Posted in Faith, Living

His Benefits Abound: Know Why You Are Thankful This Thanksgiving

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In October, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln declared:

“I do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may then be, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe.”

The War Between the States had raged for almost five years and would not be resolved for another six grueling months. In governing a land torn in two, Lincoln had not hesitated to lean on the analogies of Christ’s house divided and built on sand. Yet, where others might be inclined to curse or deny the existence of God, Lincoln embraced His goodness and benevolence:

“I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the Great Disposer of Events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased Him to assign as a dwelling place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.”

As we prepare to partake of turkey and dressing and pumpkin pie, may we not displace the ultimate emphasis of our thanksgiving, that is the thanks we owe our Almighty God. In Psalm 103, David exclaims, “Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name. Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (1-2).

Too often at this time of year, we tend to concentrate on the abundance of things in our lives, such as the food piled high on our tables, the family gathered to laugh together, and hopefully even our good health. But the benefits of our beneficent Creator are so much more than these ephemeral things.

From God flow the gifts of forgiveness, patience, courage, and love. Only from God do we receive the ultimate gift of sacrifice that cleanses us of the trespasses that separate us from Him, so that we might enjoy a life eternal in His presence. Having tried and failed to hold a nation together with his own bare hands, Lincoln understood all too well that only God could piece together what man in his greed and pride had torn asunder.

Thanksgiving may certainly be offered through our actions, but since we most often associate thanksgiving with our proclamations, there is another consideration for this time of year and that is the importance of all the things we say all year through.

Proverbs tell us, “The lips of fools bring them strife, and their mouths invite a beating” (18:6).  Christ warns, “that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36). Gossip, complaining, ridicule, hatred, lies, all such rumblings deny the grace of God in us and keep our message of the love of Christ in shadow.

On the other hand, words that are true, kind, patient, loving, these are the things that shine the light of God’s grace to others. Thankfulness is very high on the list of words our Heavenly Father wants to hear from us.

Scientists tell us that gratitude:

  • Increases our connections with other people
  • Improves our physical and mental health
  • Helps us sleep better
  • Improves our self-esteem
  • Makes us empathetic
  • Decreases aggression
  • Reduces our negative responses to trauma, helping us recover from tragedy

In Jesus Calling, Sarah Powers explains,

“The best way to befriend your problems is to thank [Jesus] for them. This simple act opens your mind to the possibility of benefits flowing from your difficulties. . . . The next step is to introduce them to [Jesus], enabling [Him] to embrace them in [His] loving Presence. [Jesus] may not necessarily remove your problems, but [His] wisdom is sufficient to bring good out of every one of them” (March 5 devotion excerpt).

We live in a world where our daily attempts to be perfectly good fall beneath our stumbling feet like so many well-intentioned things. But we needn’t despair because our righteousness is dependent on God’s benefits to us through grace rather than on our goodness. By concentrating each moment on how thankful we should be that our Holy God loves us so much, surely we will avoid the pitfalls of an otherwise wayward tongue.

So, this Thanksgiving, embrace a humble heart that kneels before an awesome God with gratitude that overflows. And carry that gratitude into every day so that His light may shine through you to a wounded world:

“Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:3-4).

References:
http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=69998
http://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/11/23/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-gratitude-that-will-motivate-you-to-give-thanks-year-round/#537a1dc76800

 

 

Posted in Christian Living

The Power of Gratitude

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As flood waters rose around Houston earlier this week, neighbors came together to help neighbors because that’s what Texans do.

In one such scene, a man holding his infant road out from his flooded house on a fisherman’s johnboat. As he stepped out of the boat into safety, he reached into his pocket to offer his rescuer the cash he had in it. Even though this man was facing devastating loss, he was so grateful to be saved that he offered all that he had in thankfulness.

God longs to hear that kind of gratitude from us, we children born in sin yet saved by the sacrifice of his one and only Son:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

A humble heart understands what it owes to the forgiver of all sins, to the One who asked of Job, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? . . . Who marked off its dimensions? . . . Who laid its cornerstone–while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Job 38: 4-7).

In a world where even the stones will cry out if we will not praise our God, surely His praises should be ever on our lips.

 Yet, how often do we fall short of the kind of gratitude God deserves? Each day, we wake up with every intention to be good, and each day we inevitably fall short of our goal. No matter how hard we try, we can never earn our way into heaven. Yet, even though we don’t deserve to be there, God willingly gave of Himself so that we would have a free pass into His heavenly realm.
It seems like the very least we could do would be to remember to say a sincere thank You every once in a while. The New Testament writers will us to do even more than this:

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)

When we praise God, we not only please Him, but we also give ourselves a helping of the peace He promises when we agree to join Him in His “easy yoke and light burden” (Matt. 11:30).

In her great devotional, Jesus Calling, Sarah Young encourages us to thank God in all things in order to draw ourselves closer to Him. For example, she writes, we should be thanking Him in advance for His answers to our prayers.

Perhaps you do this all the time already. Perhaps, like me, you have been so intent on the need in your praying, you have forgotten about God’s promise to answer all prayers. His answer may be no, but He always gives you one. When I followed Young’s advice and added thankfulness to my requests, I was quick to discover the calming ability of a little bit of gratitude.

What happens when we don’t give God thanks? Paul tells us this lack of attention leads only to despair:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21)

Practice thankfulness on the easy days, and you'll be ready to be thankful even on your darkest days.
Practice thankfulness on the easy days, and you’ll be ready to be thankful even on your darkest days.

On a sunny day, laying in the shade of your favorite tree and sipping lemonade as you listen to the birds chatter over your head–that’s the time to start working your gratitude muscles. Discover new and loving ways to say thank you to the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

It’s those sunny-day thanks that will give you the reflexes to find gratitude as you wallow in life’s shadows. He is sometimes harder to find in the valleys, until you topple into His open arms and realize just how much you actually depend on Him. When you finish being angry at Him for the mess you’re in, you remember the joy of times spent in His presence when being thankful was easy.

You realize just how many reasons you have to be thankful for Him in the midst of your greatest trials.

Like the psalmists who found words of praise for the Lord on a daily basis, you too should vow to:

. . . give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness./ I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High. (Psalm 7:17)

Make gratitude a major component in your relationship with God and others, and you’ll soon discover how powerful the words thank you can be.

Posted in Christian Living

This House Divided

House divided

Rather than take away tomorrow’s trouble, worry voids today’s strength.  –Max Lucado, from Come Thirsty

Everyone talks about worry being a waste of time, but my morning reading pointed out to me a much more compelling reason to avoid this wasteful habit.  Worry actually divides my mind, keeping me from putting everything I have into today.

When Christ spoke about a house divided, He meant a couple of different things.  One time, He uses this metaphor to argue against the accusation that He is from the devil since He could cast out demons.  Why would Satan, Jesus reasons, do something to hurt himself?  Another time, Christ uses this metaphor to explain why it is so important to put our whole selves into the pursuit of our love of God instead of being distracted by the things of this world that tarnish and will do us no good in heaven.

When worry takes my mind away from the things of today, it also takes me away from my closeness to Christ.  I want to be engulfed in that closeness, not separated from it, for as Paul explains:

Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God.  And God’s peace, which is so great we cannot understand it, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:6-7)

Paul’s words give us the steps for living what contemporary thinkers term “with mindfulness:”

  1. Pray about everything– I need to concentrate on what is happening to me and around me in every moment.  When we pray about something, we naturally focus our minds to what is most important.  By voicing what concerns us to God, we might even realize how ridiculous some of our concerns actually are.
  2. Be thankful– Gratitude makes us be more truthful with ourselves.  Often, my inner voice tells me things that are downright lies, but it can be hard to call myself on these unless I bring my mind to what is actually true.  When I take the time to name the many things I have to be thankful for, I inevitably unearth some of the lies I have been letting my worries tell me.
  3. Never stop– Paul says not to pray at certain times of the day or week, but about everything. It is possible to have hearts and minds that are in Christ as long as we actively engage our ability to foster our relationship with our Father.  We cannot be thankful and worry at the same time.  If we bring our concerns to God in prayer, we will find that what was a worry is overshadowed by the peace that is found in the presence of Christ.

How often because of worry have I raced through a day without giving full attention to really living it?  By being a house divided, I have lost many opportunities to fully participate in the gift of life God mercifully grants to each of us.

The next time I catch myself being engrossed more by my worry than by the beauty of the day, I think I will imagine the scene from II Kings, where Elisha and his servant face a horde of enemies, assured of victory because of the “invisible” army of fiery chariots prepared to defend them:

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. 

“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (II Kings 6: 15-17)

Just as God protected Elisha, we are assured that He also has our best interests at heart.  He will be there for us during good times and bad.  He did not design us to worry, but to follow the two commands that Jesus said summed up everything:

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)

If I am truly working to follow both these important instructions, what time do I have to worry?  Indeed, if I truly love God with everything I have and then extend that love to others, when will I ever have time to worry?

A mindful life is truly a house undivided, unified in its goal to love God, obey His commands, and be thankful.  May your prayers leave you with a mind unified in the love of Christ.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Verses I’m Thankful I’ve Read

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In Second Chronicles, Chapter 34, we are reminded in a not so subtle way how grateful we should be to have the Word of God so readily available to us. It is 622 B.C. During repairs to the temple, the priest Hilkiah finds the Book of the Law. Scholars apparently debate whether this book, likely Deuteronomy, had actually been lost or was created at this time. But one thing that cannot be debated is the king’s reaction to the discovery.

“Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the remnant in Israel and Judah,” he orders after tearing his robes in dismay, “about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the LORD’s anger that is poured out on us because our fathers have not kept the word of the LORD; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written in this book” (2 Chron 34:21).

After hearing from the prophetess Huldah, the king calls together all the people, “from the least to the greatest,” to read out loud the words of the lost book and renew the covenant his people should have with God. He removes the idols from the places of worship, and the chapter concludes by telling us that as long as he lived “they did not fail to follow the LORD, the God of their fathers” (2 Chron 34:33).

Isn’t it unimaginable that a people who had witnessed the power of God first hand, who had been fed by Him in the desert and led by Him as a pillar of fire, who had seen the Red Sea parted and the Egyptian first-born slaughtered about them, would ever come to a time where they had so loosed their attachment to that God they actually forgot some of His written edicts? They had lost His word so completely, that they were worshipping idols against His express instructions.

Yet, how often do we, who have an abundance of access to the Word of God, tend to lose it in our own way? How many of us can point to the exact portions of the Bible that back up why we believe what we believe? Do you know, for example, that many people’s concept of hell is more influenced by Dante, their picture of the Garden of Eden and the Fall drawn more by Milton than by the word of God? The influence is so woven into the fabric of our culture, that most of us don’t even realize it.

But those who study the Word and know it will be least likely to fall into the trap of believing something that is false or losing the Bible altogether.

I have a sort of unwritten promise to myself that I will one day compose an organized list of the verses in the Bible that I am glad I have read. These are words that let me know the meanings of grace and faith, define for me the qualities of a Christian, remind me that even a person with a heart like God’s can be fallible. They are the core defenses against those who would argue hatred in the name of God instead of the love He makes apparent. They are the keys to true belief that will keep me from straying as the “fathers who did not keep the word of the LORD.”

To have verses to be thankful for, we must first have read the verses of the Bible, and not just the verses we find pleasing or in accordance with our own preconceptions. To pick and choose without looking at the whole is a dangerous game indeed. More than one despot has validated himself by the word of God cut up in such a fashion.

I am thankful this Thanksgiving weekend to have the word of God to study on a daily basis and in a variety of contexts. I am prayerful that I will not lose those words, nor lead others to forget. What verses are you glad you have read? What verses will you add to your list tomorrow?

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Delightfully Sweet

20120720-170411.jpg When really bad things happen to other people, once you finish doing what you can do to help those people (which, most of the time is time spent on your knees in prayer for them), it’s then that you can take a moment to appreciate the good things that God gave you that day.

In his book, “Where is God When It Hurts,” Philip Yancey explains that one of the good things about pain is that, without it, we wouldn’t have a concept of what it really means to be healthy. This certainly applies on the physical level, but it also applies to our emotional state. Without loss, we wouldn’t understand gain. For those who have survived life-threatening illness, for example, every day when you don’t feel sick or that illness stays in remission is a good day.

Too often, we get so caught up in the day-to-day challenges of work, housework, cooking, errands, that we forget to appreciate the “normality” of that day. What a blessing dirty dishes can be! What an even bigger blessing the sight of butterflies and birds outside my window.

Bad things are going to happen in an evil world, even to those who believe in the One who gave His all for us. Believing that God “works to the good all things for those who believe in Him,” is sometimes hard to do when really bad things happen. But, isn’t that what faith is all about?