Bryan Stevenson’s Monumental Task

 

HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCATE, DEATH PENALTY ADVERSARY, BRYAN STEVENSON

Sees healing on the horizon but not before we do the hard work of remembrance and. repentance

Lord, How Come We Here?

Election night, 2018 in Montgomery, Alabama. Sports bars, restaurants and hotels flickered with scrolling results on television’s Fox News. Downtown streets were quiet except for a lounge singer covering 80s hits on a hotel patio.

Confederate statues and the Confederate White House sat just a block away. Gentrified buildings and swank food joints inhabit the spaces under Montgomery’s famous archways and over its tunnels that used to accommodate slave trafficking. But, in the city where Rosa Parks sat down to take a stand, and Martin Luther King, Jr. preached, the lights at Equal Justice Initiative were on.

Working for Progress

That night, Coloradans voted to outlaw slavery—under any circumstance— the first such protection against vestiges of slavery that linger in the Constitution’s 13th Amendment. Other old issues hung in the air, too. Mississippi Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith’s campaign supporters applauded when she said she would be on the front row for a “public hanging.” In a state with a history of more than 650 public hangings, lynchings, according to the Mississippi Civil Rights Project, the statement must have gone over well. They re-elected her that day.

In spite of the 218 times the United States Congress tried to outlaw lynching, it never passed Congress. It wasn’t until late 2018 when Senators Cory Booker (New Jersey), Kamala Harris (California), and Tim Scott (South Carolina) initiated a unanimous vote in the senate to make lynching a federal crime. Another bipartisan bill to overhaul the criminal justice system just creaked through Congress in December 2018 as well.

No wonder the light is on.

It was an act of Congress in 1994 that propelled EJI founder Bryan Stevenson to open the organization in Montgomery, Alabama. Alabama was the only state that failed to provide legal defense for people with death sentences.

Since then the Harvard Law School graduate successfully argued before the United States Supreme Court that it is  unconstitutional to give children 17 years-old and under life without parole—basically a sentence to die in prison. And, in 2016, the court decided it should apply the rule retroactively, giving more than 2000 people who grew up in prison, a chance at review and release.

The organization’s most lauded cases helped spring innocent men, at least 125 of them, from death row. He captured his life story and early work with EJI in the acclaimed 2014 bestseller, Just Mercy, which makes it to the big screen in 2020 starring Michael B. Jordan.

Bigger Picture

Like the mythical Sisyphus, Stevenson finds himself in a punishing, uphill struggle for justice. Because systemic problems such as policing bias and lack of representation result in mass incarceration, disproportionately affecting black and brown people, he has found it necessary to address the myth of racial differences, white supremacy and the enduring effects of enslavement. To do this, he sought funding for and built the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration.

The memorial’s visually arresting and massive iron monuments, suspended from the rafters, “bleed” in the rain. The museum in a small, but powerful U-shaped exhibit, hammers the point home: this isn’t over yet.

“Even in our communities we haven’t wanted to talk about it,” Stevenson said for an exclusive interview with Message. “We felt as if our survival required us to be silent in our coping with this. That’s where our fore parents made the biggest difference. They taught us to stand up, when people said sit down. Speak up when people say be quiet. You have to find the courage to tell our truths.”

Straight Line

From the time one walks into the Legacy museum, Stevenson’s point is easy to access. The museum starts with a short walk down a dark hallway, the end of which confronts the spirit with ghostlike figures whose eyes peer through history and whose voices sing the question on everyone’s mind: “Lord, How Come We Here?”

Stevenson draws a straight line from genocide of Native peoples to our history of enslavement, racial terror, Jim Crow, voter suppression, the “war on drugs” to today’s racial profiling and racially imbalanced mass incarceration. We’re here because we haven’t dealt with the consuming disease and public health threat of racism.

“We gotta talk about the fact that we live in a post-genocide society: that what happened to native people when Europeans came to this continent was a genocide. And we didn’t deal with it as if it was genocide. We said ‘no, those Native people are savages.’ We used this rhetoric, that’s rooted in race, to justify that violence. And that’s why, for me, the great evil of American slavery wasn’t involuntary servitude. It wasn’t forced labor. It was this ideology that we created that black people weren’t like white people. It was this myth, this narrative of racial difference.”

Old South Romanticism

The corrupt narrative makes romanticizing Old South history possible, while ignoring the effects of domestic terror, and the Great Migration of black people away from it. The narrative ignores the trauma and humiliation of “White” and “Colored” iconography that cemented the ideas of racial differences in the psyche.

“And today, we still live in a country [where] this infection, this disorder, this disease continues to manifest itself,” said Stevenson. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a person of faith, doesn’t matter whether you’re a bishop, minister or elder, a kind person. [It] doesn’t matter if you’re a great student; doesn’t matter if you’re an architect; doesn’t matter if you’re a lawyer or doctor. If you’re black or brown, you go places in this country, and you’re going to have to navigate presumptions of danger and guilt. We unconsciously are doing things all the time to manage these presumptions that we have to overcome, and it’s exhausting.”

Monumental Discrepancy

Observe the 59 markers to the confederacy in Montgomery, two high schools named for Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, and a holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr., shared with Lee. This is a far cry from the remembrance and attempts at healing, visible across the landscapes in South Africa, Rwanda, and Germany. One cannot be there without being confronted by chilling, shameful results of hatred.

“There are no Adolf Hitler statues in Germany. There are no swastikas. But, in this country, we haven’t talked about slavery. We haven’t talked about lynching. We haven’t talked about segregation. We have confederate symbols everywhere.”

Confession—not punishment, not guilt-mongering—leads to repentance and redemption.

We want people to see these monuments and understand the trauma and terror and the taunting and the menacing that people of color had to go through. And then we want them to tell the truth.

“There’s something that comes after that—that is cleansing, that is emerging. That’s how redemption happens. And we haven’t done that as a society. So yes, we want to talk honestly, directly, about the pain, shame, and the heartache and the brutality of enslavement. We want people to see these monuments and understand the trauma and terror and the taunting and the menacing that people of color had to go through. And then we want them to tell the truth. I really do believe after truth comes redemption, comes reconciliation.”

Old Rugged Cross

Speaking of a “come to Jesus moment,” it is time for the faithful to revisit the “fixation and fascination with the death penalty.” And, though the Bible permitted capital punishment, Stevenson argues, Biblical principles of fairness and humility must also be applied, and in doing so, people of conscience cannot support the death penalty today.

“For me, it’s not about the morality of the death penalty, the propriety of the death penalty. I think, at least in this country, the threshold question is not do people deserve to die for the crimes they’ve committed; I think the threshold question is do we deserve to kill?”

Fact: for every 10 people sentenced to die in the United States, one of them is innocent, Stevenson said. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty clarified this statistic a few years ago. “As of October 2015, we have executed over 1,414 individuals in this country since 1976. 156 individuals have been exonerated from death row—that is, found to be innocent and released —since 1973. In other words, for every 10 people who have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in the U.S., one person has been set free.” ( http://www.ncadp.org/pages/innocence )

What Does The Lord Require?

Such a high error rate leading to death would not be tolerated in any other setting. Further, the historical track record of racially motivated policing and prosecutions, and a lack of access to sound representation also creates unfairness. “And,” said Stevenson, “we have a criminal justice system that treats you better if you’re rich and guilty, then if you’re poor and innocent.”

What does the Lord require? Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God, (Micah 6:8). Yet, in a system of justice that fails so often, it is arrogance to continue to exact life as a penalty, Stevenson argues.

Of Hymns and Hypocrites

Further, and better, the prophet’s message supports lives of the vulnerable and at-risk populations if the faithful internalized it. That’s what Stevenson thought while listening to strains of the hymn “The Old Rugged Cross,” while sitting across the table from a condemned man. The man was completely shaved and prepared for the electric chair.

Each individual—including those condemned in the system—is worth more than the worst thing he or she has ever done, Stevenson said.

I couldn’t help but think, ‘yeah, where were they when you were three and your mom died? Where were they when you were six and you were being abused? Where were they when you were nine and you were being sexually assaulted? Where were they when you were 13 and you were experimenting with drugs? Where were they when you came back from Vietnam and were traumatized from that injury? I know where they were when you were accused—they were lined up to execute you.

Not only does mercy say, ‘No,” mercy understands that each individual—including those condemned in the system—is worth more than the worst thing he or she has ever done.

Higher Ground

Bryan Stevenson doesn’t look like what he’s been through. Fit and trim, youthful and well-rested just isn’t how one pictures a tireless, overworked CEO and legal advocate. It is not how one imagines a person burdened with the task of saving people from death row, and uplifting humanity. As Rosa Parks once told him, “You’re going to be tired, tired, tired.”

Stevenson grew up in poor, rural Delaware, and attended “colored” schools until Brown v. Board of Education made it possible for him to access public school education. He excelled in his academics and sports, even playing the organ and singing with the church choir. Yet, to Stevenson, his social consciousness—developed partly through hearing the constant struggle of the men and women during testimony time at their African Methodist Episcopal Church—found no outlet in his Harvard Law School experience.

Stevenson turned to the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and resigned himself to being a policy wonk, or, yet another unfulfilled dreamer in a dreary law career. It was when he worked as an intern for the Georgia Southern Prisoners Defense Committee that Stevenson met a man condemned to die. Nervous, and fearing he could only disappoint his client with his inexperience, he sat down for what would have been an hour interview. That hour turned into a three-hour life-changing experience.

Vital Visit

Seeing himself in that young black man, Stevenson bonded over the conversation, learning about the case, the man’s family, and his life. When guards burst in to end the session, angry because it had gone on so long, they grabbed his client. They pushed and shoved, chained and shackled, and pinched his flesh with handcuffs, leaving Stevenson stunned at the violence.

“Bryan,” said his client, “don’t worry about this. You just come back.”

“And that young man closed his eyes, just put his head back and started singing: “I’m pressing on, the upward way, new heights I’m gaining every day, still praying as I’m onward bound, and he said, Lord, plant my feet on higher ground. . .”

Stevenson knew then he found his mission, one he says now animates his life and engages his heart, and that is to help condemned people to find higher ground.

“When you are mission-aligned, when you actually get to do the thing that fulfills you and makes you feel like you’re serving the way you’re supposed to serve, you wrestle, but you don’t wrestle with God. You wrestle with the challenges, the obstacles and complexities of what it means to be as effective as you possibly can.”

 Walk with Me

  • Order the Equal Justice Initiative Calendar for 2019 to learn about the history of racial injustice and its impact in the United States.
    https://eji.org/history-racial-injustice-calendar
  • Go to the Equal Justice Initiative website to learn about upcoming events and the work of justice. https://eji.org/
  • Tour the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration
  • https://museumandmemorial.eji.org/
  • Remembrance: bring a marker and memorial to a county near you.
  • Watch for the movie Just Mercy starring Michael B. Jordan

………………………………………………………………………………………………

Carmela Monk Crawford, editor of Message, with David Person the owner of David Person Media, LLC. Since 1986, he has been working as a broadcaster, journalist, documentary director, and media consultant.

 




God’s New Year Resolution

Listen Up “Caterpillars”: What God has done for the butterfly is only a hint of what He wants to do for us.

 

Ropes of Sand?

According to a YouGov poll, only about 26% of Americans plan to make any New Year’s resolutions. Those most likely to do so are between 18-34 years-old (33%). The likelihood of resolution-making decreases with age, with 30% of 35-54 year-olds likely to make resolutions, and only 17% of those 55+ likely to do so.

Why do so few engage in this tradition and why is there less participation as people age? Don’t we usually think of older people as being the ones attached to tradition, especially when it comes to the holidays?

Could it be a track record of broken resolutions that jades people against even planning to accomplish anything new, exciting, empowering, and uplifting? Have the yearly reruns of unused gym memberships, expanding waistlines, unfulfilling jobs, and increasing debts pulled the plug on idealistic initiatives? Has it become less painful to surrender to apathy than to overcome inertia?

Teaching old caterpillars new tricks

To soar, caterpillars have to become new creatures. In order for that to happen, they have to stop chomping, cease the persistent pursuit of more green, and halt compulsive consumption.

Have we been going about change and growth in the wrong way, the wrong order? Perhaps we need to focus more on being than doing? I’ve heard it said, “If you want to do what you’ve never done, you must become what you’ve never been.” We can see a powerful, down-to-earth, example of this truth in the life of the caterpillar.

Caterpillars can’t fly. They don’t have the wings or the shape. Caterpillars can’t sip. They don’t have the equipment nor discernment to delicately extract nectar from the interior of a flower blossom without destroying it. Caterpillars commence their destructive appetites (from a farmer’s point of view) by devouring the eggshells they hatch from. The only time they pause from eating is to molt (shed their skin), so they can eat and grow some more. After molting, many caterpillars resume their frenzy by eating their old skin!

To soar and sip, caterpillars must undergo a transformation—a metamorphosis. They must acquire new tastes and new tools. They have to become new creatures. In order for that to happen, they have to stop chomping, cease the persistent pursuit of more green, and halt compulsive consumption.

Caterpillar soup, anyone?

To become butterflies, caterpillars have to make a clean break from the past by literally going out on a limb. They must position themselves for the miracle of metamorphosis by sealing themselves away from the world for a while. They are vulnerable and appear unproductive, but the stillness of the chrysalis is God’s means of unlocking their potential.

Newness of life means no more search and destroy, but a life in Him to share.

Caterpillars bring no building supplies inside their silken construction tarps. This isn’t a DIY project. Only God can transform sideways-munching jaws into straws (yeah, I know, it’s called a proboscis) and bring wings out of seemingly nowhere. This is a messy process, as Scientific American describes, “First, the caterpillar digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues. If you were to cut open a cocoon or chrysalis at just the right time, caterpillar soup would ooze out.” Later, that “protein-rich soup” will “fuel the rapid cell division required to form the wings, antennae, legs, eyes, genitals and all the other features of an adult butterfly.”

Once the transformation is complete, the butterfly can see things with their compound eyes that are impossible for caterpillars to envision with their simple eyes. They flutter through the air instead of fumble around on the ground. Butterflies have active appetites, but disseminate life from one flower to another as they dine. The self-indulgent search and destroy missions of their former lives are forever behind them.

God’s New You Resolution

What God has done for the butterfly is only a hint of what He wants to do for us. God’s resolution is to provide newness of life for each of us (Romans 6:4; 2 Corinthians 5:17). He wants to give us a new song (Isaiah 42:10; Revelations 14:3), show us new things (Isaiah 43:19; 48:6), give us a new heart along with new names (Ezekiel 36:26; Isaiah 62:2; Revelations. 2:17), and bring us into the new heavens and new earth (Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter. 3:13; Revelations 21:1).  It all begins with us renewing our minds:

“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2, KJV).

3 R’s to a New You

God has a three-step process for us to enter this newness.

Recognize that we have an either-or proposition from which to choose: be conformed or be transformed.

There are people, customs, and other forces in the world seeking to mold us, shape us—conform us to their image. However, there is also a path available for personal transformation that resists being defined by anyone or anything outside of God. Either we choose to be transformed or we will be conformed by default.

One tricky fact about this choice is that both actions in Romans 12:2a are passive, meaning that we’re not in charge of the processes of being conformed or transformed. What can we do about the situation?

“What you need to understand is the true force of the will. This is the governing power in the nature of man, the power of decision, or of choice. Everything depends on the right action of the will. The power of choice God has given to men; it is theirs to exercise. You cannot change your heart, you cannot of yourself give to God its affections; but…You can give Him your will” (Steps to Christ, p. 47).

Remember that being transformed isn’t a once and done decision.

Romans 12:2b says we must undergo continual renewal of the mind for our transformation to stick. Just look at the word: RE-NEW-ING. The prefix “re-” has “the meaning of… ‘again and again’ to indicate repetition.” Adding the suffix “-ing” to renew “indicates continuing action, something going on now” and “can suggest that an action is going to happen in the future, especially with verbs that convey…movement from one…condition to another.”

The point is that the Bible writer has realistic expectations. He is encouraging us on a course of continual progress, not instantaneous perfection. There’s no need to give up on ourselves, our high ideals, or God. Keep praying. Keep getting acquainted with God’s promises. Keep positioning ourselves for the miracle of metamorphosis. Keep yielding ourselves to the One who began the good work in us, because He has made Himself responsible for completing it (Philippians 1:6). This may sound corny, but remember, “Big shots are only little shots who keep shooting.

Rejoice that you’re not alone in your efforts.

Romans 12:2c affirms that your transformation is His will, His resolution. It’s God’s good and perfect will for you and me to be what we’ve never been and do what we’ve never done. It’s His good and perfect will for us to see things from a newer and higher vantage point than possible before (Ephesians 2:6). It is God working in you and me to bring about the lasting transformation that so easily eludes us (Philippians 2:13). In the words of Darwin Hobbs:

 

God is able to do just what he said he would do

He’s gonna fulfill every promise to you

Don’t give up on God, cause he won’t give up on you!

 

 

 




What Does It Mean When God Doesn’t Intervene?

An age-old Bible story of abuse re-emerges in today’s context with full force and frankness. Will you follow up?

 

 

“’Here, let me bring out my virgin daughter and the man’s concubine now. Abuse them and do whatever you want to them. But don’t commit this outrageous thing against this man.’…the man seized his concubine and took her outside to them. They raped her and abused her all night until morning. At daybreak they let her go…When he entered his house, he picked up a knife, took hold of his concubine, cut her into twelve pieces, limb by limb, and then sent her throughout the territory of Israel…Think it over, discuss it, and speak up!” Judges 19:24-25, 29, 30b

Grappling with God

Have you ever felt like God had an opportunity to show up for you and He didn’t? Have you ever felt like He had the opportunity to intervene and stop something bad from happening to you, but He didn’t? Well you aren’t alone. In Judges 19 we’re introduced to a woman from Bethlehem whose story causes us to ask that really hard question: what does it mean when God doesn’t intervene?

Many of us remember the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, but for those who are unfamiliar, Sodom and Gomorrah was a city that was known for its affinity for immorality. Homosexuality, drunkenness, and perversion was rampant throughout the city. The city had sunk so deep into degradation that God alerted Abraham that He was going to destroy it:

“And the Lord said, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know” (Genesis 18:20-21).

Risky Reconnaissance

So God sent angels disguised as men to check out the city and see if its destruction really was necessary. Lot, a resident of the city and Abraham’s nephew, encouraged the men not to stay in the square. He insisted that they stay with him instead.

It wasn’t too long after that men from the city got word there were visitors staying with Lot. Soon they surrounded the house demanding that Lot release the men so that they could have sex with them (Genesis 19:5). Lot pleaded with the men not to disgrace his guests. He even offered his two virgin daughters to the angry and aroused mob.

But they declined the girls and pressured Lot for the men. They pressed so strongly the Bible says, they “came near to break down the door” (Genesis 19:9). At that moment, the men who were really angels pulled Lot back into the house, shut the door, and struck the men outside with blindness so that they became tired trying to find the door (Genesis 19:10-11). That night the power of God stepped in and prevented the depravity of humanity from abusing and killing the men and Lot’s daughters.

Script Flipped

In Judges 19 the story is the same, but the outcome is very different. A Levite was traveling with his concubine and servant and decided to rest in the city called Gibeah. It was an Israelite territory belonging to the tribe of Benjamin. They chose to stay in Gibeah because they believed they’d be safer among their own rather than in a foreign city with unbelievers (Judges 19:12).

When they entered the city an elderly man welcomed them to stay with him. As they were enjoying their visit with the old man, the men of Gibeah surrounded the house demanding the old man give them the Levite so that they could have sex with him (Judges 19:22).

In one of the Bible’s most graphic accounts of abuse and rape, the unstated charge is unmistakably clear.

The old man pleaded with the men, “I beg you, do not act so wickedly!…do not commit this outrage” (Judges 19:23). To assuage the crowd the old man even offered the mob his own virgin daughter along with the concubine.

When the Levite saw the old man wasn’t really persuading the crowd he seized his concubine and threw her out of the house for the mob. Judges 19:25 relates the grievous details: “they raped her and abused her all night until morning. At daybreak they let her go.”

When the Levite found his concubine on the ground in front of the door, unresponsive, he picked her up, put her on his donkey, and carried her home. There he cut her body into twelve pieces and sent each piece to the twelve tribes of Israel.

God, And God’s People

In my opinion this is one of the hardest stories in the Bible. The sexual abuse is extremely hard to stomach. Her dismemberment is immensely difficult to fathom. But for me, it’s God’s inactivity that is most difficult to understand. Why is it that God intervenes and protects Lot’s daughters from evil men in the world, but He doesn’t intervene to protect this concubine from evil men in the church?
Hanging on a cross I believe Jesus was faced with the same question. With a crown of thorns pressing into his skull, I see Christ hanging from splintered wood, struggling to breath, writhing in pain as His lacerated flesh pressed against the wood; His hands and feet pounding from the nails; His body chilled as it hung naked and exposed. I see my Jesus hanging there on a cross looking up to His Father wondering if He was going to intervene.

Broken bodies that save lives. Is there another outcome? One that does not end in more suffering?

It’s such a hard truth to receive, but I believe the reason God didn’t intervene on behalf of the concubine, on behalf of Jesus, and sometimes on behalf of us is because God understands this extremely hard truth: broken bodies save nations.

Just like the broken body of Jesus Christ saves us from sin and grants us the gift of eternal life, I believe women and men whose bodies have been broken by sexual and physical violence can save our communities from the psychological, physical, and spiritual death that abuse brings. I believe our communities can experience emotional, physical, and spiritual life from the stories of women and men whose bodies have been broken from sexual and physical violence.

The Bible says the crime at Gibeah started a war against the Benjamites because instead of burying the concubine’s body the Levite displayed and distributed it. Survivors have the same power! They too can start wars against sexual and physical violence when they refuse to let their stories be buried, and instead allow their stories to be distributed.

Righteous Rage

The story of this unnamed concubine ends by saying, “Think it over, discuss it, and speak up!” I believe it’s time we think on the stories of survivors of sexual and physical abuse and allow their stories to ignite a righteous rage within us that activates us to war against such violence.

Brittany Cooper in her book Eloquent Rage says, “we should not have to rely on supernatural acts of God to keep women safe.” The story of the concubine along with Cooper’s statement provides a plausible answer to the question: what does it mean when God doesn’t intervene?

What if God doesn’t intervene in some cases of sexual and physical violence because God is waiting for the broken bodies of the abused to send us to war? What if God is looking upon the Earth waiting for humanity to enact justice? What if God doesn’t intervene in things that He believes humanity has the power and responsibility to handle on their own? What if while we’re waiting on God to intervene, God is waiting on us to intervene? What if God is waiting on us to be the justice we’re constantly waiting for Him to provide?

 




Awkward Bedfellows

(The Church and Sex)

The Church is still really queasy about sex. This is a strange thing since the Church claims the Holy Scriptures as its foundation of faith. The Bible tells us the story of humanity’s origin, which includes human sexuality. So why would the church and sex seem so awkward?

The initial reason would have to be that the Church still has some vestiges of archaic thinking that still influences the way we see and understand sex today. In the early days of the Church, there was a great influence by Greek philosophy and ideas, one of which was the idea that all matter was inherently evil. Flesh was considered something to be abhorred. This translated to anything that brought pleasure.

This idea permeated from the Church’s theology to its practices. Sex was viewed as a necessary evil in order to produce children. The Church has long since officially abandoned this kind of view.

We have come to understand that this view is false. We understand that God created flesh. He called everything He made, “good” and when He made human beings, He called His creation, “very good.”

The entrance of evil into this world did not change the very nature of flesh. Flesh is not evil because there is evil in the world. Neither is sex evil because it has been corrupted. However, there still remain a few reasons that hinder the Church’s ability to communicate about sex.

Nothing Like The Real Thing, Baby

I think one of the reasons why the Church doesn’t like talking about sex is because sex is too human. It is too real. It is too earthy and natural. While the Christian faith talks a lot about helping people, human relationships, and communal responsibility, it also places a great deal of emphasis on the spiritual and supernatural.

One of the reasons why Christians struggle to fully embrace the beauty and duty of sex is that we are oriented in transcendent thinking when sex is rooted in the here and now. Sex reminds us that we are indeed, at the end of the day, human. Sex reminds us that while we live looking forward to eternity, we live in a natural world that requires attention to our natural needs.

This is hard to grasp for so many Christians who believe that a true pursuit of the transcendent is to minimize the duty of the present. Our inability to be real and transparent about our struggles reinforces an idea that we are not supposed to be human. But let’s be clear. Spiritual transformation is not the eradication of humanity. It is the perfection of all that it is to be human. In other words, to be spiritually transformed is to be the best human you can be. This includes your sexuality.

THE TRUTH IS

that honesty and transparency never make you look worse.

Failures and Flaws Impede Discussion

Another reason for the Church’s inability to talk about sex is the idea that due to the human failures of its leaders and membership, the Church is not able to speak with any authority about sexuality. This is an extension of the idea that Christians are superheroes.

Somehow we think that our sexual sins and struggles disqualify us because people will think we are “hypocrites.”

Christians need to be honest about our sex lives. The truth is that honesty and transparency never make you look worse. It always reveals the truth of who you are, and the truth of who you are is what helps people to be set free.

The Church has a confession to make. We sin in every way that others do. That’s the truth. So maybe the Church should stop saying “you sinners” and start saying, “we sinners” need God’s grace.

Some people don’t like to remember their past. The past reminds them of terrible decisions they made. One-night stands that led to months of pain. Hook-ups that led to break ups. Sexual passion turned into heartbreak. The Church struggles with the conversation of sexuality today because church people don’t always like to recall their own sexual histories.

The Bible says, “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory”. None of us are perfect. Neither our past mistakes nor our present struggles should silence us about the truth of our human pursuit of spiritual redemption.

The Church Must Speak About Sex

You might wonder why we need the Church to speak up about sex. Don’t we hear enough about sex in the media, music, and every kind of communication format? We need the church’s voice because we need to hear a different perspective. No society is healthy by simply hearing one perspective on a subject.

The Church needs to share why monogamy is an achievable and viable option. The Church needs to share why sexuality should be viewed as sacred and not hedonistic.

Society may not always know it, but we need the Church’s voice. The problem is not that the Church does not have anything meaningful to add to the conversation on sex. The problem is the church’s tone as it relates to sex.

The Christian Church has had a lot to say about sex and sexuality in the last decade. The Church has led campaigns against alternative sexual lifestyles. The Church has been vocal on issues of abortion and the choice of a woman. The Church has spoken out against marriage equality efforts.

THE REALITY IS

THAT EMPATHY SHOILD BE OUR DEFAULT.

Use Your Inside Voice

The problem I have with the Church is our tone. We can sound so hateful. We seem so angry. Where is all the rage coming from? Why can’t the Church share its views without being so condescending and judgmental? We are told to “speak the truth in love”.

The truth is that the Church has not always been “loving” about its views on sexuality. This negative tone has caused the message to be lost in translation. While I believe that the Church’s biblical message of sexuality will never be popular, we cannot blame its lack of acceptance solely on cultural hedonism.

What Good Love Looks Like

Finally, the Church must begin to talk about sexuality not only changing the tone but by speaking in a different way. The Church has talked too much without truly communicating its message. Let me explain. Most people don’t want to hear another sermon about some Biblical ideal. They want to see it lived out in practical ways.

One of the greatest enemies to the message of monogamy is the rate of infidelity in the Church. Why would I want to listen to a group of people who espouse one thing and practice the opposite? The Church talks about marriage between a man and a woman, and yet the rate of divorce among heterosexual Christian couples is the same as those outside the Church. The Christian Church does not necessarily need to speak out more on these crucial issues. The Church does need to communicate more effectively, however.

Through Example: Jesus said, “Let them see your good works and they will glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” Our good works are God’s best marketing tool to share His message with the world. People will not believe us if they cannot see that monogamy works. There is no validity to the Church’s biblical message if we don’t stop covering up sexual abuse in the Church.

Through Empathy: We all deal with sexual temptations and sin. Therefore, Christians need to be more empathetic. The reality is that empathy should be our default. Arrogance or delusion blinds so many Christians to the fact that they are guilty of the same sins they point out in other people’s lives. If the Church would stop seeking to be understood and seek to understand then we would be in a position to partner with people to deal with their issues because their issues are our issues.

Our common recognition of our humanity is what builds bridges of trust. The Church is made of flawed, finite people. The Church has to look in the mirror and recognize that we are just as human as everyone else.

…......……………………………………………………………………………………………………………

C. Wesley Knight, D.Min. is author of Thirst: Quenching Your Deepest Desire.




What to Do With This Stuff: Lessons from Lil Jon’s Crunk Christmas

I’m telling you right now, whenever I get bored during the Christmas season, I’m clicking on “All I Really Want for Christmas!” Overplayed traditional songs are dumped down the drain as Lil Jon empties the eggnog in the sink and replaces it with Kool-Aid. His “carol” is energetic. It’s hilarious. It’s got kids dancing and laughing. It’s got gifts galore and an overflowing buffet. Kool-Aid Man and DJ Santa throwing a party with Lil Jon in someone else’s house!

Most of all, it’s got honesty.

There’s no pretense of spirituality. There’s no allusion to the birth of Jesus. Not a hint of contentment, gratitude, or humility. There’s nothing suggestive of it being more blessed to give than to receive. Instead, there’s the contagious chorus:

All I really want, really want for Christmas  

All I really want, really want for Christmas

All I really want, really want for Christmas

Is everything on my list, baby, yeah!

Bearing Gifts, We’ve Traveled So Far

Lil Jon freely admits that he’s been planting seeds all year about what people should buy him. Something about that is religiously refreshing, even if detrimental. To be shamelessly selfish isn’t a virtue. However, to cloak our selfishness in spiritual garb is a much more dangerous vice. Just ask King Hezekiah (you can read about him in 2 Kings 18-20; 2 Chronicles 29-32; Isaiah 36-39).

Hezekiah wasn’t one of the many bad kings of Judah. He was one of the few good ones! He cut down idols, refurbished God’s temple, brought reformation to the priesthood, restored people’s faith in the “church” of his day, and his prayer for Judah’s protection was answered with the swift, supernatural defeat of an enemy army. Hezekiah was doing so well, until…

Hezekiah became deathly ill. After humbly praying for healing, the prophet Isaiah promised that God would restore the king’s health and lengthen his life by 15 years. The king asked for a heavenly sign to confirm the prediction would come true. The sign God sent was to move back time—to turn back the sun (2 Kings 20:8-11).

Neighbors Who Notice

A prince in the neighboring kingdom of Babylon heard about Hezekiah’s sickness and healing (2 Kings 20:12). Since Babylonians were known for studying the stars (Dan. 2:2), the timing of the healing and the seemingly backward movement of the sun got Berodach-baladan’s attention. He sent messengers with gifts and a letter in order to find out if there was a link between Hezekiah’s new lease on life and the disruption of heavenly bodies.

Hundreds of years before the star of Bethlehem, wise men noticed a sign in the sun.

It was at this moment, God did a strange thing: “Howbeit in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to enquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart” (2 Chronicles 32:31). Did God abandon the king? No, he just allowed him space without the intervention of prophets or voices from heaven to specifically guide his thoughts and actions. God wanted to know how deeply His grace in Hezekiah’s life had penetrated the king’s heart. How would Hezekiah respond when the Babylonians came from the East to Jerusalem after seeing a sign from the heavens?

From Showrooms to Stocking Stuffers

Hezekiah got caught up in the moment. Pride blinded him from seeing the opportunity to share his faith. Instead, he showed off his stuff—all his stuff (Isaiah 39:2-4). He turned their minds from the supernatural to the natural. Isaiah announced that the king’s mistake of showing off his riches would lead to the Babylonians returning to plunder those riches and march his people into captivity. The Babylonians were shown someone’s house that seemed to have everything on their carnal Christmas list.

These visitors already had material riches, but thought Hezekiah’s spiritual riches exceeded theirs. It wasn’t Babylonian gods that moved the heavens to save their king, it was the God whose temple was in Jerusalem. They left spiritually unimpressed. Rather than learning more about God, they learned where they could get more gold. How might history have been different if Hezekiah had emphasized the things of God during that show and tell tour?

Greatest Gift of All

Fast forward a few hundred years. A couple with a baby played show and tell when some astrologers from the East came to Jerusalem after seeing a unique movement in the heavens. This sign was a mysterious light that was neither a fixed star, nor a planet. It seemed to urge them to play follow the leader, until they ended up in Bethlehem. The show and tell Mary and Joseph played was a humble game. There were no palaces to tour or delicacies to sample. There was only one main attraction: a baby wrapped in very plain blankets.

God chose where His Son would be born and ordained that there would be nothing about the surroundings that would overshadow His glory. When they saw Jesus, the wise men showed their wisdom by offering their earthly treasures at the feet of the heavenly treasure. For as one author wrote, “In giving up His Son, He [God the Father] has poured out to us all heaven in one gift” (E.G. White, Our Father Cares, 65). The wisdom of the wise men was that they recognized their stuff was nothing compared to Jesus.

Jesus’ parents were regular working class folks without the means to jump up and move to another country to start a new life. However, God richly rewarded them when they shared the one thing on their visitors’ that couldn’t be bought or sold. The material gifts from the Magi of the East enabled Jesus and his parents to seek asylum in Egypt, thus escaping Herod’s murderous rampage (Matthew 2:11-18).

Good Gifts All from God

The lessons from Lil Jon’s Crunk Christmas remind me that it’s easy, whether a rapper or a biblical king like Hezekiah, to lose focus on what’s important. Stuff can crowd Christ out of Christmas. Yet, stuff can be a blessing—depending on how we use it and share it. And we will share it more readily when we remember our stuff really isn’t ours. Just like the house Lil Jon, Kool-Aid Man, and DJ Santa were partying in wasn’t theirs, we have to remember that every good and perfect gift we receive comes from our Father above.

 




When Church Unfriended Me

As messy and painful as God’s people can be, Jesus and His people are a package deal.

I was too exhausted to roll out of my bed and cover my puffy eyes with concealer. It was too much to force my throbbing feet into heels with my Sabbath best. The last place I wanted to be was a place where my current spiritual reality was unwelcome or misunderstood.

I simply wasn’t feeling the corporate worship vibe. That hollow feeling stretched from one week, to two weeks, into months. And just like that, I found myself rarely attending worship.

I cannot deny that even now that as a Worship Pastor the desire to commune with other Christians languishes sometimes. Don’t get me wrong. I love God, and love to worship Him, but sometimes I struggle to love spending time with His people.

Searching for Love Among 4,000 Imaginary Friends

I suspect that I am not alone. Churches of all sizes are emptying out. A 2016 Pew Forum report on church attendance reported that only 32% of Americans attend weekly. A Gallup survey then asked the group that seldom attends the reason for low attendance, and 44% of Americans said they prefer to worship on their own.

Yet, we know everyone wants to belong, to feel connected. We can just look to the booming world of social media to know that. As of June 2017, according to the Pew Research Center, 2.01 billion people have a Facebook page, and 79% of Americans use this social media platform daily.

I have 4,665 Facebook friends, most of whom could be imaginary, since I’ve never met the majority of them. Having thousands of Facebook followers is considered being well-connected and friendly. But unlike real relationships, when people conduct themselves in a manner we disapprove of, or find uncomfortable, we effortlessly “unfriend” them.

Click Community

It’s simple to opt out of online friendships because of the emotional detachment in relationships only accessible by WiFi. Detachment to our faith community is serious, though. When we feel disconnected from people there, we should courageously oppose the desire to remain in that detached space. True community is worth the fight!

It was Jesus who prayed, “…I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one” (John 17:20 ESV). Here are three actions I intentionally undertake when I sense that twinge of disengagement threatening my connection with the body of Christ.

Fall in love with Jesus to fall in love with His people.

“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13 ESV).

Often my lack of desire for community is a byproduct of my feeble passion for the Lord. And when my love for God is faulty, my lack of love for his people follows. But as messy and painful as God’s people can be, Jesus and His people are a package deal. They cannot be separated. So when I’m struggling to find true connection, I spend more time with God to inspire me to spend more time with His people.

When I pursue meaningful moments with God, I see how He’s merciful, patient and gracious to me and the people from which I feel disconnected. I dust off old prayer journals to refresh my memory of the specific things God has done for me, and those for whom I’ve prayed.

Remembering my initial love relationship with the Lord rekindles the flame. I also aim to bring the habits back that kept the passion alive. It may not happen overnight. By God’s grace, as my love for God grows, my love for His people grows exponentially.

Move from anonymity to accessibility.

“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near,” (Hebrews 10:25 ESV).

Social media affords us the luxury of hiding behind our profiles. We can limit our interactions, and the amount of information we share. But, when we desire an authentic space for connection, we have to intentionally burst our anonymous bubbles. When we make our lives accessible so that we can be held accountable, we can be encouraged and truly loved.

Similarly, we as digital natives can’t compartmentalize our identity and expect to be fully known by those we worship with on a weekly basis. To fight this, I do one of two things. I go to a church event, and with the Holy Spirit’s prompting I share. Instead of keeping to myself, I intentionally unpack parts of the real me to a minimum of three people each week.

I may talk about how I messed up my first attempt at vegan mac and cheese. Or, I mention how YouTube University rescued my protective natural hairstyle experiment from failing. I may even get more serious and talk about just how difficult it was to make it through the week. I have also opened my home to have someone over for a common meal. When I commit to this, I have found that it’s difficult to disconnect and disappear when people know the real you.

Never forget that church goes with you wherever you go.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” Mark 10:45 ESV.

Through Jesus’s example, we know the pinnacle of the gospel is achieved by denying self. My role, as the church, correlates strongly with my willingness to serve others wholeheartedly. I can’t expect to experience Jesus’ love within a faith community if I have not done all that I can to help others experience Jesus. Therefore when I am feeling far away from the family of God, it’s imperative for me to find opportunities to serve. I need to be the community someone desperately needs. You will be surprised how your perspective quickly changes when you’re serving others.
The concept of community was birthed in eternity between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We were created to replicate this beautiful image on earth.

So, with the help of the Holy Spirit, when we feel unfriended in our own churches, may our prayer be: “Lord, may these feelings of disconnection lead me to strengthen my desire for community simply because it is the will of God concerning us.”

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

 




Giving Tuesday – Hope for the Forgotten

Giving Tuesday-Hope For The Forgotten

Giving Tuesday and our Hope For The Forgotten campaign for people who are incarcerated and their families. Together when can share something of lasting value, a message of ultimate mercy and justice. #GivingTuesday #messagemag

Posted by Message Magazine on Tuesday, November 27, 2018




Drama Files: Holiday Hues of Blue

Seems like the holiday season was just here, Bryon* thought to himself. He was divorced,  and was not looking forward to another holiday season alone.

Though successful in his work, and traveling extensively, this young man realized all of that failed to fill the emptiness in his life. Bryon decided to find a therapist to help him adjust to the “Holiday Blues.” He was feeling loneliness, confusion, hurt, and disappointment during this time.

Blue Christmas Without You

Byron also felt pain from the memories of his past because his wife would decorate the home so beautifully. They would do the family shopping together. 

Bryon always looked forward to his parents and siblings joining him every year for the holidays and experiencing the love of the festivities. He grew up with his parents and many siblings engaging with the gift sharing, singing and visiting his grandparents was so enjoyable. 

Impending Season of Joy

As the time approached year after year Byron would remain busy and focused on his work. When November approached his depression began to overwhelm him. Prior to his divorce, Julie, his ex-wife had moved out to an apartment 22 miles away. She never called, and never came back.

Thanksgiving would usually be the start of the blues, a time when it seems everyone cherished a thankful and forgiving spirit. Byron figured that if there was ever a time when Julie would reconsider and return home, it would be at the beginning of the holiday season. He thought that she would call, but she never did.

Emotionally it took Bryon a while to get past his pain. He could not wait for the holiday  season to pass. He would find himself staying away from the stores or office holiday gatherings. Often, he hid his pain as more of his coworkers and friends learned that he was divorced.

As a very kind man and private person, Byron reluctantly told his family that Julie left and filed for divorce. His parents wondered what happened to Julie was on several occasions, so he finally told them the truth. He told them that Julie left because she no longer loved him the way a wife should. She really just grabbed for straws, looking for a way to leave. 

Some Folks Like to Get Away

In many cases people experience the holiday blues due to the lack of finances, the loss of family members or friends,  divorce, relocation, loss of employment,  or just hardship. They watch while so many other people enjoy the luxury of shopping, eating out at nice restaurants, traveling, and leaving their cares behind. Holiday blues are a real stressors.

Reimagine and recast your holidays using these ideas: 

  1. Acknowledge your feelings about your pain. 
  2. Reach out to positive family and friends. 
  3. Be realistic about your station in life.  
  4. Set aside differences with those who have hurt you by forgiving them. 
  5. Forgive yourself and pray 
  6. Develop a budget and don’t deviate from it. 
  7. Don’t run into any ones arms because you are lonely. 
  8. Know your limitations 
  9. The holidays are not a license to indulge in substance abuse.
  10. Schedule a pre-holiday or holiday season counseling session. 

As Bryon continued his therapy we discussed how important it is to recognize things could be so much worse, so he decided to do his best to remain thankful. He also committed to remaining busy and seeking the company of positive and encouraging family and friends.

Find The Right Mix of People And Activities

During the therapeutic process it is vital to identify with people who have gone through similar experiences to help you mature by attending a support group. Despite what you are going through try to be a blessing to someone else by serving and visiting someone in the hospital, a homeless shelter or serve at soup kitchen.

Accept, believe, and embrace Roman’s 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God and are called to his purpose.” By grasping this concept when you are experiencing the holiday blues, you remember that God knows your pain and offers you comfort through your situation. 

With another holiday approaching Bryon is learning  to remain focused on others. He is  thankful, and allowing God’s will to be done while defining his new purpose in life by giving back to others. He is beginning a new chapter in his life not just getting through the holiday blues, but adjusting and accepting to a new life. Bryon now ends each session with these words: “God can make my latter days better than my former days.”

*The names have been changed to protect the innocent. 




Giving Tuesday: Hope For the Forgotten

You’ve heard of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but have you ever participated in Giving Tuesday?

What’s Giving Tuesday? Excellent question! In the midst of the holiday season, where so much of the activities in our society centers around material possessions, Giving Tuesday is a day to shift our focus onto how we can help others.

Giving Tuesday is an opportunity to donate towards a specific organization or fund that serves the community. Here at Message, we’re focusing our Giving Tuesday efforts on maxing out the campaign to send subscriptions to 100,000 incarcerated people or their families. This will help us reach the oft forgotten with the light of the gospel.

So far this year, we’ve helped thousands through this fund and have the goal of serving more. Go to www.messagemagazine.com/donate and help us reach our goal! God will bless you for it, and He’ll bless the reader!




Why Is There No Thanksgiving Music?

Grateful Hearts, Thankful Hearts Live Longer. Love Harder.

Tips and Tests for the “Grouch-ruts” Among Us.

Today I went in to a retail store and was immediately accosted with secular Christmas music. Now I don’t have anything against Christmas—or Christmas music for that matter. In fact, for the majority of the known world Christmas represents the birthday of the most important person I know and love: Jesus! (even if they don’t actually believe in, know, or love Him).

But I digress…

The Connection between “Black Friday,” “Cyber Monday” & No Thanksgiving Music

My theory as to the reason why there are way more secular Christmas songs than Thanksgiving ones is basically because people are selfish…they like to get stuff! The more the better! And the songs remind them of the good, tingly feelings they get when they get stuff. Don’t believe me? Check out what the Apostle John said—or wrote–when he wisely observed:

“For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world” (1 John 2:16, NLT). Solomon (the wisest person in the history of the world—ever) wrote these saltily lamented these lines: “Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content” (Ecclesiastes 1: 8, NLT).

It seems that not only is there Christmas music playing on the first day of November, but all the retail stores have all their Christmas promotions already going—some already even have something they’re calling Thanksgiving “Pre-Black Friday” promotions in full-swing! It seems that the retailers don’t want anybody to stop and think about how empty they are emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. They are making an all-out effort to squeeze the practice of thankfulness, thanksgiving and contentment out of our hearts and minds.

But why? Can the answer to this age-old question really be this easy? Simply put: people aren’t truly thankful because they aren’t truly contented.

Not More Stuff—But More Savior!

During this time of the year the world works very hard to erase the fact that Jesus is the owner, sustainer—and provider of all good things! We are tempted and tainted by slick advertising campaigns promising happiness, peace, and contentment is found in some store, rather than the Savior. However, God disagrees, and writing through the Apostle Paul he reminds us to keep our eyes focused on the truth with this stark reality check:

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.

But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows (1 Timothy 6:6-10, NLT).

What Matters Most

Again, the writer of Hebrews keeps us focused on what’s most important: “Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you’ ” (Hebrews 13:5, NLT). The focus for the Christian is not more stuff to make us happy, but more Savior aka Jesus!

Finally, Jesus Himself put it about as plainly as can be:

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met” (Matthew 6:30-33, MSG).

Mind the M.D.’s!

If what God says about stuff vs the Savior isn’t sufficient (and I certainly hope it is), secular science proves that thankfulness and gratitude is great for you—on Thanksgiving and all-year long. The brainiacs at Harvard Medical School write this: “Research (and common sense) suggests that one aspect of the Thanksgiving season can actually lift the spirits, and it’s built right into the holiday — expressing gratitude.”*

Additionally, research shows that people who are regularly grateful as a daily life habit are:

  1. Happier
  2. Have more life satisfaction
  3. Have less disease (mental and physical)
  4. Live longer

So now that you know that you should be more grateful and give thanks, but honestly, you’re kind of a grouch-rut (in this world, it’s easy to be one). Well, take heart: God wouldn’t tell you to do something without giving you the process and the power to do it.

Gratitude: God’s Way

God shares a practical formula for effectively beating the thanklessness and a personal negativity problem. It’s laid out most clearly in the New Testament book of Philippians. The apostle Paul wrote this book to Christians—from jail. So if anybody knew about being thankless and focusing on the negative stuff in his life, it was Paul. In Philippians 4:4-8 he gives us the process for overcoming them (I’ll wait for you to read this on your own).

Let’s break the process down into separate steps:

  • Be glad (verses 4, 5). God wouldn’t tell us to be glad if it weren’t possible. Why can we be glad? Because we have a relationship with God
  • Be gentle with others (verse 5). When we get thankless, worried, and anxious, we tend to easily and quickly lose our cool. We treat others—especially the ones we love the most—rudely or impatiently. But Paul says that we should be gentle, especially when we’re being pressed by our own problems.
  • Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything (verse 6). Again Paul encourages us not to worry about anything, but to engage and strengthen our relationship with God. I find it interesting that here Paul invokes a standard and very effective psychological counseling principle of “replacement”: To eliminate a negative behavior, replace it with a positive one. The replacement principle is key when dealing with habitual or compulsive behavior. Translation: stop worrying and start praying!
  • With a thankful attitude, tell God the things you’re worried about (verse 6). God is your Father. He knows your heart and cares about the things you’re going through. He truly wants to know what you’re worried about, so go ahead and unload. He can take all your mess and heat. Paul first wants us to change our focus from ourselves to God. Additionally, I find it interesting that Paul qualifies how we should be sharing with God. Our attitude should be thankful—but many times we just have…an attitude.
  • Being connected to Christ through a real relationship will allow Him to bless us with peace that no one can understand (verse 7). This peace will control our hearts (our feelings) and our minds (our thoughts). In other words, God’s peace will take total control of us.
  • Keep being glad (verse 8). Basically, repeat step 1. Initially, you’ll have to work this process many times throughout the day…because you’re dealing with habitually compulsive behavior of selfishness and thanklessness. But take heart; it does work.

Paul then goes on in verses 10-20 to expound on how being thankful and contented changes our focus from one of self to Jesus. He summarizes this passage with these four verses: “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. . . . And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3: 11-13, 19, NLT).

Ways to Cultivate Gratitude

Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.

Here are some ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis.

  1. Pray. People can use prayer to cultivate gratitude. God is waiting to hear from you—not just about what you want, but more importantly about how grateful you are for His salvation and for who He is.
  2. Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself more joyful and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you note or letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Don’t be cheap, but buy fancy stationary (yes, it’s still made). Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude note or letter a week.
  3. Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.
  4. Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one, thoughts about the gifts you’ve received each day from God and others.
  5. Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.
  6. Meditate. Meditate daily upon the Word of God. Pick one Bible verse or passage and spend the day thinking about it and mentally allowing it to marinate your soul. Meditation is a powerful and effective spiritual practice that you can use, but, like prayer, it has to be cultivated to be effective. I suggest that you start with a specific chapter of the Bible.

A Parting Assignment

Now that you’ve learned the truth about why people around the world become crazy and more frenetic during this time of year, and God’s prescription for the solution, I’d like to challenge you to take time every day for the rest of November to read Psalm 118. Bible scholars call this specific Psalm “The Thanksgiving Psalm,” and rightly so. It’s an absolutely beautiful Psalm about what’s most important to the Christian about Thanksgiving. It is about giving God thanks for His immeasurable free gift of salvation to us. It expresses gratitude for a joyful life on this earth filled with power and purpose. And, finally, it expresses joy in the promise of eternal life spent with Him!

As you read it, take some time to talk to God about all the things you’re thankful for that day and once you begin to do this, you will begin a beautiful and powerful positive habit that will bring you peace, purpose, and joy all the months of your life, and not just on Thanksgiving.

I’d like to wish you all, not a ‘Happy Thanksgiving,” but in order to be happy, give God thanks.

*Accessed on November 7, 2018 from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier

 

Thanksgiving Songs. The Contenders. Listen In:

If you’re so inclined, check out and enjoy this collection of Thanksgiving songs that I’ve been able to find: