Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful, Yet Not Really: Confessions of a Greedy Sinner

"Gratitude... goes beyond the "mine" and "thine" and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy."  - Henri Nouwen

Thanksgiving holiday is once again upon us. And I, for one, have a lot to be thankful for. I have wonderful family, friends, and co-workers. I have been blessed by the calling God has on our lives and the people who have rallied around us. I am healthy, have plenty of resources, and I am not consumed by an anxious, nervous spirit. I have a wonderful wife and an energetic, healthy, and loving son.

However, my heart doesn’t naturally turn to thankfulness in the day-to-day. There are several reasons for this. Of course my sinful nature and forgetfulness that God is my only Sustainer is a huge reason. But I have also built up so much worldly infrastructure in my life and my circumstances, that it hardly seems I “need” God. For instance, when I read the passages on “daily bread” or “(daily) manna”, I have a hard time relating because I have about 4 weeks of food in my fridge and plenty of other resources to fall back on otherwise. Those passages, for all intents and purposes, mean nothing to me.

One of the reasons my wife and I are choosing to live in solidarity with the poor as part of the calling God has on our lives, is because as Shane Claiborne would say, “I want to be less of a hypocrite tomorrow than I am today.” I want to stop relying so heavily on myself and my resources, and start relying more heavily on my God to provide and care for me, my wife, and my son. As one outcome of this desire, we are stepping into extreme poverty, into a place with diseases like malaria, Dengue fever, and tuberculosis, and into a culture we have never lived in, all with the purpose to incarnate the good news to those around us. Like my time in Central Asia, it will be filled with many failures and setbacks, but likely will be the richest spiritual time in my life as I rely on Him alone to carry me through.

As I think about Thanksgiving, I believe our world is in desperate need of going back to biblical fundamentals. I wonder how other affluent global citizens (i.e. myself) approach/feel about  the “manna” and “daily bread” verses. I don’t think I am alone in wondering what I am missing out on…I know I cant be alone….But as I have experienced in America, it is hard to take the steps to completely rely on God to be our primary Sustainer when everything in our culture tells us otherwise. We just have too much. In fact, if you combine the annual incomes of all Christians living in the USA, we would have a seat at the G8 summit. That is how wealthy we are. But yet we seem to do everything possible to deny our corporate responsibility, and cloth it with rhetoric called “individual choice”. Yet, I am reminded of the apostle John who says:

But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?”

and I am also reminded that Scripture time and time again reminds us that its not about individual aspirations or choice, but about “one another”.

This Thanksgiving, a time of feasting and fun, I thought these headlines were prophetic:

 “Obesity Costs Americans $146 Billion Annually”

 “16,000 Children Die Every Day of Hunger”

Our world is in critical need of prophetic imagination. I need to “take the log out of my own eye” and remember that I need to be the change I want to see in this world. Will you do the same?

 Here are some ways you can start (from World Vision):

1.   Invite someone other than family to Thanksgiving with your family. Like a student or someone in your community who is away from family.
2.   Get creative with your leftovers. Give them away to those in need.
3.   Take the time to say thank you. Make a list of 5 people who have taught you something new to expand your worldview or challenged you to grow in your faith over the last year. Who has been influential in your life? Take a minute to write them notes of gratitude.
4.   Give back. Spend some time over the long weekend serving others. Seek out a local organization or church that puts together and delivers Thanksgiving baskets to families who can’t afford a big meal. 

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