PRIVILEGED, LUCKY, OR BLESSED?

Prompted by some recent news stories, I’ve been thinking lately about the idea of privilege and how it relates to me. When I looked up the definition of the word I realized I have been misusing it.

According to the first definition that came up in my search, privilege is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.” Most of my adult life I have been calling a variety of opportunities, relationships, and good things that I have experience privileges.

I have considered things like being married to my wife, being the father of a daughter and a son, being the grandpa of two grandsons, serving as a pastor in multiple ways for over 46 years, having the friends I have had and have, and much more as privileges. Most recently I officiated my son’s wedding and called that a privilege.

However, given the meaning of privilege in the definition above, none of the things I have been considering privileges have been such. I do not question or dispute that there are persons who indeed have benefitted from privilege in its primary definition and others have not.

If the good things in my life I have been calling privileges are not really that, what are they?

I’m uncomfortable to think or say that all these good things are nothing more than luck. The first internet definition for luck is “success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.” I wouldn’t disagree that some of the things that happen to us can be thought of in terms of good luck or bad luck, but it is more than that. Instead of luck many Christians use the word providence that is defined as the “protective care of God.” I believe in God’s providence in terms of the good things in life, but don’t have a satisfying answer for those who may ask about “bad luck.”

If I have to give up the idea of privilege, and don’t want to call it luck, I think the best choice is to say “I am blessed.” My favorite definition of a blessing received is “a favor or gift bestowed by God.” In all honesty I think Christians sometimes overuse the idea of blessed and blessing, but that’s really what I’m talking about in terms of many of the good things in my life.

I’m writing this reflection late on Saturday evening following the wedding of my son. I guess it was a privilege to officiate as a pastor in terms of the dictionary definition, but it was much more than that. Some may consider me lucky to have done this, and maybe I am; but the bottom line for me is that it was a wonderful blessing to do so and I was blessed by doing it.

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ON GIVING AND RECEIVING

Every year as we near Christmas I am reminded of one of Jesus’ most succinct sayings. This saying is not recorded in any of the four gospels, but is passed on by the Apostle Paul in his farewell remarks to the Ephesian elders. In Act 20:32-35 Paul is reminding them of his example while with them and then adds, “remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

In light of the fact that this saying of Jesus is not in the gospels, I wonder how Paul knew about it. And my conclusion is that there had to be sayings of Jesus that did not get included in the gospels, but that were known and passed on among Jesus’ followers.

Regardless of how Paul knew of the saying, I find it interesting and challenging. And I hope it is obvious why I think about it each year during this season. It is not just ‘the most wonderful time of the year,’ it is also the season when there is more giving and receiving than any other.

Let me ask you a question — do you believe what Jesus said is true? In your life experience and observation of others, is it “more blessed to give than receive?” What do you think?

I’m pretty sure we all would agree that we are blessed in receiving. Everyone reading this post has been blessed again and again by receiving. And please note that Jesus said that is the case. But He also said that it is more blessed to give than receive.

Not to be negative, but I’m not sure everyone would agree that they are blessed in giving. And yet many of us know from our own experience that what Jesus said has been proven true in our lives.

When Jesus gave the teaching “it is more blessed to give than to receive” he wasn’t thinking about Christmas. I think it is certainly applicable to our Christmas practice of gift giving and receiving, but it is about more. The greater blessing of giving than receiving is true in all of life and is not limited to Christmas. There are many ways to give that have nothing to do with presents. And as we engage in those ways we are blessed.

I think Jesus knows both the blessing of receiving and giving. He certainly knows the blessing of giving because he gave his life for us. In our relationship with him I hope we also know the blessing of both receiving and giving. There is great blessing in receiving what he offers – love, grace, forgiveness, acceptance, eternal life, and much more. But don’t forget the greater blessing we receive from giving ourselves to him, to giving him praise and honor, and to following him in obedience as our Lord.

Merry Christmas to you as we celebrate again this year the birth of God’s wonderful gift to us: Jesus, our Savior and Lord. I pray you are blessed through both giving and receiving.

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THEOLOGY FROM AN ELVIS SONG?

I was surprised this week to hear some solid Bible teaching on the radio from an unexpected source. Tired of listening to the news, I hit the button on my XM radio for Elvis Radio. The first song and only song I listened to got my attention.

While Elvis did sing some religious songs, except for How Great Thou Art, those were not the ones that made him famous. This song is not religious, but one line in it certainly reminded me of something we might agree sounds biblical.

I Can Help was written by Billy Swan and recorded by Elvis in 1975. As the title suggests, the lyrics declare that the singer can help the one to whom he is singing. Among other things, the song declares that “if you’ve got a problem” or “if you need a hand, I can assure you this – I can help.” Who wouldn’t appreciate such an offer?

As much as I like the confident offer made, and while offering to help someone in need is biblical, that isn’t what got my attention about the song. Multiple times in the lyrics the singer tells his listener “It would sure do me good to do you good, Let me help.”

There are a couple of ways to interpret the phrase “It would sure do me good to do you good.” One way to look at it is to see it as a selfish or manipulative statement. That certainly isn’t biblical and that is not how I take it. Whether it is what Billy Swan had in mind or not, I take the phrase at face value. I have been teaching and encouraging the same thing for the past 47 years as a pastor.

The obvious biblical teaching of the phrase is that it is good for us to serve others. Another way I have made the point in the church is by noting that we are blessed by our service rendered to others. We don’t help others in order to be blessed, but we are grateful to be blessed through our service.

The other point I have tried to make is that we should accept it when others can and want to help and serve us. By doing so we are not only blessed by their service, but they are also blessed by the good they do for us. When our pride prevents us from letting people who want to help us do so we rob them of an opportunity to be blessed by blessing us.

Here’s another way to say it: it would sure do good for both of us if you would allow me to do you good. In my life I have been blessed both by being helped and by helping.

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