In this brand new video series, Pastor Todd of First United Methodist Church of Newton, NJ brings passionate awareness and helpful tips on various transformational Christian practices and theology. Each episode will inspire and motivate spiritual growth through time-tested practices and and wisdom. This week’s episode invites you to RECLAIM faith as a wholesome and healthy part of our daily lives. Pastor Todd will discuss who has faith, and how it can lead us to different levels of seeing.
In this brand new video series, Pastor Todd of First United Methodist Church of Newton, NJ brings passionate awareness and helpful tips on various transformational Christian practices and theology. Each episode will inspire and motivate spiritual growth through time-tested practices and and wisdom.
This week’s episode invites you to RECLAIM gratitude as a wholesome and healthy practice in our daily lives. Pastor Todd will discuss about what gratitude is, what it means to cultivate a grateful life, as well as why it is important an important spiritual discipline.
Read Galatians 5:22-26
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“There I will go to the altar of God, to God—the source of all my joy. I will praise You with my harp, O God, my God!” (Psalms 43:4 NLT)
In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “The Fruit of the Spirit.”
FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Joy. We all want to be happy, right? I cannot think of a single person who would claim that they don’t desire happiness. We all have different ideas of happiness. I have the idea of a world where people lived together in harmony, where no one through judgment around and thought they were better than anyone else. I have the idea of such a world where no one thought that they were right and everyone else was wrong, where religion was taken seriously, where all religions were respected, and where religious fanatics didn’t ostracize, imprison or kill others. I have the same idea of a world where politicians follow suit and don’t try and ostracize, imprison or kill others for their own political gains. I could go on with this ideal world and I am certain that such a world would make me truly happy.
Since that reality is surely never coming, or at least not anytime soon, perhaps I will just settle for a permanent vacation (great Aerosmith album, btw) on an island somewhere in the Caribbean where I am slurping piña coladas in young coconut shells all day long, while sitting on a beach listening to “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Sounds great right?!?! Our world loves happiness, it longs for it, it tells us all that we should be pursuing it to the ends of the earth. The problem, as many of us in life have already discovered, is that happiness is fleeting at best and the pursuit of it often leads us toward a giant cliff that over looks an endless abyss of disappointment and despair.
That is absolutely why you will not find happiness being called a Fruit of the Spirit. It just simply is not. I am sure that Paul was NOT happy getting rejected by the church in Jerusalem for wanting to be open-minded and open hearted to the Gentiles. I am sure that he wasn’t happy getting stoned (by rocks…to clarify) and imprisoned. I am sure that he wasn’t happy having his authority and his apostleship questioned, being considered an outsider by both his fellow Jews and his fellow Apostles. I am sure that Paul did not live a life of happiness, and I am equally sure he didn’t spend is life pursuing it. Rather, Paul’s life was one of joy, not happiness!
Joy, in essence is that inner thankfulness that causes one to experience bliss, peace and contentment in all circumstances. It is the calm assurance that God is with you in those circumstances and, even if your life is forfeit as a result of living out your faith, you are thankful for all that God has given to you and for all that God has called you to. One can try to pursue it; however, it is not bought, or earned, or easily attained; rather it is produced by the Holy Spirit, by the divine presence of God dwelling within us. It is in the context of a relationship with God and the transformative reception of the Holy Spirit that one begins to have a joy that cannot be contained or snuffed out. Do you want to experience it? Open your heart to God and allow the Holy Spirit to enter you and transform you into God’s agent of hope, healing, and wholeness.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Joy is prayer; joy is strength: joy is love; joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” – Mother Teresa
Lord, turn my heart into an eternal well-spring of your joy! Amen.
Read Psalm 100
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:7 NLT)
Well, it is getting to be that time isn’t it. Tomorrow is the holiday that we in America call Turkey day…I mean Thanksgiving Day. After all, not all of us eat Turkey, and all of the turkeys that survive T-Day are ever thankful for that! All jokes aside, this is the holiday that begs Americans to remember the story of the Pilgrims. When the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts in 1620, they were not prepared for life in the wilderness and they did not really know what to grow or when to grow it. Enter in the Native Americans, namely the Wampanoag tribe, who taught the settlers how to survive (including how to grow and harvest their food) in exchange for protection against tribal enemies.
By the time of the first Thanksgiving meal, there were only 50 out of 100 Pilgrims alive to share in the meal. Half of them had died during the first winter in the New World. Those remaining Pilgrims invited 90 Wompanoag to share with them in a feast, as a way of giving thanks to them and to God for their alliance and survival. Of course there is a ton more to the history than what I have recounted here; however, this is the gist of the story that the Thanksgiving Day observance in the U.S. is centered on.
Of course, it wasn’t long before more settlers showed up in Massachusetts and it is quite unfortunate that the original thankfulness that the Pilgrims had shown toward their Native American neighbors had all but been forgotten. The rest is sadly history. The European settlers flourished and grew in numbers, while the Wampanoag suffered major losses in their population. The European settlers, unbeknownst to them, brought bacteria and illnesses which killed many within the Wampanoag tribe. On top of that, with the European settlers came Western Civilization and it’s wars. One such war was King Phillip’s war, where the English colonists and their Native American allies fought against other Native American tribes. During that war, the Wampanog lost over 40 percent of its population and many of the surviving males in their tribe were sold into slavery in the West Indies. On top of that, many of the women and children were enslaved in New England. So much for the spirit of thankfulness, huh?
While this may seem like ancient history, the fact remains that the very feast we partake in year after year is rooted in that ancient history. What’s more, like the original Thanksgiving between the Settlers and Wampanoag tribe, our Thanksgiving is so short-lived that we often forget what we were even thankful for before the turkey, or Tofurky, coma settles in. In fact, it seems like our thankfulness is, by and large, nothing more than a trivial tradition that bears little resemblance to true thankfulness.
The challenge for us is become a truly thankful people who do not trivialize such an important part of what we were created to be. Let us begin to truly be thankful for everything we have been given. Too often we express our thankfulness through words, but words are so often very cheap! The first Pilgrims did not express their thankfulness merely with words, but through their actions in protecting their Native American allies and through inviting them to share in their harvest feast! Let us, too, be a people who show God that we are truly thankful by sharing what we have with others, no matter how unlikely it may seem for us to have a relationship with them. God has created us all and has provided all of us with all that we need. If we are truly thankful for those things, and if we truly recognize that everything we have are gifts from God, then we will not hesitate in being generous in our giving and THANKFUL in our living! This Thanksgiving, make thankfulness the meat that you feast on!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melodie Beattie
Gracious God, I thank you for all that I have including my life. Give me the strength take what I have and share it with those in need, so that my thankfulness can move from words into action. Amen.