I’m not thankful

There it is. Not thankful. I’m not thankful that in the beginning when God created Earth that he let sin and depravity in. But I am thankful that God gave up his only Son Jesus to die on the cross and be the remedy for sin. John 3:16

I’m not thankful for the abuse and sadness in the world, but I’m thankful for all the kindness of many individuals who come together and passionately combat all that is abuse in support of the victims.IMG_4181

I’m not thankful that there is incredible poverty and days are dark for so many populations, but I am thankful that no one has to suffer spiritual poverty. John 8:12 Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

I’m not thankful that I was a stubborn and selfish kid who didn’t appreciate my parents, but I am thankful that my parents loved the Lord and through his grace they loved and cared for me anyway.

I’m not thankful that I married too young and raised my children while I was a child myself, but I’m thankful that despite all my failings as a parent, my children still think I’m pretty special and include me in their lives.

I’m not thankful for illnesses that take loved ones from us before we’re ready to let go. I wasn’t ready to let my oldest daughter go, but I’m thankful that Tammie had given her heart to Jesus and when she passed from this life God welcomed her into his kingdom where her suffering ended.  I’m thankful for that.

I’m not thankful for war that wounds everyone emotionally and physically devastates us with loss of lives. I’m not thankful that war kills innocent men and women. I am thankful that God is in control and covers all our wounds and fills our empty places until he comes back to Earth and annihilates war forever.

I’m not thankful for the many times I disappoint people and let them down, but I am thankful that in those times God sends angels to pick me up, dust me off, and give me another chance.

I’m not thankful that life is fraught with confusion and doubt, but I am thankful that Romans 8:6 says I have a choice:  The mind controlled by the sinful nature is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.

I’m not thankful that it took me so long to realize that what I put in my head, finds its way to my heart, and makes me the way I am for good or for bad. But I am thankful that in God’s divine providence he finally got through to me and gave me that insight before I was too old to act on it. Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

Today is just another day, but it is a day to live in the “Splendor of God’s holiness” Psalm 29:2, knowing that He is in control.  He forgives me when I am unthankful. He puts a new song in my heart so I can live my life with a thankful spirit and in joy. Let us start today on the path of ThanksLiving.

Every day, on a piece of paper and in my journal, I write something I am thankful for. Then I fold the paper and add it to my joy jar. I can always think of more than one thing to be thankful for every day. The best way to find joy in life is to look for the good in every day and live with an attitude of gratitude. Don’t save it for just the Thanksgiving season. Take time to be thankful every day. That is real ThanksLiving.

Ready? Let’s get out there!

 

How secure is your security blanket?

Yesterday we learned about Lucy. Don’t you love Linus? Let’s learn from him today.

We are a blanket family. I’m literally mesmerized by stores where walls breathe thick towels, floors are spongy with throw rugs, and blankets spill off shelves. Blankets, though, entice me most and even though my family laughs at me, they are all blanket people too. I have a ‘grandpa’s rag tag quilt’ every piece of it stitched together by a cherished friend, Sandy Joyce – homemade contentment.  Walk into my house, it doesn’t have to be winter; it doesn’t even have to be a cold spring, or cool fall. In any season we cocoon in plush, wraparound blankets – the ultimate comfort zone.  I think blankets are like comfort food for the soul.

I wonder if that’s why I love Linus. You know, the philosophical character in the Peanuts gang whose blue blanket seems to be part of his anatomy. Linus is rarely without that assurance of security clasped in his arms. He is faithfully devoted to it.  Snoopy’s frequent quest is to persuade Linus to give up his blanket, and sometimes he stretches the limit just to the line of possession, then Linus realizes his adoration and dependence on his blanket and pulls back before Snoopy can claim victory.

I can relate to Linus; not just because he is captivated by his blanket, but because of his passionate belief in his need for it.  It’s not the same, but Linus and his unshakable faith in his security blanket paints a picture of the unshakable faith I should have in the God who patiently reminds me in Jeremiah 32:17 “Oh, Sovereign Lord, you did indeed make heaven and earth by your mighty power and great strength. Nothing is too hard for you!” The issues I face, the questions I have, God has already decided the outcome. He asks us to pray, to ask in His name, not because He needs our help, but because we need that connection with the Sovereign Lord; we need that blanket of faith surrounding us; to be immersed in it like the lifeline that it is.

The conflicts of this life and the complexities of relationships are exhausting. I find myself starting a project but derailing to reach for my phone with every version of the Bible in searchable text, craving help from the King. I spend a lot of time in the Old Testament where the culture is nothing like ours, but the people were human and fractured just like us. One verse speaks of that in Deuteronomy 17:8 “If cases come before your courts that are too difficult for you to judge—whether bloodshed, lawsuits or assaults—take them to the place the Lord your God will choose.” At this time judges were the decision makers, but they followed the direction of the Lord God. I keep reminding myself that God requires so little of me. I love the way He instructs through Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord really wants from you: He wants you to promote justice, to be faithful, and to live obediently before your God.” That’s all He wants from me – to be faithful and obedient before God.

When I feel perplexed and uncertain, when I’m exhausted from the struggle, when I’ve reached the end of myself, I can be like Linus and grasp onto the Lord, my security blanket, because he isn’t just powerful, he is power. And God is not of questionable character, nor does he ever make mistakes.  Right now, I’m praying for protection from the enemy of my soul who wants nothing more than to see me descend into the pit.  As I was studying and reading, and foraging for reassurance, I turned to Ephesians 1:20-22 in the Message. “All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything.”

At age 5 I learned “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.” Psalm 56:3  The same God who David wrote about is the same God of today. Malachi 3:6 says “I the Lord do not change.” God is who He says He is, never changing, always watching, forever acting, and His power is not diluted regardless of the number of projects He’s working on.

This next verse has nothing to do with security blankets, but it gave my spirits a lift and became my favorite Proverb for today Proverbs 20:28 “Love and faithfulness keep a king safe; through love his throne is made secure.”

United in Mind and Thought

I’m not sure why, but I can’t enter a Christmas season without celebrating the Peanuts gang and Charlie Brown!

I learned a life lesson from a cartoon awhile back – remember Lucy and Linus? Let’s observe Lucy today and come back tomorrow when we talk about Linus.

Who would think that attending the production of ‘You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown’ at Cornerstone University would leave an impression, other than a persistent smile? You would have recognized the personalities of all the characters. Happy-go-lucky Sally, Contented Linus with his famous Blue Blanket, Opinionated, Loudmouth Lucy, Philosophical Schroeder, Self-possessed Snoopy, and of course Perplexed but Optimistic Charlie Brown.  The cast members played their parts with such authenticity, Charles M. Schultz would have given his endorsement.  This congregated group could have been like the early church described in Ephesians 4. “…some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, attaining maturity and  unity of the faith through knowledge of the Son of God”

During one scene of the play Lucy was persuaded to examine her crabby attitude and consider changing it to something more mellow in nature. Being confronted with a dose of someone else’s perception, was Lucy convinced of her acerbic behavior? What do you think? Would   over-confident Lucy believe the assessment that she was crabby? I was surprised at her reaction.  She set out to prove the judgment wrong.  Lucy went from colleague to colleague asking for a candid evaluation of her personality. “On a scale of 1 to 100 how would you rate my crabbiness?” Kindly, but constructively each friend told the truth –without sugar coating.  They were supportive in their truth. The result? Lucy was able to gauge the consequences of her attitude.  In that moment, Lucy realized the course of her destiny could be altered by changing her attitude.  Did she forever want to be remembered for being crabby;  or for being amiable? And manipulative! Please – not manipulative!  Back in Ephesians 4:14 Lucy realized she wanted to be nothing like those people from Ephesus  “…tossed back and forth by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes.”  Lucy could be perceived as cordial or hostile.

The storyline portrayed through years of the Peanuts cartoon will always need a Lucy because life is full of Lucy’s. They are loud and argumentative, rarely receptive to ideas of others. On a good day they are unpleasant; on a bad day intimidating.  Loud Lucys!  In the play, Lucy opened her mind to the probability that she had some work to do on her personality.  What I learned from Lucy and what you can learn is instructed in Ephesians 4:15 “Practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head.”  Lucy also learned that her friends were supporting her by being truthful about what they observed.  Did you know that the word ‘support’ literally means to ‘increase the potential of another’?  Here are a couple other Lessons from Lucy.

Wisdom – Lucy didn’t pridefully ignore the opinion of her friends when their consensus was obvious. Maybe Lucy prayed for wisdom because it’s difficult to know what to do when it means changing something that is part of who we are.  She could have asked for wisdom like Solomon did 2 Chronicles 1:10 “Now give me wisdom and discernment so I can effectively lead this nation. Otherwise no one is able to make judicial decisions for this great nation of yours.” She could have.  Or maybe she prayed for wisdom like we are all invited to do in James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” And reading further in James 3: 13 “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” And there is even greater benefit when we live it like James 3:17 “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”

We are not all like Lucy with an audacious, brash personality.  But there are other traits in our behavior we can modify so we can be effective team members, productive employees, understanding parents, patient grandparents, and peacemaking citizens. I love this idea from Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:10 “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

United in mind and thought – I think it would be perfect for Lucy to stop by right now and shout that one out!

The showdown between problems and opportunities

How do you feel about change? Excited? Frightened? Neutral?   How do you feel about new opportunities? Ah, that changes things, doesn’t it? We like change as long as we get to be the change agent, but we might not be so fond of change when it’s imposed on us. I saw the title of a book once that read, “Change is good.  You go first”.  Whoever thought that up must have had lots of experience. I like change, am energized by it in fact, and can’t wait for new experiences to stem from it, even when it means more work or extra effort.  I love change … most of the time. But what do I do when something outside my control disrupts my life forcing me to adapt to a situation that was not my first choice? Life can change in a heartbeat.

When we are faced with circumstances that are not our first choice and we struggle with what to do next, we can sink into despair or we can stretch our resolve and grasp this new opportunity. It is never easy to change perspective when our situations are painful.  A lost job, a devastating illness, chronic pain, overwhelming financial burdens, death of a loved one – none of these changes are what we would choose for ourselves, but they are real.

We ask where is God in all this? If God loves me, how can this happen? How can I be joyful when everything is against me? My stamina has worn down to one thin nerve and it’s ready to snap. Wow! Exhausting, isn’t it? We could so easily give up our faith in times like these, but there is every reason not to. There is every reason to create opportunities from the rubble.  We need a plan, a map, and a compass. Don’t try this alone!

Start this new venture with the words of God in your heart. Joshua 1:9 God’s command is to “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  See? Even when we a distressed, even when we can’t see the hand of God, He is there putting the pieces together.  We have to let Him be the master of our map. Isaiah 55:8 confirms that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are Gods’ ways our ways.  We have to put our faith in the sovereignty of God. Whether we want to give Him the control or not, that’s what we have to do. Yes, right down to that irritating situation that has us so frustrated.   God gets to decide anyway, so give it to Him.

What can we do with the problems of today? Can we lay them out on our map, point the compass of our faith to true north and seek God’s help in finding opportunity? Can we bring harmony out of chaos, replace anxiety with peace?  Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Life is tough. Pray hard. Let’s get out there and live in opportunity.

The winning formula for making a difference

It seems football frenzy has taken over the digital network. Have you been watching any of the games? How about that game on Saturday?file0001659363699 You know the one. Edge of the chair, nail-biting, hold-your-breath exciting. I’m not a TV watcher and not a sports fan, so there were already two strikes against the probability that I would use up minutes to watch a football game on television, but up in the north country where TV channels are scarce, I succumbed just a little. What was so compelling about those games? Three things. First, the timing – I was a captive audience which is typically the only time I watch television. Second, the teams that were playing – Ohio State is ‘the team’ one friend supports and Michigan State (the green team). Third, the team work – I was immersed in the way those teams on the field and from the sidelines supported each other. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps, But if there’s no one to help, it’s tough!

I confess, I don’t remember any of the details that a sports fanatic would find important. I don’t remember the coaches, the ending score, or who scored the most points. I don’t remember the names of the heroes credited with winning the game. What I do remember is the clock ticking down while the skirmish on the field produced conflict, then progress, then pile-ups, then more progress. First one team had the ball, then the opposing team had their chance  – back and forth till the final seconds of the game . The teammates passed the ball back and forth, intercepting, running, rolling on the ground, punt, pass, kick, run like crazy people, tumble to the ground till time runs out. Then comes the eruption in the stadium. The final second, the careful checking of the recorded tape, the winner proclaimed, the beginning – because the next game is already being planned.

Watching those players work as a team was an amazing work of art. I couldn’t keep up with the ball even from an angle where I could see the full field. How do the players know who to toss the ball to, and how many seconds remaining before the next team has the ball, and how does the ball carrier pummel through the maze of opposition to get to the place where they can pass the ball or carry it through to a touchdown?  Many would say that those games were won or lost in the final seconds of the game. I disagree. The final score was the deciding factor but the games were won or lost by the strategies and interactions of the players through every moment of the game. Teamwork! And practice! Vince Lombardi, a famous football coach said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”

This is how it is in life too. We can do some things on our own, independent of anyone else, for a while, but not for an extended period of time. We were created for relationship and need each other. Whatever path in life we are on, there we find relationships. Our first and primary relationship is with God. He created us in his image. Genesis 1:27 “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” And from that point on, we all were destined for relationships. It might have taken civilization a few thousand years to coin the term ‘team work’ but here is where we are. The game of life.

Life is a contact sport and sometimes we get beat up pretty bad. Sometimes it’s difficult to be part of the whole. Right? Sometimes I want to yell, ‘Stop the world and let me off, just for a little while.” Are you with me on this? Sometimes I pass the ball off and it falls to the ground, a dead ball. Other times, I pass the ball off – right into the hands of the opposing team. I aim high, and the ball goes far outside my target. Then there are those instances when the ball is in play, it gets passed and caught smoothly, hands touch it, move it to the next player, back to me, I pass it, they catch it, we move forward, we follow the play, we all win. I have a whole Bible full of scripture that advises on how to be the ultimate team player. Here are a few of my favorites for acting as a good team member:

Psalm 89:15 “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord.”

Psalm 106:3 “Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right.”

This game of life is our mission. We were uniquely created for a purpose and for relationship. We make a difference when we play our best game: carrying the ball, passing it off, intercepting, and running it in for someone who can’t do it. Let’s finish up with this primer on how we can make a difference on our mission field today.

Matthew 6:1-4, 14-15 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you…. or if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

 

The Fire and the Masterpiece

Awhile back I watched the Day of Discovery program produced by RBC Ministries.  I was intrigued by the familiar topic of the potter and the clay.  Isaiah 64:8 says ”Yet Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are our potter; we all are the work of Your hands.” I’ve heard that story all my life. The potter (God) takes a lump of clay (me) and puts me on the potter’s wheel, spins me around while dousing me with water, and shaping me into a masterpiece, fashioned for a unique purpose. Does that sound familiar?AA031

Through the process, the master has this designer mindset that transforms an image into a vessel with all the qualities planned in advance, before the clay even arrived.  Jeremiah 18:6 spells it out for God’s vision for his people. “He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.” God has a plan for his people today, just as he did back in the days of Jeremiah the prophet.

Here’s what really caught my attention. The gentle shaping of the clay, forming the sides to fit the base, making the handle ornate or leaving it smooth and serviceable, creating purpose inside its shape. Characteristics – all malleable through tender prodding with features formed through gentle guidance to balance its designed purpose.  This is how we want God to work on our design.  We want slow, deliberate guidance, not too rough.  If we must endure some pain along the way, like smoothing out a rough patch or covering a dried out crack, we want the action to be swift and precise. We want to be assured that no matter what we’re going through, God is close by, working all things out for us because we love him.  Romans 8:28 “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” The potter and the clay – a masterpiece.

What happens when our life is not defined that way?  Instead of the gentleness we agree with, our circumstances are tumultuous and agonizing. We feel like the temperatures of our circumstances are rising and we are far past the boiling point. Where is God then? We are going through fire and we feel like God has abandoned us.  Did he just walk away and leave us in our distress? What does the potter do in these times? When the potter puts his fully formed masterpiece into the kiln, it is then that he watches most closely. The temperature in a kiln reaches over 1500 degrees.  The potter can’t risk being far away or being distracted. Think about it for a moment.  Remember how David sang about being relieved from his distress over and over in the Psalms.  Just as the potter watches and protects his masterpiece when the kiln is fired to its hottest temperature, so these are the life times when God watches, tends, and protects his children, his masterpieces.

Yesterday, I talked with someone on the phone whom I had met through a complex network of individuals I’ve known through online communities. Nobody but me would recognize the miracle of that phone call. Nobody but God had heard my specific prayer, and even I didn’t know the name of the person I would have a conversation with yesterday. Through that one phone call though, it was like being taken from the kiln and released to cool air; no burns, no scorches, just on time. For months I have prayed for a place to use my current skills and build new ones, to improve my writing, and in the process, make a difference. I can’t describe the intricate paths God had to intersect on the way to preparing the right conditions for that call yesterday. I know God was protecting me from making poor decisions that would have prevented it though – and just when I was tempted to think he wasn’t paying attention, God opened the door. What does this mean in a tangible way? I’m not sure because I have only this moment.  I can’t see into the future.  But I know that in God’s sovereignty, he orchestrated yesterday’s event.  I have no doubt that he will orchestrate anything that comes from it.

All I can think of when I realize that only God could connect so many dots in a pattern that makes sense, is Galatians 6:9 “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” And Psalm 16:5 “Lord, you give me stability and prosperity; you make my future secure.”

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  You are strong enough to wait for God’s best plan to be acted for you.