What’s to be Thankful For? Conclusion

SVDW_(192_365)_(5719230547)

The Path of Life:

Our canoes lay submerged, wedged beneath the swirling currents of the Jordan River. Several tonnes of fallen trees had made a sure trap at a bend in the river, and to attempt to rescue the boats from the surging spring floodwaters would be shear lunacy. Wet and bedraggled, the four of us clammoured ashore and thanked God none had been sucked beneath the merciless tangle of debris. Hiking back to our cars should be easy. We would return another day with equipment to rescue our canoes.

But hiking through an undisturbed west coast rainforest without a trail can be like trying to push a softball through a chain link fence. After eight hours of struggling to return to our campsite only to find ourselves traveling in circles, we finally admitted our lost condition. It was a long cold night spent huddled in the wet forest awaiting daylight and rescue.

Life is like that. It is often not until we have lost our way that we realize the crucial importance of the path.

David, the writer of Psalm 16, concludes his eleven-verse psalm by contemplating what he calls “the path of life.”

“You have made known to me the path of life,” contemplates the thoughtful psalmist; “you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

Notice he doesn’t describe ‘one of many paths of life’. There is only one path. There is just one clearing made through the tangled thorny underbrush of life if we want to reach our soul’s home. Everything else is a tripping, entangling struggle, thinking we know where we’re going but finding ourselves cold, wet and bedraggled, going in great miserable circles.

The psalmist also implies that it is not we who make the path. The “You”, “your presence” and “your right hand” of his psalm refers to God. God is the creator, sustainer and rescuer of all, but specifically of His highest creation, humankind. It is God who has made the path. Only He could blaze a trail through the spiked and barbed tangle of life in which we find ourselves. And only He could keep that path cleared and trustworthy to take us on our life’s true journey. But the path is not merely a route and a direction. It is a Person.

Jesus once explained, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)?

Jesus calls Himself the way because it is only relationship with Him that puts us on the Path that is authentic and flourishing and satisfying in life. All other routes are dead ends and entangling scrublands.

It is Jesus living within us that enables us to fully experience and increasingly express love and joy, peace and patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. That, says Jesus, is the only true path worth the life He’s given each of us. He is the inner compass that gives us purpose and direction—not wealth, not fame, and not success in careers, relationships or other self-motivated passions. He is “the rising sun (who has) come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:78,79).

Those who accept this path and continue to stay on it in spite of many temptations to leave it will be filled, as the psalmist observes, “with joy in (Jesus’) presence, with eternal pleasures at (His) right hand.” There is nothing more valuable than the Path, and nothing greater to be thankful for.

“This is what the LORD says; ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls’(Jer. 6:16).”

Advertisements

What’s to be Thankful For? Part 10

_Landseer_-_a_collection_of_fifteen_pictures_and_a_portrait_of_the_painter_(1901)_(14579686117)

Steadfastness:

Most of us love stories of uncommon loyalty, and the tale of Bamse is no different. Enrolled as a crew member on the Thorodd, a Norwegian coastal patrol vessel in the Second World War, Bamse was a unique morale-booster among the ship’s crew. All who knew him would agree, he was anything but an ordinary sailor—because Bamse was a dog.

He once saved the life of a young lieutenant commander by knocking his knife-wielding assailant into the sea. On other occasions he was known to have dragged drowning sailors from deep waters to shore and safety. He learned to ride the bus route from the ship’s dock in Scotland to Dundee where he rounded up and escorted crew back to the ship by curfew. And he regularly broke up bar fights among his crewmates by rising on hind legs and putting his great paws on their chests as if to say, “Calm down, mate. Time to head back aboard ship.” Bamse loved his crewmates with a proactive and steadfast loyalty. In return, the Royal Norwegian Navy honoured Bamse upon his death, by giving him a burial with full military honours.

Bamse’s story is a heartwarming one; we resonate with his constant allegiance and doggy dependability. But he only scratched the surface of loyalty. There is one who acts with even greater steadfastness and commitment toward those on whom his favour rests.

“(Y)ou will not abandon me to the grave,” marvels the writer of Psalm 16, “nor will you let your Holy One see decay.”

Who is the “you” David mentions? He’s referring to God and he’s making an extremely bold statement, even for a psalmist. David is in wonder and awe as he pens words of which he himself hardly understands the meaning. He knows people die. He comprehends the reality of death in the life cycle of all living things. So what could he possibly be saying to connect God’s steadfast loyalty with David’s and our own sure and imminent death?

David is uttering the mystery of the ages; he’s revealing God’s intentions for solving the dilemma of death. Created beings designed for immortality, such as we, feel cheated by death. We feel uneasy thinking of life simply ceasing to exist when our fragile bodies stop living. And so we ought to feel, because it is not natural. We were made in the image of the eternal God, created to live forever with Him. But the fiasco of rebellion in the Garden so long ago ruined it for us all (we would have done the rebellious deed ourselves had not Adam and Eve done it first).

But now David is looking ahead a millennium to a second Adam, our species’ second chance to be represented by a son of God – a unique Son who would succeed in living a perfectly obedient life and follow it by dying a death worth more than the deaths of every rebellious person on this planet. David is seeing Jesus. He is seeing God’s allegiance to His image-bearing creatures.

And Jesus is the epitome of steadfast loyalty. His purpose and resolve is to ensure that every one of us who comes to Him will not be abandoned to the grave. He is the “Holy One” who did not “see decay” – His death was a beginning, not an ending, and He rose from His grave victorious over death’s decay.

What does that mean for us today? It means today is just bursting with hope. Regardless of the chaos and destruction going on about us, we can take refuge in the steadfast dependability of a God who will not abandon us. Our thankfulness to Him for His work on our behalf is the beginning of our worship of Him. It also puts life in perspective. Everything is different because we are not abandoned. He is steadfast.

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons [[File:… Landseer – a collection of fifteen pictures and a portrait of the painter (1901) (14579686117).jpg|thumb|… Landseer – a collection of fifteen pictures and a portrait of the painter (1901) (14579686117)]])

What’s to be Thankful For?

IMGP0282

Part 9: Gladness

We cannot hear the word ‘glad’ without thinking ‘Pollyanna’—that is, if we’re into watching old films, reading novels from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, or studying psychology. Pollyanna is the main character in a story of an orphan girl who chooses to play the ‘glad game’ with situations in her often-difficult life. Prior to his death, the child’s father teaches Pollyanna to find “something glad” in every situation life brings. The story describes Pollyanna’s influence for good not only in her own optimistic attitude but also in encouraging the lives of the people around her.

Pollyanna makes her way into psychological research too. The ‘Pollyanna Principle’ studied by researchers Matlin and Stang, states that “people (other than those suffering from depression or anxiety) process pleasant information more accurately and efficiently than less pleasant information.” In other words, we are wired to observe and remember the positive aspects of experiences over the negative aspects. We are designed to be resilient even in difficulty, and we all have the potential to be influenced by simple gladness.

But life isn’t always simple. It isn’t always easy to be glad in some of the situations we find ourselves. We struggle with degrees of anxiety and depression. Is it relevant or even reasonable for the writer of Psalm 16 to even suggest that gladness is germane to our situation?

“Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;” David observes.

He seems authentic; it’s not just a mask of cheeriness hiding sorrow or anger or frustration underneath. He says the gladness is heartfelt. It’s deep inside him and finding its way out in his speech and maybe even in song. that’s something we all could use. Our society is dying to know where that comes from, and how to access it. Look at the facts.

The Mood Disorders Society of Canada explains, “Mental health (or well being) is an ideal we all strive for.” It goes on to say that the chances of having a mental illness in our lifetime in Canada are one in five. By that they mean depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other more complex disturbances that affect day-to-day functioning. One in five sounds unnerving. It could mean you or me. They go on to say that mental health is about “learning the coping skills to deal with life’s ups and downs.” This is the relevant connection to the psalmist’s phrase in Psalm 16. The psalmist is actually showing us coping skills the Spirit of God has helped him discern.

Here is what David observes: he is finding that his gladness is an effect brought about by a series of earlier events in his life. We know this because he begins his observation by saying, “Therefore.” Have you heard that whenever we see the term therefore, we need to look to see what it is there for? The term therefore means, ‘for that reason’, ‘consequently’, or ‘as a result,’ so we need to go back a step and find out what it is that precedes and initiates the psalmist’s gladness. He’s human. He needs as much reason to be glad as the next person.

So we go back a verse to remind ourselves what we discovered in ‘Part 8: Dependable Presence.’ Psalm 16:8 reads, “I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Remember? When we choose a mindset of focusing on God’s dependable presence with us, we are strengthened. Mentally. Emotionally. Morally. And more than that, we are gladdened.

It’s all about God’s presence. Accepting it, welcoming it, depending upon it for every breath we take, every decision we make and every challenge we face is the path to gladness. And gladness is not intended to be an addendum to life. It is designed to be at its core. It is the atmosphere in which God intended we live when he first placed us here on this planet, and it is the promise He will ultimately fulfill in our lives when we leave this life and move into eternity with Him.

We cannot access this gladness on our own. We’ve all tried. We’ve grasped moments of it, to be sure, but we’ve all felt it slip away like water between fingers. We can’t have sunlight without the sun itself. We can’t have true gladness without God, because God is Gladness itself.

So take a step toward God. We all need to. As we open our minds to think on His presence today, this minute and the next throughout our day, see if a deep gladness of heart doesn’t begin to bubble to the surface. It’s not dependent on our situation but entirely on His awesome, overwhelming, loving presence. Thank you, Father, for your gift of gladness.

What’s to be Thankful For? Part 8

1280px-Lion_Yawning

Dependable Presence.

In ‘Part 7: Counsel’ we asked the question, “How does God counsel us day and night?” As if the lyricist of Psalm 16 anticipates our question, he pens in verse eight: “I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” How is this an answer to our question?

Let’s begin with the great truth of God’s omnipresence. What omnipresence means is that God is everywhere present. It must be so, both because He claims to be, and also because the definition of God is One who is restrained by no limits other than to act consistently with His character. God inhabits a dimension that goes infinitely beyond the three-dimensional existence we experience, and nothing less than to be everywhere present and all-knowing is what we ought to expect from the unique and Sovereign Being we call God.

So if God is everywhere present, why do so many people on this planet fail to sense, appreciate, and benefit from His presence? This is the point from which the psalmist launches his testimony: “I have set the LORD always before me,” he explains. He places forefront in his consciousness the mindset of God’s presence with him. His resolve is to see, hear, smell, taste and feel nothing without it passing through the filter of the truth of God’s presence.

The use of mindset to accomplish a determined purpose is not unique. Elite athletes use mindset; they think about their sport day and night, viewing it from different angles, imagining and envisioning themselves meeting the various challenges that are common to their sport and gaining victory over them.

Storywriters and songwriters use mindset; their minds are constantly and even unconsciously mulling over their objective of communicating story through wordsmithy and tune mastery. It is not uncommon for great writers to awaken in the night with an idea, a word, a phrase or a tune that solves their creative dilemma.

So why not our grasp of God? When true seekers of God set their minds on things eternal, the Eternal One reveals Himself and His presence in the everyday ordinary things of life. The sixth sense that He is at our right hand guiding us, providing the support we need when our world shakes, is real. It is more vigorous and robust than the flimsy crutch God-followers have been accused of relying upon.

The awareness that God is here now, beside us, before us and within us is what the psalmist is describing when he explains that God “is at my right hand”; and because of this conviction that God is closer to us than our skin, the psalmist comes to the reasonable conclusion that “I will not be shaken.”

The clearer the understanding and acceptance we have of God’s presence, the more firm, secure and safe we will feel. This is why the young Hebrew prisoner Daniel, when thrown to the lions for his refusal to bow to his Medo-Persian captor, could face his situation with composure. He refused to allow the glaring, slavering appearance of peril to hinder his view of God’s presence.

This is also how many Christ-followers face their persecutors in countries where torture and death are the penalty for their faith. They set the LORD always before their eyes. They know He is at their right hand. And while terribly mistreated, their faith is not shaken.

God is no less present for you and me than He was for Daniel and is for the countless thousands who suffer for their faith. He is relevant here and now in your life and mine. The question is: Will we choose to have a mind set on Him? It is not easy. It will take everything we are and have to make good our resolve and not be swayed by the flagrant distractions of our eyes and ears. But the reward is rich. We will know irrefutably God’s dependable presence. We will benefit from His ever-present counsel. That’s something to be thankful for.

(Photo Credit: “Lion Yawning” by John Storr – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lion_Yawning.jpg#/media/File:Lion_Yawning.jpg)

What’s to be Thankful For? Part 7

1280px-Harpers_ferry_by_moonlight

Counsel.

Supply must meet demand. The universities across Canada and the United States that have responded to the demand are simply humming. They are busily producing graduates of Counseling Psychology programmes because of a growing need out here among us Western ‘grab the world by the tail’ people. What is the need? What is the demand that is causing such feverish activity and producing so many jobs?

We need counsel. More than that, we need counseling. Whether it is our fast-paced culture, the loss of a supportive community, or unknown influences upon our mental health, the insecurity of life as we know it is getting to us. We’ve lost our identity and our sanity feels not far behind. We need someone to help us find our way, someone to give us hope that life can be joyful, occasionally happy, or at least bearable.

Living three millennia ago, the psalmist David manages to pen words contemporary to our situation. His concern is not that he grapple with the high-speed changes of technology and culture. He has other worries on his mind, primarily invading armies from without, and insurrection from within. Yet David knows the human condition. He experiences the mental upheaval of wrestling with life’s dilemmas, and he points us in the direction of their resolution.

“I will praise the LORD who counsels me,” he declares; “even at night my heart instructs me” (Psalm 16:7).

God counsels, day and night. That piques our interest. Your first question, if you are like me, is to ask, “How does He do that?” We don’t hear His voice; we don’t sit in an overstuffed chair in an office with “God, Registered Clinical Counselor (RCC)” on the door, describing to Him the stressors in our life and our feelings regarding them, while he takes notes.

Isaiah, God’s mouthpiece in the eighth century B.C. prophesied, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor…” (Isaiah 9:6). Those words speak of Jesus, the promised redeemer of everyone who looks to Him for recovered relationship with God. And Jesus has a wealth of information to tell His followers about the counseling role not only He, but also the Father and the Holy Spirit perform. Pour over the gospel of John, chapters fourteen through sixteen to hear many references to the counseling work of God.

“And I will ask the Father,” explains Jesus to the twelve disciples who would watch His crucifixion hours later, “and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16).

“He lives with you and will be in you,” Jesus continues, opening His disciples’ minds to this means of counsel they had never before experienced; the Holy Spirit would indwell the core of each of their beings–and not only theirs. He is ever-present today in those who allow themselves to be indwelt by Him. He is endlessly and unfailingly urging and encouraging right thoughts, right responses, and right actions in us.

Not to belittle the important job RCCs accomplish in providing a listening ear and sounding box for us to get some traction on problem solving techniques. But God goes deeper. He has access into our heart and soul and is able to lead us from despair to hope. “Search me, O God,” adds David in another psalm (139:23,24), “and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” I need that good counsel and I’m thankful for it. How about you?

(Photo Credit: “Harpers ferry by moonlight” by Robert Hinshelwood – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3a51235.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Harpers_ferry_by_moonlight.jpg#/media/File:Harpers_ferry_by_moonlight.jpg)

What’s to be Thankful For? Part 6

Calvados_Apfel_0596

PLEASURE.

True or False: God says pleasure is sin. T ___: F ___.

Pleasure is one of the most commonly misunderstood subjects relating to Christians. If we refer to someone as a ‘Puritan’, what is implied? We’re saying they are against pleasure. Let’s face it, Christians are generally characterized as people who think pleasure is a sin, so they avoid pleasure, or at least appear to avoid it, and are called hypocrites if they are found to have participated in any form of it.

As we have been exploring the sixteenth psalm, we have discovered some surprises. We have found that God is a safe place to take refuge; His mastery is good for us; His followers are a family that brings delight to one another and glory to God; worship of God protects people from entering into idolatry; and those who entrust themselves to Jesus have security for eternity. To all this, the psalmist, David, adds another grace for which followers can be thankful.

“The boundary lines,” he explains, “have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (Psalm 16:6). What David means is that God created us to experience and appreciate pleasure—real pleasure, not the cheap, gaudy, penny-candy type but true, soul-deep spirit-maturing pleasure. God also created us to bring pleasure to Himself. Pleasure, in fact, is God’s idea. It is His domain. That is why there are so many references to words like “rejoice” and “be glad” and “blessed” found in Scripture. Corrupted pleasure is what God rejects because He knows the ultimate harm that results from its practice. Corrupted pleasure is theft; it is stealing forbidden fruit for its immediate gratification only to find ourselves unable to enjoy any healthy fruit thereafter. It is the apple laced with poison Snow White’s deceptor gleefully offers her hapless victim.

C.S. Lewis writes of corrupted pleasure in his satire “The Screwtape Letters” where we hear demons describing their attempts to “encourage humans” to become hell-bound. Keep in mind that the “Enemy”, from Screwtape’s perspective, is God.

“Never forget,” (writes the demon Screwtape), “that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden.”

Pleasure is God’s invention. And pleasure must have its boundaries—for our good, not to kill joy but to expand it. The psalmist confirms this by observing that “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” All true pleasure has boundary lines that protect us from falling over the edge into an abyss of corrupted pleasures that destroy us.

Pure pleasures that come to us from God leave no regrets. Not one. They fill us with life and spirit-health and a compassion for others to experience the same pleasures. They are the pleasures of enjoying God’s creation, of loving Him with our whole heart, soul, strength and mind, of loving others as ourselves. They are the pleasures of living by God’s standards of justice and goodness, even when it hurts us, and of seeing others we love being healed by God and enjoying His pure pleasures too. We inherit these God-focused pleasures now in tidbits as we can manage them, and in greater portions as we experience them in God’s presence throughout our day. Like rich, fresh and healthy fruit they feed us and help us stay on the heavenward path toward Jesus, “who, for the joy (pleasure) set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). That is what God-given pleasure appetizes us for—eternal life.

Now we are able to answer the question in a new way. True or false: God says pure pleasure is God’s gift and inheritance for those who come to Him. T: ___; F: ___.

(Photo Credit: “Calvados Apfel 0596” by Harald Bischoff – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Calvados_Apfel_0596.jpg#/media/File:Calvados_Apfel_0596.jpg)

What’s to be Thankful For? Part 5

IceCavesRattlesnakeLedge-193

Part 5: Security

Family. Physical and Mental Health. Career. Finances. Happiness.

Make a mental checklist. How many of the above spheres of your life are performing at one hundred percent their optimum? Which of them could take a turn for the worse and begin a downward spiral at any moment, heedless of your most determined efforts to the contrary?

If we’re honest, we will admit that while we have some control over the circumstances of our lives, things can go south all too quickly. Marriages struggle. Health fails. Worries plague our psyche. Unforeseen events sidetrack careers; finances plummet. Regardless of our best attempts at making our one chance at life work well, security seems to elude many of us. Life is a precarious and shaky arrangement at best and nothing is really secure against the wind and tide of the unexpected.

David, the psalmist, speaks hope into our situation by penning some simple but profound words in the fifth verse of Psalm 16.

“LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.”

Did we catch the first and last words of this statement? ‘LORD’ and ‘secure’. They stand like solid bookends bracketing his life. David, king and mighty protector of the Hebrew people camped on Promised Land surrounded by mightier nations wanting the land, recognizes where his security comes from. It comes from God.

“LORD” he addresses God. That is an English word for the Hebrew name Yahweh. It was a name expressed by God half a millennium before the psalmist, designating God’s eternal existence and being. It means, “I AM WHO I AM”, or just “I AM” for short.

This somewhat incomprehensible name speaks of the vast self-determined nature of God who cannot be fully understood by His creatures; so He simplifies His name to the most basic of tags, “I AM” or LORD.

But how does God’s name affect or effect our security?

There are two parts to it. “You have assigned me my portion and my cup,” begins the psalmist. In other words, ‘The food on my plate has been grown, cooked and served up uniquely for me, as has the drink in my cup’. God, the all-powerful and compassionate One knows exactly what conditions and situations make us most prone to turn to Him and rely fully upon Him. For some it will come within a tender and loving home environment. Others will need to experience the tough knocks of life before they are ready to see God as their loving Father and accept Jesus as their Redeemer. The point is, becoming bitter with our portion in life is counterproductive. Using it for our ultimate and eternal advantage by letting it turn us toward God is what God intends for our good. It’s who He is. It’s embedded in the name “I AM”. Take note, God does not make anything bad happen—He is the giver of only good and perfect gifts—but He is uniquely capable of transforming bad situations into settings that bring eternal good. Just look at the cross.

The second part of the psalmist’s observation is, “you have made my lot secure.” We are prone to think our lot in life is up to us. ‘Be born with it or work hard to get it,’ says our culture, ‘but don’t be surprised if someone stronger tears it away.’ God’s gift of Himself for us is very different. We cannot earn it, nor can we be too far-gone to receive it. And once we have it—that is, the forgiveness and new relationship He offers through His Son and His Spirit—it is eternally secure. “No one can snatch them out of my hand,” promises Jesus.

This verse is amazing, really. It has the power to transform our thinking and our living. The confidence inspired by God’s direct participation in our lives gives us a peace and comfort nothing–absolutely nothing—else can provide. Who wouldn’t want that? That kind of security is surely something to be thankful for.

Thank you, Father, LORD, the Great I AM, for assigning each of us our portion and our cup. We trust that You know exactly the portion and cup we need to be drawn to you. Thank you for making our lot secure. We entrust our lives and our eternal well-being to Your care.