Recounting God’s gifts

img_2220

The Thanksgiving holiday fast approaches here in the United States. Thanksgiving recipes abound, turkeys are running for cover, and plans are being made in earnest for that fourth Thursday of November. I love the trend of the past few years of posting one thing to be thankful for each day in November, as it puts our hearts in tune with the blessings God has given us.

Can you think of 30 things to be thankful for?
Continue reading

Short-term memory loss.

image

The feeding of the 5,000 is an oft-discussed miracle, but have you read the one in which he feeds the 4,000?

What struck me in this account was not the greatness of the miracle, but the  severe memory loss of Jesus’ disciples.

Here is the account:

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”

And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”

And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?”

They said, “Seven.”

And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied.

And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.

Mark‬ ‭8:1-9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Every time I read this passage, I get a sense of deja-vu. This reads a lot like the Feeding of the 5,000 in Mark 6. The only thing missing is a generous little boy.

Desolate place? Check!

Colossal crowd of hungry people? Check!

A small amount of Bread and fish? Check!

A ridiculous amount of leftovers? Check!

Notice what the disciples say in verse 4: “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”

Shouldn’t they be saying, “Hey, remember how we fed 5,000 men (plus women and children) with only 5 loaves and 2 fish? Are you willing to do that again, Lord? We have seven loaves and a few small fish!”

The disciples seemed to suffer from either amnesia or short-term memory loss. If Jesus had the urge to cover His face with His hands and sigh, it would’ve been here! Jesus had performed an inconceivable miracle when He fed the people the first time. They had seen Him do many other signs and wonders. At this point, they should be thinking to themselves, “there’s nothing He can’t do!”

And yet, they doubted. They forgot the amazing power of the Lord.

Do you suffer from short-term memory loss?

How often has God done amazing things in your life? How often do you forget those things at the first sign of a challenge?

I’d like to think I wouldn’t be as dense as the disciples, but I know that there have been many times when I have done exactly the same thing. We need to make it a point to regularly give thanks for the things God has done for us in the past.

Why do you think God commanded the Israelites of the Old Testament to set up memorials? He knew how forgetful we humans can be. He knows we need help.

If you are faced with insurmountable challenges, take time to make a list of the amazing things God has done. Lay out your list before the Lord, give thanks to Him in prayer. Then, ask Him to help you climb this mountain just like He’s done before for you and the countless other faithful who have come before.

Our God is powerful. Trust Him to help you!

Acceptance: what it is and what it is not. (Comparison Cure#2)

This is the third post in the series on Comparison cures. To read the previous post, click here.

storm coming

“Live the life you want to live”

“Don’t drift through life. Get where you want to be.”

“How could you let that happen to you?”

“You need to try harder”

Would you say that those are fairly common phrases? I hear them or read them almost daily. So many high-powered people talk about how you are the only thing holding yourself back from a “better” life.

If you have ever seen “The Princess Bride,” then you’ll remember the shrilly little man named Vincini who keeps blurting out the word “inconceivable!” Finally, after several inconceivably conceivable events, his companion, Inyigo Montoya turns to him and says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” When I hear people say the above phrases or use the word “better” I feel a bit like Inyigo Montoya. I don’t think it means what they think it means. Only God really knows what is best. Sometimes the worst things that happen fashion our hearts to be more like the Lord and less like the world.

So often we think we’ve been dealt a bad hand. We see God as unjust and unfair—though I daresay we only think it in our heart. The truth is, Satan is trying to pull us away from God by any and every means possible. Satan will use wealth and prosperity to create pride, apathy and complacency. He inspired concentration camps to create despair and hopelessness. He destroys families, feeds loneliness and abandonment so that people will seek help outside of God, falling deeper into his clutches. God is not unaware of what goes on, and we are never beyond his reach. God is able to transform any agonizing trial into something glorious if we accept the situation and allow Him to work.

Think of it this way: imagine that a father has told his son that they are going to get ice cream. Through no fault of the father’s, the ice cream shop they frequent has suddenly gone out of business. The Father tries to explain to his Son that there are alternatives, but his little boy is too busy crying and stomping his feet to listen. The Father understands that his son does not understand the unpredictability of life and tries to help him. However, if the little guy is going to ignore the reassurance of his father (and alternate plan to go to another shop) and instead chooses to kick and scream, there will be no ice cream, but a firm reprimand instead.

There is nothing wrong with being upset/hurt/disappointed, but where do you take your pain? Do you allow it to be your focus or do you turn and listen to the Father? Do you accept things and place them in God’s omnipotent hands or do you rage against the machine hoping that all your fighting will change things?

So much of our trouble in comparing ourselves to others is our unwillingness to accept both blessings and trials. But lest you think acceptance is defeat, guess again.

Acceptance is not lazy resignation.

When I hear individuals talk about success, they place those of us “less successful folk” in the lazy category. They look dubiously on the person who sighs and says, “that’s just the way it is” as if they are too complacent. In one way, they are right. We cannot just drift about as though we are fated to have it good or have it bad. We must always work toward our improvement and the improvement of those within our sphere of influence.

However, there are times when things just turn nasty and we have to determine our course of action. In life, we often find ourselves in the midst of a sudden storm. What is our usual reaction? We get upset, we cry, we analyze, we fret, we throw up our hands in defeat—we do everything except turn it over to God. The best course of action is to accept the situation, not in defeat, but as an acknowledgement of reality. People who commit suicide feel resigned to their lot and they think that death will alleviate their pain and the pain of others. What it usually does is create more destruction and grief.

No, lazy resignation is NOT acceptance.

So, what is acceptance and how will it help cure our comparison ills?

Acceptance is Situational Awareness

In law enforcement and the military, a huge portion of their training deals with this idea of Situational Awareness. Those men and women don’t get to create their circumstances. They go where they are needed and often find themselves in some sticky spots. The first and best thing to do is to be alert, sober, vigilant and highly observant. If, for example, an officer finds himself in a place where there is a suspect running down the road on foot, the first thing is to be cognizant of what they look like and where they are going. Are there other suspicious people around who might cause the officer harm? Are they going into a place where they can be cornered? Where is the nearest backup? They have to take the situation as it is and decide what to do with it.

As children of God, there will be seasons of life that are painful. They are not of our making, but are the result of living in this decaying world. The first step is to be aware of the reality and to guard ourselves against the tricks of our enemy (Satan). It’s acceptance of fact. If you jump off a cliff, you’ll die. Someday, the people you love will die. At some point, you will die. There will always be people who grasp for power, control and tyranny. There will always be people who reject God. Companies go under. Jobs disappear. Cancer creeps in. Bad people get good things and good people get bad things. That is reality, however awful it may be. Be aware of it, be on guard against Satan and set your mind on the blessings that you have in the moments that you have them. Lastly, remember the greatest reality of all—this life isn’t the end. Someday we’ll have an eternal life and that’s the better thing.

Acceptance is Trust in God

I’ve been reading the book of Daniel over the past few days and I still marvel at how much Daniel and his three friends placed their trust in God. I wrote about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in a previous post, so I won’t expound on them here. What jumped out at me in this reading was in Daniel 6. It’s a familiar account to many children about Daniel in the Lion’s Den, but the den part wasn’t what struck me.

Here is part of the account:

Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”

Then these high officials and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! All the high officials of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction.

When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.

~ Daniel 6.3-10, ESV

Notice a few important details. Daniel was given a great deal of power in the kingdom and things were only looking up. He had integrity. He was respected. In spite of being away from his homeland in Israel, life was good for him. What these men were planning to do had the potential to destroy him. He would lose every earthly thing—power, wealth, respect, and, of course, his very life.

On the other hand, if he did not continue to serve God, He would lose everything of value—his relationship with God.

Does Daniel weep bitter tears and ask God why these things are happening? Does he try praying in secret so they won’t find out about it?

No.

He didn’t hesitate. He went up to his room, got down on his knees and started praying; And not just praying, but praying visibly. He wanted them all to know, without doubt, that Daniel’s loyalty was to God and not men. He accepted the reality of the situation and made the choice to put his life in God’s omnipotent hands. He trusted that God would take care of him, either in this life or the next.

After being delivered from the lions’ den, the account says this in verse 23: “So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

Acceptance is seeing the storm and trusting that somehow, God will pull you through it. When we accept the good and the bad and place it in the hands of the Lord, we have peace. When the fear starts to grip your heart, take it to the Lord in prayer. You will never find peace or rest until you do that.

I want to conclude with this excellent poem by Amy Carmichael:

He said, ‘I will forget the dying faces;
The empty places,
They shall be filled again.
O voices moaning deep within me, cease.’
But vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in forgetting lieth peace.

He said, ‘I will crowd action upon action,
The strife of faction
Shall stir me and sustain;
O tears that drown the fire of manhood cease.’
But vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in endeavour lieth peace.

He said, ‘I will withdraw me and be quiet,
Why meddle in life’s riot?
Shut be my door to pain.
Desire, thou dost befool me, thou shalt cease.’
But vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in aloofness lieth peace.

He said, ‘I will submit; I am defeated.
God hath depleted
My life of its rich gain.
O futile murmurings, why will ye not cease?’
But vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in submission lieth peace.

He said, ‘I will accept the breaking sorrow
Which God tomorrow
Will to His son explain.’
Then did the turmoil deep within me cease.
Not vain the word, not vain;
For in Acceptance lieth peace.

 

Comparison Cure #1: Contentment

This is the second post in the series on Comparison cures. To read the first post, click here.

image

In the previous post, I talked about the disease I termed “why-me-itis” which is caused by a lack of essential spiritual nutrients. The first and most foundational of these nutrients is contentment.

Our high-powered culture tells us that if we apply ourselves and work hard, we can have the American Dream—2 (or more) new cars, a fancy-schmancy house in a good neighborhood, highly talented children, a fat 401(k) and all the latest and greatest toys. If you fall short of this dream, the unspoken assumption is that you are unmotivated and lazy. You should have more, you deserve more, you need more.

America has drawn people from all over the world with the prospect of gain through persistence. Stories abound of men and women who began with nothing and proceeded to build financial empires (all through their own blood, sweat, tears, and fierce motivation, of course). The

The mantra today says the only thing holding people back from wealth is laziness, incompetence and unrighteousness. If you would just work harder/take an extra job/get that degree/follow these ten steps/win the Powerball, then you can be like [insert millionaire’s name]. There are several prominent Christian teachers promoting the notion that if you live a godly life, then you should have wealth, and prosperity; your sin and incompetence are holding you back. You can have more if you are godly enough.

These ideas—which are not all inherently bad (I am referring to the hard work part)—create a competitive environment. These things may drive people to excel, but, more often than not they create stressed-out, worried, debt-ridden and discontented people who look around at their shiny happy neighbors and wonder why they have it so easy while they themselves are struggling. We compare our lack of happiness to the perceived happiness of others. This type of comparison steals our priceless joy and replaces it with cheap ingratitude.

As Christians we deserve better things. These better things cannot be bought with money—they are the riches of Christ. Love. Joy. Peace.

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

1 Timothy 6.3-10, ESV, emphasis mine

Instead of a consuming covetousness, Christ calls us to satiating contentment.

Notice what Paul says: “godliness with contentment is great gain.” It doesn’t say godliness with contentment will bring you great gain. No. The gain is in the discovery. That powerful combination creates an abundance mentality. It says, “I have what I need, and I will also share it.” If our motivation for being godly is to acquire more creature comforts, power, authority, romantic love, children etcetera, then we have it all backwards and God (who knows the secrets of our hearts) will not count us righteous anyway.

So, first things first. Let’s do a heart check to see if we have contentment deficiency. 

Take a moment and answer the following questions:

1) Name 3 great people. What makes them great? Do you want to be like them. Why?

2) Make a list of all the things going wrong in your life, then make a list of your blessings.

3) If you were relegated to making just enough to keep your family in a small house, fed, clothed and with a roof over your head, would you still be thankful?

So, now that you’ve answered those questions, consider: why do you admire those great people in question one? If you admire them because they are rich or talented or because they accomplished some amazing feat, then you might have a contentment deficiency. I admire talented people, but that does not make them great people. I stand in awe of Navy seals, but, as Yoda sagely observed, “wars do not make one great.” I am amazed by the way some people acquire and manage their wealth, but that doesn’t mean they have character. Great people are those who have given everything for something far greater than themselves. (Read Hebrews 11 for a few ideas).

How does your list of problems compare with your list of blessings? Which one is greater? If, under your blessings, you have salvation through Christ, it should make that long list of problems look teeny. If your list of problems is longer and weightier, you might have a contentment deficiency.

If you had to live with nothing more than the bare essentials, would you still be happy? The easy answer is yes, but I think the harder and more accurate answer is that it would be a challenge. My own learning curve would be steep! If your essential needs would not satisfy, then you likely have a contentment deficiency.

3 things to consider about contentment:

1) With great power comes great responsibility

I believe point 1 is a quote from Spiderman, but I have heard similar sentiments throughout literature. Many who desire power and wealth do not necessarily know how to handle it. It takes prowess to effectively manage money and leadership. Many Major League Baseball, NFL and NBA players make millions of dollars per year playing sports, retire young (or get injured) then end up broke soon afterward. Doesn’t that shock you? In one year they make more money than some people make in twenty and after ten years of such exorbitant salaries they go broke?! It comes down to poor management and greed. They were ill-equipped to handle the great responsibility they were given. Recall the above passage: “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction…”

What do most of us do with our wealth? We buy high-priced, lattes, new clothes, nice cars, vacations, new technology, better houses, good food, invest in college savings plans and 401(k)s—in short, we spend our wealth on ourselves. How much of that wealth is given to others? How much is set aside to make provision for your family’s future security or your own health?

In America, most of us have more than basic food and clothing. We have abundance. We possess great wealth and yet we still grasp for the next big thing. We need to be better stewards of what we do have before acquiring what we don’t.

Instead of bemoaning your current lack of wealth, focus your mind on giving thanks for what God has given you. Make a list of things that are troubling you—your marriage, your children, your debts, whatever—and take them to the Lord in prayer. Ask him to help you be a better steward of what he’s given you. If your marriage is on the rocks, make fixing it a priority. If your money is the problem, turn to a good financial advisor and learn how to budget. Ask God to help you manage the things that are within your circle of influence before expecting or reaching for more.

2) Contentment is learned.

The American culture may be unique in that people of any class, race, gender and creed have the ability to become powerful and wealthy, but it is not unique in fostering the desire for fame and fortune. It seems to be inherent in us humans to crave more than what we have.

Eve lived in the garden of Eden—a literal paradise. The temperature was so pleasant she didn’t even need clothes (and didn’t know what they were). Food was abundant and didn’t even have to be paid for (what’s money?). She had a husband who kept her company (she didn’t have to go win his heart as there was no competition) and God walked and talked with them every day.

She had it all.

And yet, there was something she didn’t have. And it was on that tree that God said not to touch.

The serpent fanned the flames of curiosity and discontent. “When you eat of it…you will be like God…” Hissed the serpent. “The tree will make me wise,” she thought, forgetting the commandment of God in her craving for more. (Read the full context here).

Now, being like God and being wise are inherently good things, but the fact of the matter was, God had already made her like him and wisdom would be supplied in ever greater measure as they continued to spend time together. But the seeds of craving were sown. Eve disobeyed God in her desire for more. I often wonder if, after losing paradise, she learned contentment or if her life was full of bitterness and sorrow.

Let’s fast-forward now to Paul, who wrote the above-referenced passage to Timothy, and also wrote the following passage to the Philippians:

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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

~ Philippians 4.11-13, ESV, emphasis mine

He said, “I have learned… To be content…. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

How did he learn contentment? He learned through experience. He discovered he could only do it through Christ who strengthened him. Only through Christ can we maintain a state of contentment. It is not our circumstances that create contentment, it is submission to Christ.

3) Contentment is not resignation or laziness

Proverbs speaks a great deal about lazy people and the concept that diligence leads to wealth. It also talks about how it is better to be poor with love than rich with strife. Sometimes what we do not have (even marriage, children, authority etcetera) may be for our own good. If someone is not married, does that mean they are too lazy to get a wife or husband? I suppose it’s probable, but highly unlikely. Even the apostles recognized that there are times when singleness would be more preferable than marriage. So it is with any earthly blessing.

Consider something with me for a moment. You may not agree with this, but it’s food for thought: Righteousness does not entitle people to earthly ease. God gives the righteous prosperity and power only when it serves His purpose.

Think of the righteous people in the Bible who were prosperous. I think of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (on occasion), Joseph (late in life), Boaz, David, Daniel (on occasion) Job (before and after testing). There are probably more, but these are the only ones I can think of off the top of my head. There were some wealthy Christians and people who believed in Christ. As Margaret Thatcher sagely pointed out, “No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had money as well.” Money, influence etcetera is sometimes needed to bring about God’s purpose, On the flip side, people often demonstrate more influence and character by what they do when they lack these things.

Job, for example, did not “curse God and die” as his wife advised. Do you know what he said? “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In earlier verses he also remarked, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” There was a man with his head on straight.

Now, consider those in the Bible who were righteous and lacking in creature comforts: Joseph (in his early years), Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, most of the prophets, John the Baptist, the apostles, many of the early Christians (who often had their wealth confiscated after being imprisoned), and—most notably—Christ. They did not have cushy lives, nor were they lazy or godless. You see, the two are not mutually linked. Jesus could have been born into a powerful royal family and he could have brought his message to the most influential and intellectual thinkers of the day. Instead, he was born in a nowhere town in despised Judea under the crushing might of the Roman Empire. His parents were so poor they could only sacrifice a pair of doves. During his ministry he had nowhere to lay his head. He died a shameful death.

Are we more righteous than the Son of God? Are we more diligent than he?

On both points, I have to give a most emphatic “NO!”

In that case, do we deserve more than Jesus?

Hmmm…

The point is this: if we have been given wealth (which, as I said earlier, most of us have), then we have a great responsibility. The people in the Bible who prospered had similar blessings granted to them in order to accomplish a specific purpose. Those who were deprived of such things had a different purpose and were not burdened or ensnared by riches. God supplied their needs. Jesus, though poor, resonated with people because of how he taught, the love he demonstrated, the miracles he performed and the absolute paradox of it all. He had such sway that those in authority feared him and yet he had no standing army or organization.

Contentment, then, is making the most of the gifts we’ve been given and not bemoaning what we’ve been denied. Contentment is the ability to find God’s blessings in any and every circumstance and harboring gratitude for them.

There is nothing wrong with building wealth or working hard to prosper, but don’t forget the most important things. If you neglect your family, your faith and/or your God, it will all be meaningless. You will have gained the lesser, temporary gift and lost priceless treasures.

How do we learn contentment?

Practice gratitude. Find something to be thankful for in every situation. Say it. Write it. Whatever. Verbalize it in some way.

Create a thankfulness jar. Each day, have every person in your home write down something they are thankful for. At the end of each month, go through the jar and give thanks in prayer for those blessings. (I liked this idea here.)

Truly rejoice with those who rejoice. When feelings of resentment or envy creep in tell yourself (out loud if necessary) that it is wonderful that God has blessed them. You may not actually feel that way, but make it a habit to express it. Then, take your heartache to the Lord and ask Him to help you destroy those feelings of envy and bitterness. Write them in your prayer journal and only pray about it when it comes to mind. At some point you’ll look back and be surprised you felt that way! You may feel that this is dishonest in some way. It is not. Sometimes the right action has to come ahead of the emotion in order to properly train the internal response.

Analyze why you want a certain thing and place your request in God’s hands. Remember, if it doesn’t happen the way you think it should, God desires to give you better things. He wants you to become like Him and draw closer to Him. If your particular request will draw you away from either purpose then ask God to defeat it. This may seem counterintuitive, but we have to train our minds to be aware that God really is wiser than us and has our best interest at heart. I’d rather hear no and trust God’s plan then get a yes and be lead astray by my selfish desires.

Do you have any regular ways of practicing contentment and gratitude? Please share them in the comments below!

 

Day 30: Jesus Christ, the Son of God

This post is part of “30 days of Giving Thanks” To read more within this series, click here.

image

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

~ John‬ ‭1:1-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Jesus has so many names: The Messiah, the Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Immanuel, the Word, the Light.

Jesus came into the World to give us life, grace, and truth.

For the last 29 days, I’ve been writing about things I am thankful for. I saved the one of greatest import for last. Why am I thankful for Jesus? I don’t think I could write enough posts to cover that answer completely…

He lived on earth.

Teenagers are so fond of saying to their parents: “You have no idea what I’m going through!” They forget that their parents were, at one time, teenagers who indeed experienced all the frustrating fluctuations of teenagerness. Parents can sympathize to some extent because they were young once too!

Jesus lived as a man. His parents had very little. He had to go through puberty. He had to suffer want. He was rejected, ridiculed, and tempted. He knows what we are going through.

He lived here on His own created earth. I am so glad that I have a God and friend who understand what it’s like to be Human. And he still loves us…

He died a cruel death for us.

I really had no concept of how truly terrible crucifixion was until my dad preached a detailed sermon on the subject. My dad is a registered nurse and a veteran. He understands anatomy and physiology pretty well. I remember cringing at the description of how each breath was torturous, particularly to those nailed spots. The Bible doesn’t really go into depth because when it was written, most people had witnessed a crucifixion—they didn’t need vivid details.

So, why am I thankful for His death?

His death gives me life.He didn’t have to die. He could have snapped His fingers and a whole army of angels would have come down and taken care of business. His death had purpose. He died because only His blood could cover our evils. He died so I could be at peace with God.

He rose from the dead.

Yes, I believe.

He conquered Satan and death.

Jesus’ resurrection is one of the hardest things for people to accept. Most people believe He lived on earth and died, but only the Christian believes in His resurrection. If Jesus had not conquered death, we would have no hope.

But he did conquer death. And we do have hope.

I walk in His light.

This world has many wonders and beauties, but it is a very dark place. Evil abounds, sickness pervades, death comes to all. Jesus gives us life and light. While we struggle through this life in our decaying bodies, Jesus is renewing our souls each day. Without Him, I would be tossed around like a boat with no rudder or sails. With Him, life has purpose and meaning.

I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and I am thankful for Him. Every day I have abundant life—no matter the circumstances—because I have hope of better things to come. I am not stumbling about in darkness because Jesus lights the way—even if it’s only one inch at a time.

I am so thankful for Jesus. He brings us light and life.


 

This post concludes the series “30 days of Giving Thanks.”

I want to thank all of you who have read through these posts. I hope you have been as edified through the reading as I have been through the writing. Take time to give thanks to the Lord everyday for His abundant blessings—Jesus being the greatest blessing of all.

I will not be posting every day in December, but I will be resuming The effective prayer posts and coffee chats and completing a series I began in September.

What was your favorite “Thankful” post?

 

 

Day 29: The Bible

This post is part of “30 days of Giving Thanks” To read more within this series, click here.

bible

We are nearing the end of this series! As I indicated in my post about light, these last few posts are focusing on the greatest lights of all. I’ve talked about love and hope. Today, we are going to talk about the Bible.

There’s a new trend among Christians to say that the New Testament is not the inspired Word of God, but consider: the Apostles were handpicked by Christ, witnessed His death, burial and resurrection and possessed the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit led them as the toiled to bring people the gospel. God has always preserved His message for generations yet unborn. The Bible is His preserved message for us, and I am thankful that I have ready access to it. There are more manuscripts of the New Testament than any other ancient historical document. God protected His message and I trust that He would not leave us in the lurch.

The light of truth

The Bible—all 66 books—brings us the light of God’s truth. Sometimes I wish that God’s expectations were laid out for us in a neat little list, but then we would seek to justify ourselves instead of depending on God’s grace. It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings to search it out. God wants us to dig through His Word and learn step by step, day by day, what He wants for us. It’s a life-long endeavor, but those who seek, find.

Truth is not relative. There is one truth: God’s.

Knowledge of God

Why do we study the Word? Our primary purpose should be to know the Lord. Every book teaches us about Him—His faithfulness, His steadfast love, His justice and His mercy. We see His hand working with the proud and the lowly. Nobody can thwart His plans. We learn that we can truly trust the Lord in all circumstances.

Life-saving instruction

In the Bible we see God has had a plan for us from the beginning of time. We see how salvation is to be received. We learn how to obey God the way He wants us to obey. We just need to have open eyes and a heart set on seeking His will and not our own.

I am thankful that God has preserved His Word for me and for the rest of the world. I am thankful for this beacon of truth that hasn’t been destroyed.

 

Day 28: Hope

This post is part of “30 days of Giving Thanks” To read more within this series, click here.

image
From The Return of the King, New Line Cinema.

An innumerable horde of creatures besieged the city of Minas Tirith. Dark clouds fill the sky. Ominous pounding reverberates through the courtyard as the orcs and Uruk-hai attempt to penetrate the large doors. The situation is desperate. The men quake with fear but stand ready to fight. The stench of death surrounds them. Despair is palpable.

Pippin, the hobbit, turns to Gandalf the wizard and says, “I didn’t think it would end this way.”

Gandalf looks kindly at the hobbit and remarks, “End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.”

Pippin’s face reflects his confusion. “What? Gandalf? See what?”

“White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

“Well that isn’t so bad,” Pippin says.

Gandalf smiles. “No. No it isn’t.”

In that dark and desperate moment, Gandalf gave Pippin a glimmer of hope—an expectation of better things.

In another scene, the Rohirrim (the cavalry) appear on the hillside. As the horses begin to move forward into the fray, rays of sunshine break through the gloom as though hope for victory has finally come.

That particular series of books and movies overflows with scenes contrasting light vs darkness, and despair vs hope. On some level, we can all relate to these moments. How often have you been at the brink of utter ruin, only to be saved from destruction? Has life ever seemed purposeless? meaningless?

For the Christian, we remember that life for us was aimless before Christ. Without Him, we faced death (and life) without hope. In our cushy country, most of us have never faced starvation or persecution—at least not since the end of World War II. There is this sense that all will be well. There is confidence that the government will protect and provide. Either that or we’ll pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. That’s misplaced confidence.

What would happen if all those “supports” were suddenly destroyed? In what or in whom would people place their hope?

We have an unshakeable hope. A confident expectation for better things. And it isn’t here in this decaying world!

What is the Christian’s hope?

A hope that defies circumstance.

One of the things that perplexed the Romans during the rise of Christianity was the peace with which the Christians faced death. No matter how much they persecuted, threatened, tortured and imprisoned them, the Christians would not renounce their faith nor beg for mercy. They had confidence that God would deliver their soul if not their body.

The Romans hoped that persistent persecution would destroy the church, but it didn’t. It flourished! The people saw hope reflected in the lives of those Christians and they were hungry to have that same confidence.

Hope that anchors our soul.

When a ship lowers its anchor, it’s very hard for that ship to go wandering off with the tide. It may move around a little in its place, but the anchor keeps it from being carried off by the wind and waves.

Our hope is like that anchor. When circumstance and the deceitfulness of the world push us about, our hope holds us in place so we do not wander away from God.

The Hebrew writer refers to hope as an anchor in the following passage:

“So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

‭‭~ Hebrews‬ ‭6:17-20‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Hope in God’s Faithfulness and steadfast love.

Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

Lamentations‬ ‭3:19-24‬ ‭ESV

The above passage is one of my favorites. It eloquently expresses why we can trust in the Lord: he is faithful, his love is steadfast, his mercy never ends. Do you know anybody like that on earth? Have your friends ever let you down? What about family? The church?

Humans will always fall short. We aren’t perfect. Our minds get overwhelmed, our bodies ache and break, our emotions take over. God isn’t frail like us. He is sure, strong and steady. He will never leave us or forsake us.

Placing your confidence in God is a secure choice. We can trust Him. We can have hope because of his trustworthiness.

Hope for eternal peace.

This world is essentially a foreign country for us. It’s a place where we are forged. God wants to know if we really love Him. He wants us all to be with Him in heaven, but many don’t want anything to do with him. They want their way. They want to satisfy themselves.

I was “they” until I decided to put my hope in something better. It’s easy to fall into the rhythm of the world and make a home here—especially when circumstances are wonderful. But with each new day I have to remind myself that this too shall pass—the good and the bad. Every day. 

My hope is in a place where my spouse and my children won’t be threatened by thugs. My hope is in a place where those who’ve gone before me are waiting. My hope is in a place where I will finally be face to face with my creator, surrounded by his perfect glory. I’ll get to see Jesus, the one who saved me from eternal death.

I have hope. And I am so thankful to God for giving me a confident expectation for better things.

Do you have this hope?

 

30 Days of Giving Thanks Weekly Roundup (week 4)


weekly roundup

Good morning, my friends!

Week 4?! Already! I can’t believe it’s almost over!

Well, ok, I guess I can. We put up the Christmas tree yesterday, so we are swiftly rushing into the getting giving season. (You may see a few posts on giving in the coming weeks). A heart that is full of thankfulness will share willingly with others, so this run of thankful posts is a good prep for the coming Christmas season!

This will be the last roundup of Thankful posts. It’s been fun and I’ve discovered a some delightful new blogs along the way.

As I said last week, It’s hard to be cranky when your heart is bursting with gratitude! It’s also hard to be stingy, when you know you have much to give.

Here is a recap of my posts this week:

Below are a list of thankful posts from around the web for the week. If you have done a post on thankfulness that I’ve missed, please leave a link to it in the comments below, and as I have time today I will update this post with your link.

God be with you my friends!

This week:

Salvageable: Thanksgiving thoughts

Light & Life: Little Things

The Mindful Chatterbox: 365 Days of Gratefulness Day 2

Traditional Cooking School: A Spirit of Thankfulness

Michael Hyatt: The Gratitude Advantage: Four Ways Giving Thanks Improves Your Life

Mom’s Going to Madagascar: Day 22: Laughter

Prayers and Piazzas: Gratitude: It’s not just for Thanksgiving (or grown-ups)

Spotlight: 7 Ways You Can Thank God

Day 27: Love

This post is part of “30 days of Giving Thanks” To read more within this series, click here.

hands heartsAs I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my remaining posts will focus on some of the greatest lights of all. These lights illuminate our world in ways that make it possible to thrive.

In the English language, there is a four-letter word bandied about so casually it has lost its value. I’m not talking about a profane four-letter word; I’m referring to the word “love.”

The Ancient Greeks got it right. They had four different words for love (though I recently read that there are actually six!) The most commonly translated Greek words for love are eros, storge, philia, and agape.

If you are unfamiliar with these terms, I will summarize them briefly in this post. If you want a bit more detail, you can read a brief summary on Wikipedia. C.S. Lewis also wrote a book called The Four Loves, but I have not read it. (It’s on my book list).

Greek Words for love:

eros: “love, mostly of the sexual passion”

storge: “love, affection… especially of parents and children”

philia: “love, affectionate regard, friendship, usually between equals”

agape: “brotherly love, charity; the love of God for man and of man for God.”

All these loves have their place, do they not? I love (philia) my friends, but not in the same way I love (storge) my children.

Have you ever asked yourself, “Where would I be without love?”

Love in all it’s forms can be taken for granted. Let’s take a moment to consider the different forms of love in our lives.

Parent-child love

God established the family for many purposes. Familial relationships teach us how to love (at least they should!). I remember thinking it odd that there was a passage in Titus that commanded older women to “encourage younger women to love their husbands, to love their children…” On the face of it, there were a lot of arranged marriages in that time and a woman would have to “learn” love for her husband (and he his wife). But loving their children? Shouldn’t that be instinctive?

If you are a parent, you may be chuckling a bit, because that may not be a surprise.

There are two things to consider. First, women have been aborting, neglecting and abandoning their children for centuries. It’s a bit inconceivable to the majority, but many people love themselves more than their children. Their children are burdensome, inconvenient. Second, parents don’t always use the best judgement in training children. Discipline and training is (or, at least it should be) an act of love. It isn’t fun or pleasurable to punish a child, but it is for their own good. The exhortation in Titus is teach the younger women how to show love. Mothers and Fathers must learn to love their children in the right way. As we raise our children, we gain insight into how God loves us. We, as parents, ought to be shaped by the experience to become more selfless.

In turn, children learn to love their parents. At first it may be a selfish love, but hopefully, over time it grows into an abiding affection. I have seen many people who were once children turn around and care for their aging parents with great love and sacrifice.

I am thankful for this kind of love. Where would I be without the love of my parents or my children? What an ugly place the world would be without familial love!

Friends, siblings

As we grow older, we learn to make friends. Being a friend takes work, but how lonely would we be without our friends? The Bible says a lot about friendship, particularly in the book of Proverbs.

“a friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity.”

The world seems to think that friends stick by each other even when they are in the wrong, but friends don’t let friends do life-threatening or soul-threatening things. I do not like telling a friend they are in the wrong. When I have done it in the past, I’ve lost sleep, gotten stomachaches and even cried.  But a good friend looks out for the best interest of their friend. That is genuine friendship love.

Marriage

The marriage law is one of the oldest laws in existence. God intended marriage to be between one man and one woman for life. Unfortunately, people aren’t content to have things God’s way. There is almost a longing to twist what God wants because it is inconvenient or challenging. Marriage is another relationship that shapes us. Marriage is supposed to be a covenant of committed love. It tests each partner to hold fast through good times and bad. It requires self-sacrifice. It teaches us how to love sacrificially. There is a reason that Paul uses marriage as a comparison between Christ and His church. Jesus laid down his life for the Church and in so doing he demonstrated His great love for us.

My life would be completely different had I not met my other half eleven years ago. It’s been a blessing to enjoy our lives together and raise children together. My spouse has taught me so much and I give thanks everyday for our marriage.

Where would we be without the love that comes through marriage?

God’s Love

The Bible says everything far better than I can, so let’s start with these two passages:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man;
though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 

~ Romans 5.6-8, NASB

and

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

~ 1 John 4.8-11, ESV

Let me ask you, parents: If your best friend was dying of an incurable disease and only the blood of your child would save them, would you give up your child? I can guess the answer would be no. You may love your friend, but you don’t want to sacrifice your child… especially if they are your only child.

What if your enemy was dying? Would you give up your life or the life of your child? Again, I’m confident that the answer would be another resounding no.

The problem is, we all choose at some point in our life that we don’t want to walk with God. The only way we can come to Him is through sacrifice. This is a difficult concept for us to understand today because animal sacrifice/blood sacrifice is so archaic. Yet, when there is a war and there is some wrong that needs righting, how is it solved? Oh sure, on occasion countries can talk things out, but history has shown us that it typically leads to war. Someone (usually thousands of someones) make a sacrifice to protect the innocent and the weak. They shed their blood and put their lives on the line. Redemption from evil never comes without a price. It’s a constant pattern.

So, how much does God love us?

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.

~ John 15.12-14, NASB

Where would we be without the love of Christ?

What does He ask in return? He asks us to love Him and to love each other. It all seems to come back to love.

Are you thankful for love? The love of family, the love of friends, the love of a spouse… the love of God and His Son Jesus Christ? What greater gift can we receive than to be loved? What greater gift can we give than to love in turn?

Love is one of the greatest lights in a world that is ripped asunder by hate.

I am thankful for agape, storge and philia.

I am thankful for love.

Day 26: Lights

This post is part of “30 days of Giving Thanks” To read more within this series, click here.

light

We have a fun family tradition that the kids look forward to every year—decorating for Christmas.  The day after Thanksgiving, we pack away the pumpkins and leaves and pull out the reds, silvers, greens and golds of Christmas.

I try to get everyone just as jazzed about decorating for fall, but it just isn’t the same. Fall decorations lack the warm glimmer of lights. There aren’t presents for fall either (unless, of course, it’s your birthday).

There’s just something about Christmas.

Right now, I’m gazing at our tree that is somewhat bottom-heavy with ornaments. It was fun listening to the kids chatter about memories associated with their ornaments as they placed them randomly about the tree. It’s not a Pinterest-perfect tree, but I’m glad it isn’t. It’s our tree, full of our memories. I love the warm glow of the lights and the way they soften the living room.

Outside the house, the facia is lined with a simple string of multi-colored lights inside large bulbs. Simple. Warm. Inviting.

I am thankful for lights.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

~ Genesis 1.3-5, ESV

There is the God-created light of the Sun and the beautiful hues it creates in the early dawn and early twilight. I love those times of the day all year round. The starlight gives a soft glow even on the darkest of nights and has guided many a sailor to safety.

There are man-made candle lights and oil lamps. What would we have done throughout history without the ability to light our way at night? I suppose we would have slept more… and accomplished less!

Then, there are the Edison-created lights. I am thankful that I don’t have to attempt writing by candlelight. Isn’t it wonderful that we can just flip a switch and have light? Talk about a blessing we take for granted!

As the season is lit up around us, be sure to thank the Lord for giving us light. In my final two thankfulness posts, I’ll be touching on the greatest lights of all. Stay tuned!