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Thanks, Christmas Spirit, & New Year’s Resolutions

A guest post by Jessica Thompson

During this time of reflection on the last year, trying to figure out what to be thankful for each day of November, and also trying to be properly respectful of the true meaning of Christmas—my sense of failure, and alternately pride, grows in fertile soil. I fight with thoughts of “I really should be more grateful” and “I failed at my last 20 New Year’s resolutions” and “why doesn’t the incarnation make me fall to my knees?” mixed in with “why can’t people see Christmas is all about Jesus” and “look at those people pushing and shoving to get the Black Friday deals with greed spilling from their heart.” I can get pretty wrapped up in the me of everything.

One of my favorite tweets of 2012 came on New Year’s Day from my pastor. It read, “Feel like a jerk? Take heart, you’re a lot worse than you think. Good thing Jesus paid the whole bill. Happy New Year.”

That has stuck with me throughout the year, and I pray it sticks with me for the finish of it. I tend to think that if I’m grateful enough or if I don’t forget that Jesus is the reason for the season then maybe I’m actually doing okay and I’m somehow more pleasing to God. I forget the truth that the Bible gives me–that I was dead in my sin and a lot worse than I really even want to admit. Yet I also forget that my sins of ungratefulness, my sin of indifference to the incarnation, and all of my failures for this last year have been forgiven. I don’t have to make up for them, they have been cancelled, nailed to the cross. The truth is, I can never be good enough, grateful enough, or awed enough. There was only One who lived that way. He was perfect as his Heavenly Father was perfect, and that is now my clothing. My mind and heart come alive at this thought. The glorious light of undeserved right relationship with God chases the darkness of my self-condemnation and pride and gives me true gratefulness.

As you make your lists, and do your 30 days of thanks, and go through advent calendars, remember this: You were dead, you are now alive. He has forgiven all sins. He has cancelled all the debts. He has clothed you in his righteousness so that you don’t have to work up your own. There is goodness and mercy that are promised to follow you for the rest of this year, all of next year, and every day for the rest of your life. His faithfulness will never fail because he cannot deny himself. You have all the hope and grace you need to finish 2012 and to start the 2013. Jesus paid the whole bill and left the tip. There is nothing now for you to do except believe this good news, smile, and rest.

“Trust the past to God’s mercy, the present to God’s love, and the future to God’s providence.” – Augustine of Hippo

Jessica Thompson, co-author of Give Them Grace, is a member of an Acts 29 church in California and has been homeschooling for the past two years. She is married and has three children.

December 27, 2012 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Christmas,Gratitude,Holidays,Life & Doctrine,The Christian Life,The Gospel | Author: Crossway Author @ 8:00 am | (2) Comments »

Why Am I So Unhappy?

I Am My Worst Enemy

Why are so many people so unhappy in so many different circumstances? Why are so many Christians, who supposedly have the joy, joy, joy, joy down in their hearts, so not joyful?

At first glance it would seem that circumstances are to blame. Can you blame a guy for being unhappy when he hasn’t had steady work for six months and he might lose his home? You wouldn’t think so, until you meet the six-figure Christian businessman who hates his job and is just hanging on until retirement. The twenty-something single woman doesn’t think she can be happy until she gets married and has children. But the thirty-something housewife with four kids can barely make it through the week without collapsing in a trembling heap of exhaustion. Circumstances aren’t to blame. There’s something much more sinister at work.

That something is my sinful, discontented heart. Jesus spelled it out in Mark 7:21–23 when he said, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” The problem is me. I am my own worst enemy. The raging, covetous, discontented desires come from within. They’re not the product of my circumstances, and the desires won’t be satisfied when circumstances change.

First it’s marriage. We dream about meeting that perfect someone—a person who likes long walks and French poetry and is kind toward animals and strangers alike. Or at least someone who is decent looking and doesn’t have a criminal record. Finally, after years of yearning, the wedding day arrives. But the idol factory doesn’t shut down after the wedding day. As soon as the marriage god is appeased, the factory belches forth the idol of a new house. Then it’s a new car, an end-of-year bonus, and a sweet retirement package. There’s no downtime, no coffee break, no union strike in the factory of our hearts. They are constantly churning, constantly stirring up discontentment, constantly producing new idols.

Then “catastrophe” strikes. The dream promotion is handed to someone else. A relationship never materializes. Our desires are thwarted, and we don’t get what we want. When we don’t get what we so desperately want, we throw the adult version of a temper tantrum. Our passions rage within us. We become angry at God and discontent with life. We grumble and complain, and happiness appears to be out of reach. We become a casualty of war.

Shutting Down The Factory

So is there any hope for raging discontents like me? Can the circus of discontentment in my heart ever be stopped? Thankfully, it can. In Philippians 4:11–12 the apostle Paul said, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”

These words should startle us and cause us to catch our breath. Paul says that he has learned to be content in every situation. Not just happy, comfortable, “why, yes, I will have another latte” situations. Every situation.

Paul could find contentment in any season and any circumstance. He knew how to be brought low, and few people were brought lower than Paul. He was thrown into filthy prisons, savagely beaten with rods, stoned within a breath of death, whipped until his back was a bloody, dripping mess, driven out of cities, betrayed by friends, and shipwrecked on multiple occasions. In the midst of all this, Paul found contentment. The difficulties faced by Paul make my life look like a Boy Scout campout.

Paul also knew how to be content in the midst of prosperity. Prosperity and contentment don’t always go together. In fact, they rarely do. Rich people are unhappy just like everyone else. Members of the yacht club need to learn contentment too.

In 1 Timothy 6:6 Paul says of contentment, “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment.” False teachers were invading Timothy’s church and telling people that if they were godly they would also be rich, that if they followed Jesus, they would get their Lexus chariot or Rolex sundial or whatever it was they wanted. But Paul won’t have any of that nonsense. He says that following Jesus isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. If you follow Jesus, you will have every spiritual need met. Forgiveness, adoption, spiritual strength, everything. And if we have all our spiritual needs met and are content with what we have, that is great gain. If we have every spiritual need met and are content with what we have, what more could we want? We have everything we need for joy. Following a Jesus genie who gives us whatever we want is not great gain. Contentment is great gain.

If you need any further motivation to pursue contentment, there you have it. Godliness + Contentment = Great Gain. I’m into gain. And when God himself, speaking through the Scriptures, says that something is great gain, we need to pay close attention.

Adapted from The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence, by Stephen Altrogge

November 29, 2012 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Gratitude,Idolatry,Joy,Life & Doctrine,Sanctification,The Christian Life,Worship | Author: Crossway Author @ 8:00 am | 1 Comment »

NCAA Tournament and Shadows of Victory

Adapted from Game Day for the Glory of God by Stephen Altrogge

It’s March. That means basketball, competition, and trophies are on our mind.

Why is it that we love victory? Why is it that within minutes of sitting down to watch a game, I find myself instinctively rooting for one team over another, even if I have no connection to either team? What is it that drives men and women to sacrifice their time, energy, friends, family, social life, and even spiritual life in the pursuit of victory? We love to win.

Our passion for victory is not always pure.

Unfortunately, our passion for victory is not [always] pure. We are arrogant and proud and often desire victory solely for the praise it will bring us. Losers have never been admired throughout history, and we certainly don’t want to be lumped in with those chumps. But does this mean that it’s wrong to desire victory at all?

In victory we see a snapshot of the nature and character of God.

We live in a world that’s opposed to God. Like a great plague, sin has ravaged all of creation. Sometimes it seems that evil is winning all the battles.

Scripture acknowledges that evil has filled the earth, but it doesn’t stop there. We serve a God who always conquers his enemies! He’s an unbeatable and unstoppable warrior and His victory is inevitable.

  • Psalm 110:1: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
  • 2 Corinthians 2:14: “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.”

Victory in sports is a faint reflection of our victorious God.

God has created us to love victory. Part of the reason we have such a passion for victory is that it allows us to catch a faint glimpse of God’s glory. God is the great victor and conqueror. When we witness victory, we are witnessing a small piece of the character of God.

We also love victory because it proves that diligence is rewarded. Throughout Scripture we are told that God is pleased by those who do their work faithfully. Proverbs 13:4 says, “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.” Impressive victories rarely come without hours of grueling work and preparation. It’s good and God-honoring to see a team’s hard work pay off.

So by all means, pursue victory! Pursue the joy that God gives to the victorious. Not for your own glory or honor, but because in victory you will see a glimpse of God himself.

When you find yourself on the winning team…

  • Direct your heart and mind toward God and praise him that he is always victorious.
  • Thank him for the joy that comes with victory.
  • Praise him for the victories that he’s achieved in your life.
  • Praise him that he always leads you in his triumph.
  • Acknowledge that he’s the only one who never loses and is always victorious.

Learn more about Game Day for the Glory of God, buy the eBook this month for only $1.99, or follow Stephen Altrogge’s blog at The Blazing Center.

March 14, 2012 | Posted in: Gratitude,Hope,Pride and Humility | Author: Angie Cheatham @ 4:56 am | 0 Comments »

The Bored Life Isn’t Worth Living

Guest post by Stephen J. Nichols

As the last weeks of summer dwindle down we could add another chorus of voices to the chirping crickets at nightfall, the refrain emanating from our kids, “We’re so bored!” But before we say kids these days, we need to confess our own sins of boredom. If the American Medical Association were to label boredom a disease, we would have to declare an epidemic.

A few decades back, Neil Postman wrote a scathing critique of American culture, indicting us all for, as the title has it, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Now a few decades later after billions of dollars and countless hours spent in the full-throttled pursuit of pleasure, we have amused ourselves right into boredom. What’s left for us to have? What’s left for us to experience?

Boredom begets a loss of a sense of wonder. Our loss of a sense of wonder begets a loss of appreciation. And our loss of appreciation begets a loss of gratitude—quite a downward spiral. Throughout the pages of Scripture you’ll find that God simply wants us to be grateful. In the Old Testament, ingratitude gets put right on par with idolatry. Shocking. Paul states it plainly in Romans 1 when he charges that even though God has made himself known to us in the visible world, we “did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Rom 1:21).

God has placed us in his world. More often than not, we offer up grumblings of ingratitude instead of grateful praises from thankful hearts. God made us and he made us for himself and put us in the world of his design—a world of beauty and wonder. Yet too often we put our hands in our pockets, shrug our shoulders, let out a yawn, and walk off. Since we’ve lost our sense of wonder, we have forgotten to how to say thank you.

Embracing the doctrine of creation, reading creation, is the antidote to boredom and yawning, to ingratitude. How can we yawn at what God has made? When we acknowledge God as creator of all things, we regain our sense of wonder, we regain our sense of appreciation, and we regain our sense of gratitude. We stop yawning. We start hearing the chirping of crickets and we say thank you.

Adapted from Welcome to the Story: Reading, Loving, & Living God’s Word

August 9, 2011 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Gratitude,Life & Doctrine,Sanctification,The Christian Life | Author: Crossway Staff @ 7:12 am | 0 Comments »

Cutting the Nerve of Complaining

By Stephen Altrogge from The Greener Grass Conspiracy

Nobody likes a complainer. And yet most of us find ourselves complaining on a fairly regular basis. My stint in the Midwest elicited daily shrieks of complaint at the frigid January wind. “Who on earth decided to establish a major city in this wretched climate,” I would rant to the nearest cringing ear.

The fact is, most of our complaining stems from a faulty sense of entitlement. We all have long lists of things we think we deserve. When everything that we “deserve” doesn’t fall in our laps, we complain. We view ourselves as the injured party who has every right to grumble. Work is stressful, we don’t feel like we deserve that. We have relational problems, we don’t feel like we deserve that either. And apparently I felt like I deserved sunny skies and 70 degrees in the middle of a Chicago winter.

The gospel makes it clear that all we deserve is hell. God created us. Therefore he owns us, and we owe him our complete allegiance and gratitude. But we rebelled. We wave him off as unimportant even as we revel in his blessings every day, living in warm houses, eating delicious food, and enjoying the company of loved ones.

The beauty of the gospel is getting what we don’t deserve. We have mercy instead of justice, salvation instead of damnation. Even on our worst days we are doing infinitely better than we deserve. When we complain, we are telling God that this incredible grace isn’t enough.

In order to cut complaining out of our lives, we should actively savor and apply the gospel. We must adopt an attitude of deep thankfulness. Let’s remember the incredible grace and blessing we have received in light of our utter depravity. We really could not ask for more.

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