Changing Perspectives

On Thursday I had a great lunch with an eternal brother, and the food was good too! Yeah, Papa granted a couple of hours of fellowship, conversation, and laughter with Ron Ritchie—who taught me several years ago to raise my glass in thankful prayer before a meal (and who spoke the convicting words about eating out, “You don’t still think it’s about the food do you?”). We went to one of his “regular” spots, where he warmly greeted several by name as he showed the love Jesus has for each one we met. Before I dropped him off he asked me to pull over, and he prayed; one of the things he requested was for Papa to grant to me—even as I drove home—a renewed thankfulness. His words reminded me of “Pastor Hutch” out at Antioch Bible Church in Kirkland Washington, who has taught thousands to conclude congregational prayer with “Thank You Jesus!” What a healthy attitude amid our many requests. As I drove home Papa artapprenticeonline.Comanswered Ron’s prayer for me. I was reminded again that God uses thankfulness to put things in perspective.

You understand the basic idea of perspective—or, perhaps I should say, the way your point of view affects what things seem big or small. We sometimes express it differently, like when we say: “Well, from where I sit . . ..” God tells us plainly through Paul that we are not to be anxious (worried, “up-tight,” “stressed”) about anything. We might think of it with the tune and re-phased the line from a song popular a few years back, “Don’t worry. Be praying.” But . . . that isn’t the whole picture. When we try to reduce truth to a slogan, truth often suffers. If you look at Philippians 4 (starting around verse 6) you will see that the real encouragement is to be both praying and thankful. God doesn’t here call on us to be thankful for all our circumstances; but He does call on us to be thankful in the midst of our praying about our circumstance—tell Papa what you’re bothered about, tell Him what you’d like, and do so with thankfulness.

I don’t know what your circumstances are today, or how long you’ve been in them. My circumstance is that I’ve been thinking I need more income and a place to live (other than with our family here). In the midst of your circumstance, think about Paul’s instruction: “. . . with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” What are your requests in your circumstances?

Maybe it would help you to think of Jesus and Bartimaeus.  I like the way Luke tells it (chapter 18). He says, “a blind man was sitting by the road begging.” When this blind man learned Jesus was passing by he started shouting, “Have mercy! Son of David, have mercy!” Jesus has them call him over. Can you picture the scene? A blind man now standing in front of Jesus. Are you at all surprised that Jesus asks: “What would you have me do for you?” Can you hear Him asking you that question? What do you say? Bartimaeus wasn’t timid—he declared, “Lord, I want to regain my sight!” . . . Done! That was Bartimaeus, but I think Jesus is asking each of us the same question. How do we answer, you and me? Do you make your request known? Do I? . . . That’s pretty convicting, but I’m not finished—I’ll go on to meddling! Combining the account from Luke with the instruction of Paul, I also ask: Do we express our requests with thankfulness? Are we acknowledging the greatness of the offer implied by Jesus’ question? Are we mindful of the greatness of God—with Whom all things are possible? Are we asking for too little?

Paul’s next statement provides an amazing assurance. He tells us that when we pray, expressing thankfulness amid our requests, God gives us . . . peace. He doesn’t say we need to ask for peace (although that may have been part of our request). He doesn’t tell us we necessarily get what we requested, even if it was coupled with thankfulness. This isn’t magic. God can’t be manipulated. Yet, He tells us that when thankfulness frames our requests, peace will be given to us. I experienced that on Thursday afternoon.

Papa, thanks that we can talk with You; thanks that You care about us and our circumstances; thanks that You—the God who created and sustains the universe—invite us to bring our requests to You. Thank you that through Jesus You have birthed us into Your family and sent Your Spirit to live in us always. Today, I ask that You would continue to increase our thankfulness. You are so good.  

 And all God’s people said . . .

 Thank You Jesus!

John 

What in the World?

I awoke early Friday morning. As some of you know, this is not necessarily uncommon for me. I have believed for some time that Isaiah 50:4 has application to us—including that part of the verse that asserts “You awaken me morning by morning.” So when I wake up in the early hours (or the middle of the night) I commonly ask: “Lord, is that you? Do you have something I need to hear? . . . If not, can I go back to sleep?” (just being honest there). On Friday morning something came to me, perhaps based in my recent re-read of some words from Eugene Peterson on “The Jesus Way vs. the American way” or a sermon excerpt I heard a few days ago about Christians retreating from the culture. What I “heard” in those early morning hours was a composite of some simple, but often confused, statements of Jesus. What I heard was, In it, not of it. What does that mean?

Before I get too far down this road I want to acknowledge that “In it, not of it” are nowhere recorded as the precise words of Jesus. Oh, He definitely says “You are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” And He also prays specifically for the Apostles and “those who will believe on me because of their word” (that includes us—me and you), that we will be “kept in the world” and “not that [we] be taken out of the world,” but protected from the evil one (read in John 15:19 & 17:14-19). Hence my characterization of “In it, not of it” as a composite of some statements of Jesus. But, again I ask, what do the words mean? Perhaps more pointedly, what does “In it, not of it” mean to you?

 As I pondered what these words mean for me, some of my thoughts went to some ways of the world I want to avoid. For example, how do I regard power, fame, and position? What about materialism and consumerism? But Papa repeatedly redirected my thoughts. If I’m hearing Him corrembrandtRETURNrectly, He wants me to think of “In it, not of it” as not primarily avoiding things, but rather as a reality to be lived—a reality I too easily forget (especially if I fall into comparison [an approach definitely “of” the world]). “In it” speaks to the place I am to inhabit (or maybe infiltrate)—in, among, with—be a true friend to other people. Yet “not of,” not with the same motives, methods, or means common to the world. This is how Jesus lived. He was “a friend [and frequent companion] of [notorious] sinners,” expressed anger at self-righteous religious folk, and “was no respecter of persons”—He got His approval and sense of worth from His Father, not from people. To live “In it, not of it” we need Him to make our new birth and Papa’s love reality in our experience. It is already true, for He says that we “are not of this world just as I am not of this world.” But we need Jesus to make this real to us.

To say “forgive them” to Papa as they pounded in the nails was certainly an “In it, not of it” act. In his book What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey says (after 70 pages) that he is ready to “attempt something like a definition of grace in relation to God. Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more—no amount of spiritual calisthenics and renunciations, no amount of knowledge gained from seminaries and divinity schools, no amount of crusading on behalf of righteous causes. And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less—no amount of racism or pride or pornography or adultery or even murder.”

Think about that. Wrestle with it. Talk with Papa about it!

You might need to pause here to listen, but don’t stop here! For we are also told to be “gracing one-another just as God in Christ has graced us.” Consider one further statement from Yancey and hear it in the context of “In it, not of it.”

“The world runs by ungrace. . . .”

Think on “Father, forgive them.” Read Yancey’s attempt at “something like a definition” again. Think about people in your life, how you act toward them.

Papa, we open ourselves, our hearts, minds, and spirits to you.
Have Your Way in me.

 Allow the Spirit of Jesus, Who lives in you, to move you to live just as Jesus lived.  . . .  In it, not of it.

John