Christmas Books to Round Out National Adoption Awareness Month

As we close the last day of National Adoption Awareness Month and turn our eyes towards Christmas, I propose a few more seasonal stories to warm your heart. Tales to remind us of great needs in the world and our abilities to make a change not for every child, but perhaps for just one.

My daughter and I have already listened to and are listening to again, The Christmas Doll. The older kids and I are nearly done with I Saw Three Ships, a new favorite from last year.  I can hardly wait to read aloud Holly and Ivy; a book that spurred me on two Christmases ago just after we met our youngest adopted son and were realizing this would be a long journey. Just how long, we had no idea! Finally, The Matchbox Girl is a beautifully illustrated, sorrowful tale that reminds me of our need to not pass people by. We must look to help in each situation as the Holy Spirit leads us and make a difference in the lives of children God puts in our path.

May you find these stories to be welcome addition to your holiday reading. If you like these, you might also like more of our Christmas favorites over here.

Happy reading and Merry Christmas!

 

 

*If you are reading this in your email head on over to the original post for the book links here.

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Lasting Lessons from Hurricane Irma

I took one last look at my husband as my four children and I drove away from our home on Florida’s west coast. With his hands clasped in a prayerful pose and nervously lifted to his lips, I darted another quick prayer that we would be home again soon and find everything and everyone as we left them. I knew Ron and our family were anxious about my 500-mile evacuation to my parent’s home in Alabama. The last time I had set out on the solo parent mission was six years earlier. We didn’t make it even two hours into our journey when I  totaled our SUV and landed myself and two older children in the ER. That trip was an attempt to help victims of a devastating tornado in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. This trip was an endeavor to escape the potentially fatal winds of the category five storm dubbed, Irma.

Irma was the largest recorded hurricane to date. Our city, thankfully, was sparred the brunt of the winds and the storm surge, but not before wrecking everyone in the state’s nerves as we braced to see what path this storm would take and how strong she would come in. Irma resulted in the largest mass exodus of people from Florida. We were among millions driving away from the storm to seek refuge in neighboring states. With gasoline scarce and roadways pregnant with fleeing evacuees, we drove out early on Wednesday morning trying to beat the traffic. We were successful in that endeavor. Finding US 19 traffic free and momentarily plentiful with gas, the kids and I successfully made the 10-hour trip in 11 hours.

As the state of Florida experienced one of the slowest weeks in history, all Floridians felt the oppressive weight of uncertainty. Regardless of our geographic location, we were all considering the possible loss of life and property. We were reevaluating priorities and esteeming relationships above material possessions. So many of us wrestled with the question of evacuating or staying to assist in the aftermath. Hunkering down, or hustling away. Many for the first time realized that the cone of uncertainty is a real threat and not an ideology to keep people glued to their local weather forecaster nor a way to sell bread and water.

Now, nearing a month after Irma, there are a few lessons we must remember even as the debris continues to be cleared away and the aftermath begin to look more like the prior glory of central and southern Florida. Granted, our area was spared the most it could have been and the more southern portions of the state are still experiencing aftermath in ways that I cannot fathom at this point. Please consider as you read these thoughts that our home suffered no damage and we weren’t left to wrestle with the total ruin that some of our fellow statesmen, along with the Caribbean Islands, are dealing with. Prior to landfall, we prepared for the worst and prayed for the best.

  1. Community continues to be the cornerstone of civilization. It was amazing to see how much humanity is highlighted in the darkest hours. The community among friends and family was fully displayed as texts were sent, storm shutters and plywood boarded, water shared, and safety plans made. It was a beautiful sight to behold. We held each other’s hands both figuratively and literally, encouraged one another, and prayed for and with one another. We braced the storm with faith in our God and His sovereignty no matter the ultimate outcome. In today’s digital era, we can falsely believe that all you need is a deserted island, Amazon Prime, and a laptop to experience all life has to offer. Rest assured, physical community cannot be replaced, merely inadequately replicated online.
  2. Debris remains long after the headlines have shifted. We continue to require cleanup locally. Most people have cleaned their yards, but piles of brown limbs and leaves accumulated on streets, as well as many large downed trees, remain. News is purposed to sensationalize every situation for a season, but the seasons for real catastrophes linger dramatically longer than the seasons of national news headlines. When our Facebook temporary profile pictures move onto the next cause, people in affected communities cannot. Like a death in the family, the world moves on, but the day to day has forever changed for the family who lost a loved one; and in the case of Irma, loss of physical needs. Therefore, our eternal perspective and our service perspective are longer term than our television screens.
  3. We are smaller and more helpless than we daily imagine. When a category five hurricane is ripping through islands and countries and seems to never slow down, it is amazing to see how big God is and how small we are. Only God can calm the storms. Man can simply brace or run. We taunt our pride in self-sufficiency, only to find in the face of natural disaster we are ultimately inadequate. We can plan, pray, prepare, and protect to the best of our abilities but the outcome is out of our hands. We are in control of far less than we daily realize.
  4. We, the Church, are known by our love for one another. Local teams of people from our church were out immediately after Irma hit, cleaning up debris and fallen trees in neighborhoods. This service of sawing and cleaning up trees cost a reported $6,000 after the hurricane. When a neighbor of one of our church members realized the team at his neighboring home was a volunteer clean up team, his mind was blown! These teams helped people both locally, and some continue to assist further south in Naples. When we help others, Christ is glorified and people begin to question the reason for the assistance being offered.
  5. The objects of earthly importance are not those which we use daily. When we crammed our car full of items we wanted to spare in the event of total devastation, we took documents and photo albums we rarely consider or use. More importantly, we placed the people we care most about in the car to carry them to safety. Things can be replaced. Little we use in the day to day is so priceless it can’t be duplicated or done away with. Irma made us consider how little we really need and how valuable people are.

Ten days after we pulled out of our driveway, we were pulling back into our parking spot. The kids and I were probably among some of the last in our area to make the return trip. We had waited to make sure there was power, gas, and open roadways. This time, as I looked through the window of the car, Ron was wearing a smile and open arms. Hands of prayer had turned to hands of welcoming praise. I hope these lasting lessons linger longer than the headlines in our state and local communities and we place the most value where eternal worth lies.

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Bringing Christmas Home

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It is all too easy for us to address Christmas as merely a bustle of ribbons and bows, wrapping paper and hot cocoa. However, each of us know that the memories that flood our minds of Christmas’ past encompass much more than that. Holiday movies, family traditions, familiar books, and everyday conversations around twinkling lights are the Christmas gifts we carry with us our lives long.

Our family has developed many traditions starting with our annual visit to Neely Christmas Tree Farm, followed by stringing lights with Dad outside as later mom decorates the tree into the wee hours of the night. Then there is the evenings shared in advent stories and lighting of candles. This year we have an actual advent wreath with candles; last year we merely pretended! A trip to Experience Bethlehem at a local church and a stroll amidst the lights at the botanical gardens are a few traditions that round out our list. These are just a few markings of the season for our family.

We bring Christmas home in the traditions we share and in the sharing of our material and spiritual blessings with others. Providing a shoebox to a child around the world, giving to support a missionary or a local child in need. Praying over the immense needs of people we know and those we read about…our own.

Perhaps my favorite way to bring Christmas home is in the sharing of story. Sitting around the Christmas tree, sipping on cider or cuddled in a cozy blanket, while we share in several familiar and a few new seasonal stories brings me tidings of true comfort and joy.

In all the ways that we celebrate Christmas, there are some central truths to our celebrations. The why behind the what that encompasses our season…

We bring Christmas home, because Christ left His home to dwell with mankind.

We each bring Christmas home, because the King of Kings humbled Himself, born as a babe in the lowliest of places, thereby identifying with the poorest among us both in spirit, body, and in means.

We bring Christmas home, because the Gift birthed for all mankind took on flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen His glory the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. (John 1:14)

We bring Christmas home, because we need to ponder all His ways and workings much like Mary pondered the events of His birth.

We bring Christmas home, because we are not home yet, and we await His coming again. The glorious arrival of heaven on earth for all of eternity.

We bring Christmas home, because we have all like sheep gone astray and God laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

We bring Christmas home, because any given Christmas we are either the shepherds or the wise men: we must follow the evidence of promises yet unseen.

In all the ways we bring Christmas home, they serve a purpose to remind us that the bustle of the season isn’t the business of the season. The Christ-child is the business of the season, and the blessing as well. We celebrate Christmas because Jesus brought Christmas home to us. He is the gift.

Even if your Christmas isn’t swaddled in tradition or swaths of red and green this year, may you bring Christmas home to your heart this season and always.

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A Brief Note to Parents on the State of Humanity

A Somber 4th of July

Today we deeply mourn the loss of life and the latest evidences to the degradation of humanity within our culture. These days we can wear our grief like a cloak never fully making it to the wardrobe.

We have turned on one another; which frankly isn’t new in human history. However, this turning against our brother at this scale and with this fervency is new in the course of recent history within our own particular sphere of the globe.

Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that little black boys and little black girls would hold the hands of little white boys and little white girls as brothers and sisters. I would argue that his dream has been realized. I am sure of it. I witnessed this dream in action only this morning.

Loading up the kids, we headed to the local zoo. Inside the zoo were a slew of children at the splash park area. Brown, white, yellow, and black children all splashing together in the same water. Oblivious to the hateful murders of the night, they played together in one accord. The children were busy laughing in the warm Florida sun, sharing space and time in the chlorinated waters of the zoo playground where a mere 60 years ago this would have been unlawful for those not white skinned.

The color of a man’s skin need not have been an issue in our past, and it most certainly should not be one any more. Yet, we can’t get away from it all together in the grown-up world. Lord Jesus save us from ourselves.

I do not briefly address the audience on this blog today with any semblance of answers that are easy, quick, or flippant. Nor do so with any intent to sweep away the violence and loss of life occurring as recently as last night. But I come to you today offering hope and a few words of encouragement as we pause and grieve, weep, repent, pray, and express thanks to those who serve and protect.

There is much beauty and goodness in this world if we will take the time to witness it, and to create it. Today, I witnessed it in the laughter and play of children all shades of btown and tan on a splash pad.

Deeply saddened for the loss of life and the loss of humanity we see in our country, we need to remember this: Change starts inside our homes and reverberates throughout our culture and world. Press on dear friends as we grieve with those who grieve and mourn deeply the current situation. Change is possible by the grace of Jesus and our homes are perhaps our greatest, though indeed not our only, conduit for revival. Our job as parents is not easy…it never has been. Our task is significant…it has always been. Our time is now.

Even so come Lord Jesus,

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Valuing Our Children’s Unique Pasts

Please welcome my new friend, and fellow foster-adoption mama, April Swiger, as she shares a part of her family’s foster-adoption story. For more information on the foster-adoption journey, please see the links below to her blog and her new book, Dignity and Worth: Seeing the Image of God in Foster Adoption. Welcome, April, to This Temporary Home!

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Upon meeting someone a few years ago, Adam and I shared our adoption plans with her.

Without missing a beat, she replied, “You’re not adopting from foster care, are you? All of those children are damaged!”

I didn’t know how to respond. At the time, we were trying to adopt an infant, so I probably mumbled something about that fact, hoping to appease my new acquaintance and end a terribly awkward conversation.

When I recall the thoughtless things that people have said to me, that interaction strikes me as unusually devastating. The issue isn’t that the comment offended me personally—although it did—so much as it is that the comment promoted the faulty belief that children in foster care or from orphanages abroad are not worth adopting, that their lives can’t be redeemed.

Many of the children who have been in foster care or orphanages have experienced neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, homelessness, hunger, and/or domestic violence. The trauma they have experienced often leads children to cope through unusual behaviors. They may rock themselves to sleep in silence because no one is there to hold them and meet their needs, they may use feces to ward off an abuser, or very young children may begin to parent even younger siblings because no one else will. Suffering has trained their brains to respond to events in certain ways, ways that the child who is born into a loving, structured, and stable family has never had to learn.

In addition to abnormal behaviors, children’s responses may take the form of developmental and cognitive delays, attachment disorders, learning disabilities, and other challenges. These challenges likely won’t disappear as soon as a child has been moved into a safe home. Foster children often need to learn how to trust other people again, or for the first time. This learning journey requires time, effort, and thoughtful parenting strategies that may differ from the status quo.

Over the years, I’ve received a handful of comments similar to the “damaged kids” remark. When I find this happening, I try to draw attention to the gospel and to the way that God values human life. My goal isn’t to rebuke others but to remind myself of this truth and to be an ambassador for children who can’t advocate for themselves, who can’t explain that they are not too “damaged” or “too far gone” for adults to invest in them.

Isn’t that the gospel? We were dead in our sin, totally damaged by the effects of the fall, separated from God, and unable to save ourselves. Without Jesus and the resurrection, sin makes us “too far gone” in the sense that there is no hope for salvation through our efforts. God sent his son to live a perfect life, die for our sin, rise from the dead, save us, and bring us close to him. Salvation makes us new creations who have access to the Father’s throne through divine adoption. There is eternal hope in this gospel and immense hope for foster children because there is one God who restores relationships in this life and the next.

To be clear, I’m not advocating that foster parents take on a savior mentality. Adoptive parents are not Jesus, and we are not doing our children any favors by “rescuing” them from foster care, as if adoption is strictly about charity. These children owe us nothing. They are welcomed into our families, fully and completely, regardless of where they come from, how they behave, or who they grow up to be. Adam and I never expect our children to be grateful that we chose to parent them and, ultimately, adopt them.

On a related note, Christians are instructed to care for the fatherless, specifically in James 1:27, which says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Caring for the fatherless is a practical way to live out our faith in Christ. Life is valuable and full of purpose, and foster children, with everything they have lost, deserve a family where they can experience that life.

I say it all the time: We have the best kids. Adam and I often pause in the kitchen, look at each other, and ask, “How in the world did we get such great kids!?” God has been very kind to us.

To be honest, though, I didn’t exactly experience love at first sight when Jayda arrived. In that moment, fear eclipsed love. Jayda had no obvious flaws, but we had never been parents before and were terrified.

After only a few hours, this little boy was winning over our hearts with his high-pitched toddler giggle, extensive vocabulary, and love for eating ketchup on everything. Our affection for him hasn’t waned a bit; it’s only grown since those first few days together. We knew the importance of committing to Jayda, and parental affection flowed from our hearts as we made the choice to attach to a child we might lose.

 

Excerpt from chapter three (Valuing Our Children’s Unique Pasts: Learning How to Honor and Respect Their Losses) from Dignity and Worth: Seeing the Image of God in Foster Adoption.

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April Swiger is a wife, mother to two awesome little boys (Jayda and Zay), homemaker, and blogger. In 2013, her family moved to her home state of Connecticut, where her husband, Adam, serves as the worship pastor at Christ the Redeemer Church. Living in a 100-year-old farmhouse, being debt-free, cooking nourishing food, and enjoying introvert-friendly activities are some of her favorite things.

You can join her for more “Faithfulness in the Mundane” at www.aprilswiger.com and Instagram.com/aprilswiger/.

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A Guide to Making Friends at Church

Seeking the Imago Dei

Time has not dulled the recollection of being a new member at church. My husband and I were newlyweds of just a few months when we moved back to his hometown and began the search for a church family to call home for us.

I remember asking him if we could look at several churches in the area before we landed on our church home. I was certain that we didn’t need to return to his church just because it was the pre-college fit for him as I felt we needed to explore a few other options to find the right fit for us.

When we landed on his church as our church, I had no friends that I had not merely known as acquaintances because they were friends of my husband. To be honest, being in a new city, in a new state, looking for a new church home for the first time since college, and away from my family more than a mere 100 miles for the first time in my life (the only person I knew was my husband), I was hesitant to jump into old friendships he had—for better or for worse.

Now, nearly 15 years later, I can truly say that I have become a part of the community at our church. I once was a first-time guest with little to no acquaintances, and now I would be hard-pressed to pass through the lobby without seeing several people that I know and could carry on a meaningful conversation with.

What is the secret to belonging at church? How do we go from being a guest looking in, to a member reaching out and joining hands with our sisters and brothers?

Read the Three Essential Steps to Making Friends at Church, here at iBelieve.

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Ten Verses to Walk You Back from the Political Edge

Prayer

Why, then, do you fear to take up the cross when through it you can win the kingdom? There is no salvation or hope of everlasting life but in the cross. (The Royal Road, Thomas a Kempis)

Perhaps you, like me, are a bit consumed with the presidential race of 2016. I’ve poured over pundants, read principled Bible teachers, and raised my fists in both victory and disgust while watching presidential debates. As recently as today, I’ve laughed at memes of Chris Christie’s face as he, to borrow the words of Tammy Wynette,  stands by his newest man–perhaps he finally realizes what he’s done! I’ve done these things all the while praying and simultaneously scratching my head over the polictal carnage inside the Bible Beltway and across our nation. What are people thinking and has it really come to this? Is anger-filled, empty slander, or entertainment, all that a so called civilized people seek in the leader of their country? I hope and pray not.

These thoughts beg the question, what should we do with our political concerns? How does the gospel infiltrate our political thinking?

There is not a short answer to this except to point out that the secular and sacred split we see in our country and the world around us must not be employed by Christ-followers. We are to let the gospel inform every decision we make in all areas of our lives: personal, professional, private, public, and political. We don’t sever the teachings of the Bible from our service in the world. God’s truths aren’t just for the Sabbath, they are for the work-week as well.

I am not implying that all Christians will or should support the same candidate, but that our loyalty to Jesus Christ and Him crucified, resurrected, and coming again would inform our choice.

I am certain that many of us feel as if we have come to a political precipice in our nation. We have a sinful, worrisome tendancy to bite our nails as we see America toppiling over the edge. We need to remember, no matter what happens at the ballot box in the next few weeks, nor in Novemeber, God’s Kingdom will continue to endure. Further, only the gospel changes man eternally and secures him a safe, peaceful dwelling for all of time. Government cannot legislate morality nor forgive the sins of man and right man’s relationship with God. There is no salvation nor hope of everlasting life but in the cross. (The Royal Road, Thomas a Kempis)

Following are 10 verses to walk us back from the worrisome political edge of this election year:

  • You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:22, NIV)
  • Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? (James 2:5, NIV)
  • Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36, ESV)
  • Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.  (1 Corinthians 5:24, ESV)
  • For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. (Psalm 22:28, ESV)
  • And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever.  (Daniel 2:44, ESV)
  • For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12, ESV)
  • He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. (Daniel 2:21, ESV)
  • The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. (Psalm 33:10, ESV)
  • Sing to Yahweh, you His faithful ones, and praise His holy name. For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor, a lifetime. Weeping may spend the night, but there is joy in the morning. (Psalm 30:4-5, HCSB)

May God show His continuing mercy to the people of America by giving us a leader we do not deserve–one who seeks His face. And may we the people of the Lord Jesus spread His gospel in our homes and to the ends of the earth to see everlasting change.

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Christmas Has Its Cradle

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Christmas Has Its Cradle

by Rae E Whitney

Christmas has its cradle, where a Baby cried;

Did the lantern’s shadow show Him crucified?

Did He foresee darkly His life’s willing loss?

Christmas has its cradle and Easter has its cross.

Christmas has its cradle, shepherds came to see

Little Son of Mary Lamb of God to be;

Had His Father warned Him, none would grant Him room

Save in the Christmas cradle and in the Easter tomb?

Christmas has its cradle, Wise men came to bring

Myrrh and gold and incense, offerings for a King;

Myrrh alone stayed with Him, death’s balm for this Boy,

From the Christmas cradle and to His Easter joy.

Christmas has its cradle, where that Baby cried;

In the Easter garden, Christ lay, crucified;

When death’s power was conquered, God’s life through Him poured;

Christmas has its cradle and Easter has its Lord!

We celebrate Christmas in part for the manger, and in whole for the empty tomb. The One who came as the greatest gift wasn’t fully delivered until He finished the work He came to do: to seek and to save the lost. To take the punishment of mankind’s sins upon Himself then defeat death and conquer the grave. Hallelujah He is risen indeed makes provision for us to sing oh holy night and proclaim good tidings of great joy!

Christmas most likely finds many, if not most of us, weary of the sin-filled world where death temporarily stings and where Jesus’ rule has not yet been eternally established.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9

And so, even as we celebrate Jesus’ first coming, we look towards His coming again when God’s Kingdom will reign in the new Heaven and new earth. Where all will be full of truth, beauty, and good. Where we can be joy-filled forever and live holy as He is holy. Where we can see face to face and know Him even as we are fully known by Him. Where we can live at peace with men and nature. Where all is reestablished aright.

Even so, come Lord Jesus, come!

May we ever strain our eyes towards Jesus and Heaven. May we major on the people and the work that is important, and minor on the mirage of material possessions, status, and striving for fleeting pleasures. May we live as Christ. Lord Jesus, help us to do so!

Christmas has its cradle and Easter has its Lord…

Merry Christmas,

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Being the Ten Percent- Gracious Gratitude

Thanksgiving Post 2015 Living the 10 Percent

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”  And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all your possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

(Mark 10:17-22, NASB)

Gratitude is not greedy for power, possessions, or prestige. Gratitude graciously bows out when it is time.

Perfect peace is found not in trying to achieve power, but in using the power and platform God has given you for such a time as this. 

Only a few men in history have set themselves apart for the power they graciously relinquished. They knew when to walk away in order that the greater good would be served in their absence. Consider:

Moses, relinquished the rights of an adopted grandson of the Pharaoh in order to remember the plight of his people. In so doing, he hastened his humble service to rescue God’s people from slavery and captivity.

(Moses) considering the reproach of  Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.

(Hebrews 11:26-27, NASB)

Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, “a man who neither sought power nor held on to it when his duties had been fulfilled.” (The Cincinnatus Association) Cincinnatus, for whom the city in Ohio is named, was a Roman citizen who was offered endless power and, instead, returned to his farm after saving his country in battle.

George Washington, known as the American Cincinnatus, was not only America’s first president, the model for all who would hold the title after him to emulate, but a man who walked away from power twice so that the great American experiment would not falter under the unbearable weight of a king.

Who can imagine that the liberty of millions might depend on the character of one man? What was it that gave him the strength to do the right thing when the temptation to do something less noble must have been overwhelming?

More than two hundred years after Washington’s death, his willingness to relinquish power–twice–is the most remarkable thing that we remember about him. These refusals to seize power for himself were the greatest acts of one of history’s greatest men.

(7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness, Eric Metaxas)

Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, left the honor and majesty of heaven to come to the squalor and filth of earth. He left His throne in heaven to be laid in a cradle, and later hung on a cross before conquering the enemy of death and sin once and for all. (See Philippians 2) It is to Jesus that we owe all gratitude and praise. If it were not for His modeled call to lay down our lives, His example as He resisted the urging of even His closest friends and disciples to siege power over people before the appointed time, then we would not one day receive the power to be joint errs and rulers with Jesus in Heaven.

Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.

(1 Timothy 6:17, NASB)

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;

(Philippians 2:3, NASB)

We, like the rich young ruler in the first passage above, may have choices in our future to posture ourselves in gracious gratitude and service to Christ, or to walk away with our possessions, power, or prestige in hand; heavy in heart and guilt. Being the gracious ten percent includes knowing when to walk away from the things of this earth in order to walk toward the person and mission of Christ. May we choose to follow Christ’s example.

 But he gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but favors the humble.” (James 4:6, NLT)

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Being the 10 Percent-Humble Gratitude

Living the 10 Percent Thanksgiving 2015

 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14, NIV

Last week, we determined that we want to be found giving thanks like the ten percent. Only one leper out of ten returned to thank Jesus for His miraculous healing. However, this week’s account in Luke informs us that mere words of thanks are not enough; it is the heart behind the words that matters most. In this parable about the tax collector and the Pharisee, Jesus is teaching that humility of heart is better than good deeds accompanied by a haughty spirit.

In fact, this parable teaches that there is a wrong way to give thanks.

If we are giving thanks because we are not like other sinners; that is, not bent towards certain less favorable sins. Or, if in order to elevate our filthy rags of righteousness (see Isaiah 64:6), we thankfully condemn more noticeable targets or outright sin, then we are missing grace all together. This isn’t but for the grace of God go I mentality, this is at least I’m not doing… What a dangerous predicament to enter into.

A vacuum of humility in our lives leads to the fertile soil of hypocrisy. Consider,

Hypocrites keep up the external performances of religion only to save or gain credit. There are many whom we see every day at the temple, whom, it is to be feared, we shall not see in the great day at Christ’s right hand. 

His giving God thanks for this, though in itself a good thing, yet seems to be a mere formality. He does not say, By the grace of God I am what I am, as Paul did, but turns it off with a slight, God, I thank thee, which is intended but for a plausible introduction to a proud vainglorious ostentation of himself.

Matthew Henry’s Commentary

God’s glory is to resist the proud but give grace to the humble. (James 4:6)

Consider the parable of the prodigal son. It was the brother who had done the work diligently and faithfully that had to flee the temptation to be angered at the wayward brother’s reward. The faithful must put off the garment of pride and assumption that God only gives mercy and grace to those who look the part or have played it the longest. It is God’s grace through Jesus Christ that brings our favor. That alone secures our salvation and no works we do on earth can equate the grace that Jesus provides. Works accompany faith, and restoration follows humble confession and repentance–be it in the early years of our life, or in the later years just before arriving Home.

Another lesson from this parable: We who have been in church and within God’s grace for anytime must resist the temptation and tendency to make God’s Kingdom on earth look like anything other than God’s Kingdom in Heaven. God’s Kingdom will consist of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. Further, it will consist of the last being the first. The crippled, handicapped, poor, and cast aside populace of the present will be the rulers of the future Kingdom to come. We must not welcome the well dressed and successful among our places of worship to the detriment of the poor, the weak, and the plagued with sin who may stumble into our congregations by the saving grace of God. (See James 2:1-13)

Not everyone in church should look just like you…or me!

If thanksgiving towards God has become a mere formality for us as it was for the pharisee in Jesus’s parable, then it is time to repent in humility and recognize the saving grace of God in our own needy lives. There is always gratitude to be given for God’s grace through faith in Christ Jesus.

If we have neglected to welcome those within our community of believers who don’t look like us, then we must repent and consider what God’s Kingdom will look like in eternity. We should make our churches welcoming congregations for every tribe, tongue, nation, and social status.

Be the ten percent. Give thanks with a humble heart.

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If you want to further explore the thoughts from this post, might I recommend two books that I have read in the past that most likely helped shape some of the thoughts written above?

Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges (see here)

Onward by Russell Moore (see here)

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