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Happy Thanksgiving!

The pilgrims of Plymouth, MA, were almost decimated after the Winter of 1620 killed half their community.

The remaining colonists formed relationships with neighboring Wampanaug tribe who taught them to hunt, fish, and plant. Less than one year later, the colonists had collected enough food to feed the community through the coming Winter. They ended up joining the colonists for a three-day feast in honor of their bounty. This is what we celebrate today as “Thanksgiving.” (1)

Historically, Thanksgiving refers to a kind of absurd generosity.

A coming together against the current of the times to break bread and show gratitude. It moves beyond giving to a friend in need, or donating for a roundabout benefit, like tax write-offs. It extends to those who could be perceived as enemies–what Miroslav Volf referred to as the “other.” The Wampanaugs and the colonists had plenty of reason to hate each other. Had the tribe turned a blind eye, their inability to sustain themselves and lack of resilience would have wiped out the colonists. Instead, the Wampanaugs empowered the “other” to thrive. No wonder the colonists threw a three-day party to give thanks.

Thanksgiving comes from generosity.

But it comes out from another party’s generosity. The colonists were thankful after being shown tremendous compassion. It’s charming to me that between the fear-mongering of Halloween, the consumerism that surrounds Christmas, and the debauchery that accompanies New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, of all the holidays (with the ironic exception of Black Friday) is somewhat free from the madness. For many, it stands out as a reprieve. Yes, Christmas should too. But culturally speaking, Christmas is entrenched with a materialistic message. Thanksgiving is still “safe” as far as most people are concerned. I wonder if it’s because of the generosity associated with it. Even the most self-centered persons will take a break from their self-indulgence to be thankful for something, even if it’s being thankful for all their stuff. In other words, thankfulness is still culturally engrained in the holiday. And it’s historically tied to generosity. Of course, it all disappears the next day when the stores open! But if you want to see a longer-lasting generosity, one has only to search the Scriptures.

When Paul wrote his very emotional second letter to the Corinthians, he kept attributing the church’s thanksgiving to the generosity of Macedonians (2 Cor 9:11-12). Earlier, he described them as being “in a severe test of affliction,” and yet that “their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” (2 Cor 8:1-2)! To rephrase, the poorest of the poor were the most generous, and it was “overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (2 Cor 9:12). See that? Thanksgiving comes from generosity. But these people were very poor! Why did they give so much, when they had so little? And why, especially being poor, did their giving bring them so much joy?

Paul says that true thanksgiving comes not from our generosity, but from God’s.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV).

This is the generosity that lasts the longest, and goes the deepest.

This isn’t to say people who don’t know God can’t be generous; we can all do acts of generosity—even self-sacrificial ones—without knowing God. Rather, the gospel changes our deepest motivations, and loosens us from our most prized resources. We loosen our grip on things that matter less. And as seen in the Macedonians, the gospel makes everything we own seem less important than it used to be.

Thanksgiving is born in people who have experienced life in Christ.

And these have the most to be thankful for this week. In fact, Paul states earlier, that the reason you are given anything at all is so that “you will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”

So when you enjoy the food, the family, the solitude, the air you breath this week–let it be a constant and thrilling reminder of the wealth you’ve received from God in Christ.

I leave you with a prayer of intersession from John W. Doberstein’s prayer book,

O God, who givest daily bread without our prayer, even to all the wicked, we pray thee that thou wouldst give us to acknowledge these thy benefits, and enable us to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

1- History of Thanksgiving. (2013). The History Channel website. Retrieved 12:56, November 22, 2013, from http://www.history.comhttp://www.history.com/videos/history-of-the-thanksgiving-holiday.

James Abbreviated: Chapter 5

This is our final chapter in the series, James Abbreviated!

If we were to summarize each earlier post in this series, we would have these three bullet points:

  1. Christians grow to maturity by trusting God in difficulties; God’s Word renews the way you think. (Chapter 1)
  2. Christian’s must look after their own poor; generosity within the family of God is evidence of genuine faith. (Chapter 2)
  3. Holiness is manifest in your speech. (Chapter 3)
  4. True faith makes the church grow in holiness and generosity. (Chapter 4)

The last chapter is James’s concluding exhortation to persist in Christian maturity amid difficult situations by trusting in God. It’s almost as if James in applying his theology directly to different groups of people in his Jerusalem congregation. For these purposes, we can identify three different categories in James 5.

  1. Rich people in the church (vv.1-6)
  2. Persistence (vv.7-12)
  3. Prayer and confession (vv.13-20)

Let’s look at each category to find the thread of James’s overall message woven throughout the chapter. Starting with vv. 1-6

Once again, key verses will be in italics, followed by brief exegesis of key themes, and a summary in red. I will highlight prevailing motifs and themes in green.

James 5:1-6 “Come now, you rich people! Weep and wail over the miseries that are coming on you. Your wealth is ruined and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your silver and gold are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You stored up treasure in the last days! Look! The pay that you withheld from the workers who reaped your fields cries out, and the outcry of the harvesters has reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts. You have lived luxuriously on the land and have indulged yourselves. You have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. You have condemned—you have murdered —the righteous man; he does not resist you.” (HCSB). 

The problem being identified is not the wealth that a person may have, but what they do with the resources given. In this case, some of the more well-to-do in the Jerusalem congregation were hoarding their wealth for themselves, while refusing to assist those struggling within their own church family. James here is accusing them of having “murdered” the righteous man in this case (v6), and taking them back to his exhortation in chapter 2, which was to care for the poor in the church. If those who are wealthy (as is the case with these particular individuals) are not also generous, they are heaping up “miseries” for themselves in the life to come (v1), for their faith is in vain—indeed, they are proving themselves unregenerate!

James is just contextualizing his theology on a particular people group, reminding them that, (more…)

James Abbreviated: Chapter 4

We’re approaching the end of James Abbreviated!

If we were to summarize each earlier post in this series, we would have these three bullet points:

  1. Christians grow to maturity by trusting God in difficulties; God’s Word renews the way you think. (Chapter 1)
  2. Christian’s must look after their own poor; generosity within the family of God is evidence of genuine faith. (Chapter 2)
  3. Holiness is manifest in your speech. (Chapter 3)

Now let’s glue these together and see if we can get something that flows better. Here is my best attempt:

As a Christian, we must grow to maturity by trusting God in difficulties, and His Word will help us by renewing the way we think about our circumstances; in other words, we are immersed in the messiness, yet unstained by it. With this in mind, getting messy requires that we look after the poor in our own church, because God loves them, and generosity is evidence of genuine faith in us. To be unstained by the world requires keeping a firm watch on the things we say, since holiness is manifest in our speech.

A shorter version of this might be:

True faith makes the church grow in holiness and generosity together.

Chapter 4 starts to feel a bit like disjointed proverbs (more so than before!). But a close look reveals a steady pattern. Let’s read through the text all at once before we dive into the details. Remember that what I believe are key verses will be in italics. Any suggestive motifs I’ve put in green; these are useful in identifying the dominant idea of the chapter which is what we’re going to need when we do Biblical Theology (or any sweeping study). I’ve included the entire chapter this time.

James 4:1-17 “What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from the cravings that are at war within you? You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires. AdulteressesDon’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. Or do you think it’s without reason the Scripture says that the Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously? But He gives greater grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore, submit to God. But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded people! Be miserable and mourn and weep. Your laughter must change to mourning and your joy to sorrow. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you. Don’t criticize one another, brothers. He who criticizes a brother or judges his brother criticizes the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So it is a sin for the person who knows to do what is good and doesn’t do it” (HCSB).

First I read the chapter without stopping. Then I looked for naturally occurring segments that seem to carry a unified thought. For example, the first three verses are all about an inner war going on in every Christian. The next two verses are about two kingdoms opposing one another (and so on). After I’ve done this through the chapter, I created a bit of an outline to help me make sense of James’s driving themes. Here they are below… Read the rest of this entry

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