Friday, November 18, 2011

Give Thanks With a Grateful Heart

After every baseball practice, Adam would do the same thing; he’d wander up to me with a shy look on his face, reach out his hand to shake mine and say, “Thanks, coach.” He’d then turn and walk off with his dad who was usually nearby insuring his son would follow through on this daily ritual. I always suspected that Adam did this because his dad asked him to. It just didn’t feel like this was Adam’s idea. But I always appreciated what this dad was teaching his son: he was teaching him to be grateful and to express his gratitude. Adam was learning that there are a bunch of things in life to be grateful for such as the health, ability, time, resources and the coaching available to him so he can enjoy baseball. But he was learning that he needs to express his gratitude. Though I know Adam struggled to muster the courage to do this, I grew to really appreciate his effort. Of all the kids I’ve coached over the years, he expressed his thankfulness more than any other.

Recently, I heard an old chorus that I grew up hearing in church. The key lyrics were, “Give thanks with a grateful heart.” This old song had become somewhat of a cliché to me but it’s truly a profound thought. True thanksgiving is first a condition and then an expression of the heart. They work beautifully together but often we don’t join the condition of our heart with the expression of our mouth. For instance, we may have the habit of saying, “Thank you,” many times a day. It’s called being polite—which is a good thing. But being polite doesn’t mean I’m grateful. This morning, the gal who toasted my bagel at Panera Bread said “thank you” when I gave her my money. Was her heart overwhelmed with thanksgiving because I actually had the funds to buy my breakfast? Was she experiencing a heartfelt moment of gratitude for me, who in some small way was helping her have money to live her life? Maybe. Maybe not. But, I doubt it. Most likely, she was just being polite; perhaps as she was trained by her parents or by her boss. Though words of gratitude can be used, it doesn’t always mean we are grateful.

There are times when we are truly grateful, but we fail to express it. This morning, I spoke with a friend who is mentoring a young man struggling in his marriage. He had been encouraging this young man to write his wife a note thanking her for the good things she does for him and his kids. He was confident that it would mean a ton to this young wife to hear some real words of appreciation. But as this man was telling me this story, my friend stopped in mid-sentence as he realized how long it had been since he had given his wife a tangible expression of his gratitude. Gratitude without expression just seems incomplete, doesn’t it?

But when we join a grateful heart with a grateful expression, we bring joy to our Father. Gratitude also unleashes other virtues in our life. I can’t be truly humble without having an appreciation of all that God has given me that I could not earn on my own. It’s tough to be content when my thoughts and words are riddled with ungrateful complaints. Everything in life works best, not when I want more, but when I have gratitude for what God has already given. Marriage works best when I love my wife because I’m grateful God has given her to me. I’m more patient, kind, and caring when my heart is filled with thanksgiving. And then there’s perseverance… I’m more apt to endure hardship well when I draw from stories of God’s provision with gratitude. Thanksgiving brings hope.

Give thanks with a grateful heart.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Humbled or Humilitated

I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to impress the beautiful blonde on whom I had a growing crush. She was on a floating raft, enjoying her break from her job in a camp kitchen and I was getting the catamaran ready for sail. I was a 19-year-old camp counselor assigned to take a group of 8-year-old girls sailing on Pine Lake. It was a perfect day and the perfect setup to impress her with both my strong, manly sailing skills, and my tender, entertaining way with the fine young ladies on the sailboat.

There was a nice breeze that day, but not too strong to make the ride challenging or rough. The girls climbed on the boat all bundled in their life vests. They were excited about the ride and I pushed off with great confidence that they’d be telling fun stories around the camp about their ride. The boat was a big, heavy, homemade catamaran-style sailboat. It was kind of clunky to maneuver, but it was stable and virtually impossible to turn over. The breeze grabbed the sail immediately, but it pushed me in the wrong direction—toward the neighbor’s beach. I brought the sail down, hopped off the boat and pushed it out it again; climbed back on and pulled up the sail. The same thing happened again, this time blowing me into a marshy, weedy area of the lake. The excitement had worn off the girls’ faces and I began to hear words such as “boring” and “you don’t know what you’re doing, do you?”

Growing in frustration, I jumped off the boat again; except this time I didn’t make it completely into the water. My swim shorts had caught on an I-hook that was used to tie off the ropes when the boat was docked. My shorts hooked just above the bottom seam on one of my legs and tore all the way up to the waistband. When the hook hit my waistband, the tearing stopped and so did I. There I was… hanging by my torn shorts from the side of a rickety boat in the middle of cattails. I tried to shake myself free hoping the band would just break but it didn’t. I dangled awkwardly with more and more of my bare butt pointing upward at the girls. It’s safe to say that the girls were no longer bored… they were horrified. Awkwardly, I lifted myself up on the boat enough to untangle myself from the hook. Just as I was getting free from my mess, my buddy Bruce, sitting on his lifeguard perch, noticed my plight. Instead of sending help, he called out on his megaphone for all to hear, “Hey, Phil, everything okay?” With bare butt showing and girls crying, I looked up to see if one particular person on a certain raft was looking. And… she was.

With shredded but free shorts, I jumped back into the water and slowly walked the boat back along the shore toward the camp dock. When I was close enough, I pushed it to the dock and a friendly staff member helped the girls off the boat. There in the water I sat, hiding my ripped shorts while I convinced another counselor to run to my cabin to get me another pair. There was no way I was going to walk out of that water! The entire time, the jokes didn’t stop.

Some would say that circumstance was humbling. I would call it humiliating. There’s a big difference between humility and humiliation, isn’t there? Humiliation is associated with ridicule, shame, embarrassment, and failure. But humility is a virtue; something to cultivate in our lives. It’s something Jesus modeled for us. Look for the words or phrases that describe humility in the verses below.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. Philippians 2.5-8 (Message)

Humility is having an accurate view of yourself, and being willing to be honest with yourself. It’s living authentically—dropping any mask that protects your image. It’s releasing the demand to be honored, and releasing the power given to you toward the service and wellbeing of others. Through the virtue of humility, we grow and we look like our Savior God, Jesus.

By the way… the beautiful blonde on the raft…she eventually married me. That’s humbling!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Camera Snob

I’ll admit it, I’m a self-proclaimed camera snob. Just ask my friends or family members who have traveled with me. As soon as they pull out their camera phone or pocket-point-and-shoot thingy, I scoff at their feeble attempts to a capture a beautiful scene with such inferior technology. As they awkwardly hold their cell phone out in front of their face, they’ll hear me say in a condescending tone, “Are you really trying to capture that gorgeous sunset with that piece of junk?” You see, I have some really nice camera equipment that I’ve purchased over the years. In recent years, photography has grown past being just a hobby to being a second source of income.

So, there I am at the University of Michigan Big House, one of my favorite places on the planet, with my favorite camera and lens set-ups. I have solid hopes of capturing great action shots of my favorite football team. With incredible envy, I watch the pros move to their places on the sidelines. But as I watch the other photography “hacks” around me with their phone and pocket cameras, I’m feeling pretty good about my situation. I have the Canon 7D with a 70-200 mm 2.8/f lens that I’ve paid a bunch of money for with my photography earnings. I’m not on the sidelines with the pros (yet), but I’m certain people will be impressed with the shots I get in this great venue.

From the front row of the end zone, I began shooting warm-ups. My lens is zoning in tight on my favorite players. The shutter is firing off in rapid bursts. I’m in “the zone” as I scan the field through the camera eye piece looking for candid moments to capture. But, when I stop to check to make sure my settings are rights, I realize something is wrong. None of the images I shot were being captured. On the screen on the back of my camera was this horrifying message, “No CF card.” There was no memory card in my camera?! Panicked, I throw open the memory card door to be sure. This couldn’t be. How could there not be a memory card? But in fact, it was gone. With a sick feeling in my stomach, I remembered putting in my camera bag and planning to pop it into the camera later. But, at that critical moment, my camera bag and memory card were a mile away in the trunk of my car. It would take over an hour to retrieve it. So for the next three hours, that camera, valued over several thousands of dollars was worthless. With great irony, a kid carrying a $10 disposable camera stepped in front of me and snapped off a couple shots. My top end, expensive camera was a paperweight hanging from my neck, while his Wal-Mart special was capturing images of memories he’d enjoy later. Who would be the better photographer that day?

On the final stop on our tour of the seven churches of Revelation, we come to Laodicea. This city was known for its great wealth and independence. In 60 AD, the people faced a devastating earthquake but because of their wealth, they refused aid from Rome to rebuild. Their wealth staved off dependence on the Roman world power. But Jesus had something interesting to say to the church of Laodicea. He told them that though they seemed rich, they were not. As a matter of fact, they were spiritually poor. He called them lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—worthless water. Not hot enough to clean and not cold enough to refresh. They were lukewarm to the point where Jesus said he wanted to spit them out of his mouth. Strong words for people who had become enamored with themselves and their prosperity to the point where their spiritual hearts had grown dead and worthless. Laodicea had lots of bling but no spiritual value.

Does Ada Bible Church, an American church located in an affluent community, need to pay attention to Jesus’ words to Laodicea? Absolutely, because there’s incredible danger in success. What begins as God’s wonderful blessing can slowly turn to a curse when we become self-focused and distracted with our stuff and our programs. “ABC” could take on a new meaning: Attendance, Buildings, and Cash. How unfortunate would it be if we lose our heart for Christ and our love for people and become an expensive ornate paperweight hanging around God’s neck? I love how Jesus closes his letter to Laodicea: he invites them to dinner—one of the greatest gestures of friendship and community of that day. He invites them back into intimate community with him.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. Revelation 3.19-20

Churches can grow lukewarm, distracted, and worthless over time but so can Christ-followers. We look at our wealth and prosperity and lose our humble approach to serving God and people. If this is you, hear Jesus’ invitation.