, and burning muscles, throbbing veins, generational hopelessness and death. Hundreds … thousands … likely millions of Israelites lived and died with not even mention of their name handed down to us. They made bricks, they served their masters, they had children, and they were no more. There was no glory for them, no tales of bravery to be recounted.

The story of centuries of Israelites under Egyptian slavery seems a waste. It’s a depressing thought to consider each individual life, born in slavery and dying under the same. Some were likely gifted as artists, others craftsmen. Some skilled as leaders and statesmen. None of these talents could be fully actualized, having been crushed under the weight of slavery. Whatever dreams might have been, would not see the light of day.

As the story of my life unfolds I can make the mistake of evaluating it by varying measures of success – financial, career, or otherwise. If I choose this path I make one primary and critical error – focusing on myself. It’s easy to take this focus; even our American culture celebrates the importance of the individual.

The narrative of this life, rightly understood, is much larger than the one, starring myself, I often have running through my head. This story is much greater, for it belongs to God. He will accomplish His purposes. I may play a role, but the plot does not pivot because of me. God decides what prominence my character takes; He decides that with infinite wisdom. My mission, should I decide to accept it, is to yield in faithful obedience to the commands of God. He does not hide these, but openly proclaims them in His Scriptures. Though, even these good things can be diversion if I think that through obedience I gain His acceptance and love.

The sun neither rises nor falls because of me. I do not change the seasons, nor do the rains heed my presence. But I do know and rest in this: whatever my lot in life, whatever my accomplishments, whatever my experiences, whatever my trials, God has placed me securely into His family. My significance is born of no other substance than this relationship with Him.

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Worship and the Best Fruit Salad

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By Nate Champneys

If you ask 10 different people the question, “What makes a good fruit salad?” you will undoubtedly get 10 different answers. “Oh, I love banana in mine!” “No, I hate bananas! You have to have blueberries!” “You have to have Miracle Whip in it!” “No, I can’t stand Miracle Whip!” And so on.

I know, because I asked this question at the last extended-family dinner we had together. But, in order for you to have a good time with your family during a meal, must everyone agree on the contents of the fruit salad? Probably not.

I like to compare worship to a fruit salad. What is “good worship” to you? What are the circumstances under which you are able to most easily connect with God? The answer to this question may be very different, depending on who you ask.

I recently was privileged to represent Elim at the Evangelical Free Church of America worship leaders’ gathering at EFCA headquarters in Minneapolis. It was such an amazing time for so many reasons, but one of my favorite things was being able to worship together with other worship leaders from across the country. It could have been my least favorite part, if God hadn’t helped me get out of my own way in connecting with Him.

As we started the gathering, there were about 30 of us in the room, with a group of musicians and singers up front leading. They handed us a booklet containing a liturgy of readings and songs. Sadly, an attitude of disappointment began to form within me. At Elim, we tend to not do a lot of traditional, liturgical things in our worship, so it’s something that I’m not used to. Thus, when they handed me the book, I was skeptical.

The guy who was leading the worship time began to play and sing, and I immediately began thinking critical thoughts. It can be very hard for me when I am at another church or at a concert to focus on anything other than the tech they are using or what chords they are playing, because I deal with all those things on a daily basis.

But at that moment it was as if God said to me, “Nathan, will you stop? Stop critiquing. Stop focusing on all the instruments. Stop focusing on the everything but Me, and just be with Me in this time. Just be with Me!” And at that moment I let go of all the analysis and the critique and merely began to simply be.

What followed was one of the sweetest times of worship I have ever experienced in my life. The funny thing is, the ambience of the room was still not ideal. The flourescent lights were very bright. The sound wasn’t perfect. The instrumentalists made a few mistakes here and there. The songs were not even all songs I knew, nor were they particularly my favorites … BUT, it didn’t matter. Because I was with Jesus!

I have been asking the question, “What is worship and what are we really doing here?” God has continued to break out of the box that I’ve put Him in. I have realized that the biggest barrier between us and a close, intimate time with God is not the lighting, the music, the strength of the vocalists, or the volume level. Instead, it is what I see when I look in the mirror. Me! I have heard the phrase, “We should be able to worship God no matter what the music is like.” It’s a simple thing to say, but it’s much more difficult to follow. I have said it myself. But I don’t think I really believed it.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul talks about the heart we are to have. He says, “then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

We will never have the same passions or the same preferences, but we can have one mind, as Paul says. We can have a mindset of selflessness and the heart of a servant. We may not agree on what is the best style of music or what color the lights should be, or even what songs to sing, but we do agree that Jesus is worthy of praise, that He is the object of our praise and that He modeled humility and selflessness to us and has asked us to follow Him.

So I challenge you, the next time you’re in a corporate worship time and you find yourself thinking negatively about the songs, the music, or the lighting, ask Jesus, “Lord will You help me to just be with You, worship You, and let my heart honor You during this time?”

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” (Philippians 2:5-7)

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