Before I forget, let me make sure that I begin this Update by thanking all those who have put on a uniform and stood in the gap for our freedom: Happy Veterans Day!
There’s a bit of a flap going on in Peoria right now, since they scheduled the annual Veterans Day Parade at 10:00 on Sunday morning this year, a century to the day since the Armistice that began our modern Veterans Day tradition. By definition, people thus felt required to make a decision either to honor our veterans or to worship our Lord -- and no one should be forced to have to make that choice. Some people took umbrage with this and frustratedly boycotted the parade (which probably isn’t the right heart, since the veterans and ROTC and others marching in the parade didn’t necessarily decide the schedule). Others argued that it was veterans who won our nation freedom of religion, not pastors (which probably didn’t help matters, since it’s not like pastors were bemoaning not being the center of attention, and since the core issue of the frustration was that people felt that the scheduling was an example of blithely moving toward secularization and the marginalization of religion in our nation). In short, it polarized people at a time when a little more patriotic unity would be greatly healing in our country.
But the thing is, it polarized them needlessly, since we honored our vets in our service this week, and there were other ways that we all could have scheduled the parade and the worship times to complement one another. There’s no reason why we can’t say, “Let’s praise God together for those who put their lives on the line for others!” There’s no reason why we should have to choose between loving God and loving others -- and no reason why we should be taking pot-shots at one another over it. A little more conscientiousness from both sides, a little more grace and flexibility, and we could’ve kept our foci precisely where they should’ve been all along.
That actually dovetails with our message this week. We’re beginning a little series about “Giving Our Thanks,” focusing on the clear, simple, easily applicable teachings of the Bible on thanksgiving, and we built primarily off of 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18. In his conclusion to that letter, Paul laid out a simple set of ideas -- when someone does something wrong to you, make sure that you do something good for them in response; situations may not make you happy, but look for God’s joy in the midst of every situation; pray all the time; give thanks in every circumstance. None of that is rocket science -- it’s not all high-minded and philosophical. And I doubt that many Christians would be comfortable spitting in Paul’s face and disagreeing with him on those applications (especially since Jesus pretty much preached the exact same things throughout His ministry). And yet, we so rarely live that list out in its “do this all of the time” consistency.
Go back and look at that list. If everyone actually followed those simple applications, how big a flap would that parade decision really have become for everyone? If we all actually followed that list, how would that affect our news, or our political decisions, or our Facebook posts, or our tweets? How would that affect the last argument that you just had, or the last time that you complained to someone about someone else? How would that affect your attitude about what’s coming up tomorrow in your life?
The truth is, as Christians, our forgiveness of others, our pursuit of joy, our commitment to prayer, and our giving thanks have absolutely nothing to do with what others around us are doing (either right or wrong), or what the world is handing us (either pleasant or unpleasant). The truth is, all of those applications of our Christianity should be precisely that -- applications of our salvation by Jesus Christ, and the new life that He’s bought for us with His blood. We forgive because that’s what Christ did. We focus on joy because that’s what Christ did. We pray in constant, genuine interaction with God because that’s what Christ did. We give thanks to God for being God and for what He sovereignly provides, no matter what tomorrow brings, because that’s what Christ did. If we thus call ourselves “Christ-ians,” then it’s got to be a character-driven application, not a situation-dependent application.
So stop and think about just how character-driven (how paradigmatic, how constant and consistent) is your application of your salvation through your returning good for evil, your focus on joy, your interactive prayer, or your giving of thanks. How would your world look different if you did all of those things all of the time, in every situation, in relationship with everyone in your life?
So why don’t we just, y’know... just do that, starting right now?