Giving Thanks When There Isn’t Much To Be Thankful For

I, like most, focus my attention on thanksgiving around this time of the year. With the falling of leaves, the pumpkin decor, and the baking of pies, my heart is most tender towards gratitude. I enjoy reading what others are thankful for as well. Our general focus is on family, friends, jobs, health, happy moments, and so on. We call these things our “blessings”, because well, they are good things.

I, like most, feel nostalgic around this time of year. With Christmas around the corner, memories of childhood and family are easy to access. Shopping lists for our current loved ones provoke emotion that is unique to this season. The scent of a Christmas tree or the sound of a carol can flood one’s face with tears in an instant. Nothing like the holidays to buoy up sensibility.

I, like most who have lived enough years, know the pain of loss. Many of my “blessings” have been peeled away. I think of dear friends who are suffering unimaginably in bereavement and grief. So what do we do when our dreams and hopes are stripped naked? People die. Health fails. Happiness dissipates giving way to depression. Families fall apart. What if we don’t have fond memories to look back on? How do we cope with a bleak future and the powerlessness to change it? What can one be thankful for when sadness wins?

Here is my gratitude list. It is quite short, but it packs a punch! It is not based on any good thing on earth. It includes true blessings that are accessible to anyone upon request. These gifts come from God and do not discriminate. They are not based on family history, personal achievements, or present circumstances. They are the truths that will never pass, change, or fade. So here it goes:

  • Forgiveness. Yes, it is marvelous when our loved ones forgive us for our wrongdoings, but there is no greater power in one’s life than the forgiveness that comes from God himself. Regardless of how others feel or respond, we have access to perfect pardon when we ask. God is merciful and never turns away a contrite heart.
  • Presence. Loneliness sucks. God knows that. So He can live in us when we ask him. This sounds a little fantastical and infantile, but ask anyone who has experienced the presence of God, and they will tell you it is real and powerful. The company of the Spirit is not an equal substitution for human relationships. Loneliness will still suck, but God provides comfort, strength, even joy, in the midst of heartache.
  • Perspective. When life gives us lemons we need sugar. Because, who wants sour lemonade? The story of Job (pronounced ‘Jobe’) is one of pain and misery. And God was totally in it. It is a story of perspective. We can have insight and a unique viewpoint if we can see our lives the way God sees them, not the way they look and feel to us in the moment. Finding perspective is not necessarily easy, but it is available. Sometimes all it takes is a quiet moment with God. Other times it takes diligent study of God’s thoughts and writings found in the Bible. Oftentimes the Spirit communicates through people around us, a counselor, a friend. The point is that when in pain, we often lose our outlook or our footing, and God is willing to share his point of view when we ask Him. When we have nothing else to be thankful for, perspective can be the tipping point from despair to hope. Yay for sweet lemonade!

So from my heart to yours, I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving full of real blessings and gratitude for the things we can all have at all times in all places.

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The Unseen Hope Nestled Within Failure

“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Prov 28:13

I have been facing the reality of failure. It is a hard lump to swallow, especially when there is no going back to fix things. Throughout my life, I have been a runner, an emotional runner. I’ve liked to pretend that I could run away from my problems and they could disappear from reality if I didn’t dwell on them. But life does not work like that, does it? Mistakes don’t go away. And running away is just an illusion. Wrong-doing, intentional or not, demands payment and comes back to bite, often times with a vengeance.

So then, what hope is there for a sinner like me? How am I to persevere in life without sinking into despair? If I cannot undo what I have done, and if concealment of consequences is impossible, then what do I have left? Regret. Guilt. Self-deprecation.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Co 12:9-10

My weakness is tangible, my failure so real. Yet, I have this amazing and beautiful promise of a miraculous and beneficial blessing! I can receive mercy! Even more, I can be assured that at my lowest, Christ is exalted and his grace becomes all I need. His power is available to me and I am not abandoned to darkness.

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces  hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

Even if my suffering is self-inflicted, I am confident that the love of God is sufficiently ample to cover both my sin and my guilt. Therefore, I am able to rejoice in this suffering, because it leads me to great hope!

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

All things work together for good! All things work together for good! What that good is, I cannot say. But I can trust and confidently await the revealing of life’s puzzle, as God puts it together, piece by piece. This hope is worthy of rejoicing! He will do this, not me. He will complete his work in my life, not me. He will shine and glorify himself in my weakness, not me. In his sovereignty, He will cause all things to come together for good, not me. Praise his holy name!

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

I Am Joining the Lamentations 3 Challenge. Will You?

Once and again I read an article that hits me right between the eyes; You know, the deeply convicting kind. The article that I’m about to share is one of them. And by convicting, I don’t mean that I see what I’m doing wrong and feel guilty about it. I mean that I realize what I’m missing, and want it. My soul yearns for it and calls me to take action. The Spirit moves me to thirst for it, like a deer panting for water.

So, dear reader, here is the challenge I propose:

  1. Read “Six Wrong Reasons to Check Your Phone in the Morning” from Desiring God, by clicking here. Read the article in its entirety. Don’t cheat. Just do it, and then come back to this blog and read the remaining points.
  2. If you long to experience the steadfast love of God and taste his new mercies every morning, then make a commitment, along with myself, to make time for reading Scripture and prayer before checking your phone for notifications, emails, news, or any social media. This may mean that you keep your Bible on your night table, in the bathroom, or breakfast table. In my case, I often tend to read Scripture from my tablet or phone. But since I don’t want to see any notifications before I actually read my Bible, I will only use the actual book (you know, the one with pages made of paper).
  3. They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. Well, how about we triple that to make sure it really, really, really sticks! How about a 2-month challenge! I’m starting it tomorrow morning, and so can you. Whenever you read this blog, you too can begin.
  4. If you “like” or “comment” in response to this blog, I will add your name to my prayer list. I will pray that God helps you start and keep this commitment, and that He will establish this pattern as a life style for both you and me. I will appreciate your prayers on my behalf as well. If you share this on social media, use the hashtag #Lamentations3challenge, so we can keep track of each other.
  5. Relax and rest in the Lord. This is not an all or nothing pledge. God is full of grace and understanding for when we are unable to keep our commitment. He is sovereign over emergencies, change of schedules, young children who demand attention, sickness, and even our forgetfulness or mismanagement of time! If you don’t keep your end of the deal, pray and start all over again. Even if we are not faithful, He always is.

“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. The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:22-26)

Lamentations 3

Things Above

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth

Colossians 3:2

I am committing Colossians 3 to memory. God has parked me in this passage and has used it to challenge me, teach me, confront me, and encourage me. The truths in this chapter are currently performing an amazing work of transformation in my life. What a gift from God!!

Regarding vs. 2 and it’s life-altering truth, I pray God reminds me of it in my daily life. All the time. I want my mind to be completely and solidly set on things that are much bigger, stronger, and lasting than the temporary ones in my walk on earth.

So when I wake up in the morning, I must set my mind on God’s thoughts, through meditation on his word.

When I do chores, drive my kids from place to place, pay my bills, or wash my hair, I must remember Him in all I do. His purpose for me, in the moment, includes doing all those things, and He can, and will, teach me and show me truth, even in the mundane.

When I interact with my family and friends, I must look beyond my needs and desires and practice loving God by loving others. I must put to death selfishness, as I set my mind on things above: all things lovely and good, pure and holy.

When I work at my job, I must set my mind on giving glory to God in all I do, knowing my calling is higher than the earthly activity I am involved in. As I remember this, I will use opportunities wisely, remain joyful, pray constantly, and reflect his kindness to others.

When I feel discouraged or afraid, I must remember that God has all things under his control and that he never ceases to actively work in my life and those whom he loves.

When I am tempted to be lazy or self-indulge, I must remember God’s calling and commands. May God help me fear him and obey him, be quick to repent, and receive his forgiveness.

When I am senselessly busy, may I stop and rest, and enjoy the gifts God has given me.

Lord, help me to always set my mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

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God is Not Fair

God is not fair!

Is it not eternally penned? Stories of God commanding the killing of people, the annihilation of nations, the harsh and violent punishment for sin and evildoing? God is not fair to require the slaughtering of animals, the constant shedding of blood – bulls, goats, doves – Whatever did they do to deserve it? This God of the Old Testament, this God of the Jews: Not fair.

And how about here and now? All we need to do is look around or read the news. Some are rich and others poor. Some die old and some get killed. Some are free yet some are prey. Where is the fairness? “The poor will always be with us,” said Jesus. We live in this world that is saturated with tears and pain, conflicts and wars. And here we are: Stuck! We are all powerless to change the evil of this world. God, however, is mighty; yet he doesn’t change it either! For reasons that He only, fully understands, he chooses to permit suffering to continue. Unfair.

And then, there is me. Hard as I try to be happy, careless, and free, I am inevitably disappointed. I don’t want to cry from pain, but people I love, die; those I want, don’t want me back; and things I crave, I fail to attain. Unfair! It is all unfair!

God is unfair. But he is just. Justice is part of his name, his nature, his core. His justice never fails to punish the guilty. And so here we see the most unfair work of God. Out of all the unfairness in the entire history of our world, one act stands out as the most outrageous and outlandish. God planned this day with the utmost of care – every detail pre-arranged – From the beginning of time, whenever that was, however that worked, he willingly and purposefully lined up the events in human history to culminate in this heinous act of utter unfairness. He warned us. Isn’t it eternally penned for all to see? Abraham spoke of it, as did Moses, David, Isaiah, Daniel, and many other prophets with countless amounts of words, both spoken and written for the world to know.

God’s anger burned, for sin and evil were great. So his wrath against malice and his unceasing need for justice were finally poured out. God the Father assigned God the Son, in the form of man, to be the recipient of his wrath. He knew mankind could not handle such punishment, such anger, such justice. So he poured it out on one man; his only son; his most loved and cherished being. But Jesus was innocent! He had done no wrong to deserve this! But willingly he came, as a lamb to the slaughter. And willingly he died the death of a criminal. And willingly he became a curse, taking the form of sin, the meaning and guilt of sin, all upon himself. In one selfless act, God himself satisfied his wrath once and for all. It was so great and so vast that alas, his anger was forever spent! The guilt of mankind on one man. Unfair! Unfair!!

And one more thing is unfair: I cannot purchase, bargain, or even work for my salvation or right standing with him. My envy from last week, my lust from yesterday, and my pride from this morning, have all been paid for, fully justified, but not by me. Are there enough “good” things I can do to compensate for the “bad” ones? If that were true, I would end up losing every time! If it’s not arrogance, it’s laziness. If it’s not selfishness, it’s self-pity, but either way, any day of the week, and every hour of the day, my mind thinks an impure thought and my will moves me to a wicked act. And yet, here I stand, forgiven and clean! Unfair! To be washed and pure because the innocent one took the punishment on my behalf, and the anger of God, meant for me, fell on another. Unfair, unfair, unfair!!

God is love, and his love isn’t fair. It is unmerited, from start to finish. It all makes sense now! His commands, his requirements, his need for justice, they all point to Jesus and our immense need of him! Suffering, pain, tears, and death are part of this world, but this is no longer all there is. Happiness is not our greatest need. Fellowship with God is. Through Jesus, he opened a door and made a way for us to experience this. To all who call upon his name, he gives the right to be called children of the Most High! He died and rose again and is now preparing a place for us, for the rest of time. Is it not eternally penned for the world to know? In the most unfair way, he has demonstrated his love forever. Praise him, praise him, praise him!

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

(Charles Wesley, 1738)

Is the Lord’s arm too short?

“The Lord answered Moses, ‘Is the Lord’s arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.'” (Numbers 11:23)

There are days when you feel encouraged by the reminder that God is on your side.

There are other days when you are jolted back into reality as you remember His goodness and mercy.

Then there are those days when you feel you won’t be able to take one more breath unless God gives you the strength.

I just had some of those days. The latter ones. The ones that cause you to feel like you will drown unless someone rescues you.

The ones that cause you to fall flat on your face because it’s the only thing you can do.

There are verses in the Bible that lift your spirit and give you direction.

There are verses that teach you truth and correct your thinking.

And there are times when certain verses become your life line.

“Is the Lord’s arm too short?” He tells me… Is He not powerful, not willing, not able, not near, not good, not faithful?

On days when I cannot take one more step or breathe one more breath, the Spirit reminds me that He is with me, no matter what I’m facing or what I’m fearing.

Can there possibly be any better God than one who cares deeply?

Can there possibly be any better God than one who is strong and in full control of all things?

He says “You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”

Can there possibly be any better God than one who fulfills all his promises, for his own name’s sake?

I pity them who go through the hardships of life and do not have this comfort. I wish everyone did.

I thank you, God, for your presence, your promises, and your power.

May you be glorified.