Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks For the Greatest Gift

"And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind,
and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."
Ephesians 2:1-10

I shudder to think what my life would be like without the Lord.  What I would be like, or if I would even be. Before Christ I was on a one-way track headed for a collision with...something.  Any number of things could have ended my life.  And I'd have faced a just and holy God with no payment for my sins.  I'd have faced an eternity without His goodness and light and love. 

"But God...."

God came rushing in when all others had rushed out.  He showed His mercy to me by preparing me all my life to receive His offer of faith and belief in His Son, Jesus.  And on a day I thought was a simple visit to a church, having no idea there was more to this life than my eyes could see, He touched my heart. 

He showered me with grace and the rain has never ended. 

And so, I am thankful for the most precious gift I have and will ever receive, God's gift to me of salvation. 

Thank you, Lord!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thankful For Lessons Learned

Today I'm thankful for the lessons God's taught me over the last year.  Well, is teaching me...

He's taught me a deeper level of hope, faith, trust, grace, endurance, patience (oh so much patience), and compassion. 

Compassion's been a biggie.  I always felt like I was a compassionate person, but God's taken me to a whole new level of compassion.  And grace.  Grace has to go along with compassion. 

I've noticed that I have compassion for people who seem to be one thing on the outside, like cruel or angry or selfish, but I know on the inside they're really lost and fearful, many times with no one to help them.  I see beyond the rough exterior, through the wall, and into the hurting heart. 

How can I do that?  Because I've been there.  I understand at least some what they may be feeling.  And that's only come from enduring trials. 

Those trials have been my lessons, in many ways. I wish I could have learned an easier way, like, by osmosis.  That would've been much easier than ripping my heart out.  But if heart surgery is what it takes, then I will trust in the great Surgeon. 

And of course when there are lessons there are tests.  Instead of learning compassion long distance--that person in the news or in someone else's life--I've faced some of those people up close and personal.  Sometimes I pass the test; sometimes I fall flat on my face. 

When I pass I know it's only by God's good grace.  When I fail, I ask forgiveness and get back up again. 

It's been a year in the trenches, otherwise known as God's classroom, but I know I'll come out the other side more like my Jesus.

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.  Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult.  On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 
1 Peter 3:8-9  

What are you thankful for? 

Monday, November 21, 2011

I'm So Thankful For God's Strength!

I am so grateful for the strength of God.  There have been days that have melted into weeks and beyond when I didn't think I could take one more step.  In those times it is only by the strength that comes from God alone that I rise and continue on for another day. 

No matter what comes, He is my strength, and for that I am forever thankful. 

The Sovereign LORD is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, 
He enables me to tread on the heights.
Habakkuk 3:19

What are you thankful for?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Giving Thanks for Song (And That God Hears My Heart!)

It is good to give thanks to the LORD, and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;
To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, and Your faithfulness every night,
On an instrument of ten strings, on the lute, and on the harp, with harmonious sound.
For You, LORD, have made me glad through Your work; I will triumph in the works of Your hands.
Psalm 92:1-4

Today I'm thankful for the gift of song.  All we do and say and think is to be done with an attitude of praise and worship.  But God has given us musical abilities just for the purpose of praising and worshipping Him.  He's given our hearts the desire to worship and when our heart can hold it no longer, we can sing out our worship with the gift of song.  

We have voices that are made to worship in melody and harmony, to sing a tune of notes and words that, when formed together, shout the gladness of our hearts at the greatness of our God.  

We may not always feel like it because difficult circumstances have left us wondering...  But we sing out anyway as a sacrifice of praise because we know that He is still worthy.

Our rhythmic voices join us together as a family as we rise our thanksgiving to the heavens and to the very throne room of God as a sweet-smelling sacrifice.  And as we join with the Lord, we are filled with refreshment and joy.

Someday my voice will sing as well as my heart (and my heart even more so!), but until then I will keep singing the praises of my God and know that He hears my heart.  Praise the Lord!

What are you thankful for?    

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Stuff I'm Thankful For, Part Deux

So today I'm thankful I got to spend some time walking around shopping with my son.  I don't get to do that very often these days, what with him being all grown up and cool now.  We shopped for dress shirts, smelled some candles and noticed how crazy tall some people were.  And it's nice to see how much of a gentleman he's grown to be. 

Sing praise to the LORD, you saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.
Psalm 30:4

What are you thankful for? 

Putting the Thanks Back in Thanksgiving

I have a little pet peeve that we here in America mostly go right from Halloween to Christmas and forget all about Thanksgiving, except that it's a day we stuff our faces silly, watch a football game or two and maybe catch a parade.  Sometimes we even take the whole meaning out of the day and just call it turkey day. 

We forget to be thankful for our heritage as a country, for all our freedoms it gives us and for the men and women who have fought and died for that freedom.   We're surrounded by so much abundance that we lose sight of the tremendous blessings and opportunities we have. 

So I say, let's bring back Thanksgiving! 

1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us:

"In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."

If you ever want to know God's will for your life, this is something that should always be on our list--to be everything. That doesn't leave much room for argument, does it?

Why is it so important to God that we have thankful hearts?  Because it makes us see our lives and the whole world in a godly way.  Through eyes of thankfulness we learn to be grateful, to be content, to give, to be compassionate. 

And from it all we have joy.

We all have so much for which to be thankful.  Even the bad stuff has a silver lining, we just have to see it through eyes of faith. And if we take the time to look, I think we'll find we have more to be thankful for than we thought.
So, I hereby resurrect Thanksgiving!  From today until Thanksgiving, I'm going post something I'm thankful for every day and I'd love to hear what you're thankful for, too!

11.19.11 ~ I'm thankful for all the people in my life and the love and grace they show me.  From my family, to friends (that includes you!) to caregivers, and even to strangers that God puts in my life for a brief moment to make me take good, hard look at myself, I am thankful.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Forging of a Man or Woman of Character

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete,
not lacking anything.
James 1:2-4

I am drawn to movies about sports and war.  The funny thing is I don’t especially like either.  It’s not the competition or the violence I like, but the stories within the story. 
The team of young men, black and white, and their newly-appointed black coach, who want to play football amid the backdrop of integration in a small southern football town in the early ‘70’s. 
The coach and the team persevere through struggles among themselves and from the town.  They begin to forge friendships with one another as they work hard, harder than other teams are required.  And their hardships knit them together.  In the end, the young men are bound together in brotherly love and an entire town learns to love, too. 
*     *     *
The schoolteacher who is called to serve his country and leads a band of men whose mission it is to find and save one man from the fate that befell his brothers.  All he wants to do is go home. 
But first he has to face and fight the ruthless enemy time and time again, all the while leading men who are dying, fearful and angry.  Against all odds, he saves the young man and goes home, although not the way he wanted. 
*     *     *
It is these stories of selfless courage, of commitment, of dedication that inspire me.  When everything says quit, they don’t quit. Oh, they may want to.  They may want to quit more than anything else sometimes. 
But in the middle of this hardship, they realize what is important.  It is the dream, it is the mission they must accomplish.  They keep their eyes focused on the goal during the day as they face an enemy of racial hatred or an enemy of war, and at night when they’re left alone with their thoughts. 
Their trials developed the character they already had but didn’t know was there.  And they discovered they were more than they thought.  They were more than a team who aspired to play football and more than an English teacher or a band of men called to serve their country. They were men who stayed the course, facing enemies both within and without, to do the good and honorable thing. 
I love these stories because this is what we need to remember in a life that is full of facing our own personal battles.  And as we do, if we choose to put our trust in God, we gain strength and courage and wisdom, we come through the other side and our faith in Him grows.  And we go on to face another battle for another day.  And little by little, if we don't give up, a godly character develops.  We may not see it happening as quickly as we can in a two-hour movie, but it is happening.  It just takes a lifetime. 
So gird up, my friends!  Be ready, be prepared, be alert.  Be prayed up and repentant and humble. We never know what a day may bring. We may not face war or an entire town of people, but we will face something.  But with the Lord, we’ll never face it alone. 
And in the end, we will be victorious.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fight the Good Fight, Keep the Faith

I watched The Book of Eli again.   And again, it’s left me with a feeling of determination, of gravity, of sober-mindedness about my faith in God and my desire to serve Him well to the end.

Just to let you know, this will contain major spoilers. So if you’ve never watched it, watch it first, if you like, then come back.  I’ll wait.

But a warning: it is rated R, and in the case of this movie, that could stand for raw and rough, but also for revelation.  There are several instances of very strong language and many scenes of disturbing violence.  Normally I wouldn’t recommend a movie with that level of crudeness, but the context in which it’s used in this movie is not gratuitous but conforms to the grave time and situations within the story.  If you’d still rather not watch it, read on anyway.  I’ve included enough of the story that you won’t miss out on the message. 

So why would I watch a movie with such violence and vulgarity?  Because it is an excellent allegory of our lives--as messy and ugly and painful as they can be—as we walk with the Lord. 

*       *       *

“You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." 2 Corinthians 3:3

A man named Eli wanders through a barren land some thirty-one years after an apocolyptic destruction of the earth and most of its inhabitants.  He carries only a backpack and a few weapons which he skillfully uses against the violence he finds at nearly every turn in this lawless land.
Eli guards with his life the contents in his backpack: a book.  But not just any book.  It is the only copy of the Bible left on earth.  He’s been traveling with it since the destruction and his job is to take it west.  Why?  Because a Voice told him to.
The Voice leads him through peril after peril.
Eli comes to a futuristic old west town of lawless men, run by one deranged man whose goal is to find a Bible.  He knows there is power in the Bible and he wants power. He’s managed to enslave a group of people, including a blind woman and her daughter.

The man discovers the contents of Eli’s pack.  Eli takes off in a hail of bullets, leaving several bodies in his wake.  Eli is unharmed.
Eli is back on the road, dutifully headed west, when he discovers the teenage daughter of the blind woman has followed him.  They find shelter for the night where he removes his most guarded possession from its cocoon and begins reading.  The illiterate girl asks him to read to her and he begins to recite scripture from memory.

She asks him if he reads it every day.  He responds, “Without fail.” 

As they continue on in their journey west, the deranged man and his band of not-so-merry men have found Eli and the girl. After a gunfight, Eli finds himself standing in the middle of the men while the ringleader has a tight hold on the girl and a gun pointed at Eli.  Eli has hidden the Book, and the man wants it.  Eli stands in total confidence that the protection he’s known for thirty-one years will continue.
And then, Eli is shot.  He stumbles and his face twists with confusion.
The man snarls at Eli, “Where’s your protection now?”  And we wonder the same thing.  Why would God allow him to be hurt?  And even more, why would God allow him to be placed in a position where he feels he has to give up the Bible to this abusive, power-hungry man?

Eli gives up the Book’s hiding place, it is taken and the men are gone with the girl.  Eli gets back on the road and continues his journey west, led by the Voice, as if nothing has happened.  The girl musters some courage of her own, and finds her way back to Eli.

They reach the ocean where they cross by boat to a sanctuary.  The guard asks him why he’s there.  He says he has a copy of the King James Bible.  The girl looks at him quizzically, and so do we.
They enter the sanctuary where they meet with the proprietor who is in the process of collecting a library of books which have become precious in this post-war era.  He’s never seen a Bible.  He, the girl and Eli sit down.  Eli asks for some paper.
Meanwhile, the man is back in the old west with his stolen Book of Power.  The Book is opened and we see the pages but there are no words, only raised dots.  The blind woman stands in front of it, having no clue as to the treasure that lay right in front of her.  He screams at her to read it.  She throws her hands down in anger, and she feels the dots.  Time stands still for her as she realizes this is a Bible, a Bible she can read. 

Back at the sanctuary, Eli begins to recite the Bible, from memory, word by word, verse by verse:

Gen 1:1  In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Gen 1:2  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the
                 deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

Gen 1:3  And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

We are taken up close and we see Eli’s eyes, and suddenly realize that he is blind.  And yet, he sees more than anyone because the truth of God is written on his heart.  It is the light from the sun and the voice of God that led him, gave him discernment, and filled him with wisdom to walk across the country for thirty-one years, facing death at every turn, fulfilling his mission. And so it is with us.

My friends, our life in Christ is a journey, and we’ll most surely encounter struggles, pain and evil along the way.  And God will use those times of trial in ways we may not ever know until we stand with Jesus in heaven.  Because Eli was shot and the girl’s life was at stake, he had to release the Bible. No doubt the Voice told him to, a Voice with which he had become very well acquainted.  And in doing so, the Word of God that gives freedom to the humble was taken back to a lawless town and the truth was spoken.  Ironically, the man who wanted to use it for his own gain lost the very power he coveted. 

And because Eli persisted in doing God’s will, the Bible was produced again en masse, and its message filled a lost and dying world.  Eli sums up his belief about the Bible’s message by saying it’s about doing more for others than for yourself.  And so it is. Rather than saving Himself, Jesus Christ died for us so that we can be saved and live with God forever.  And this is the message we carry in our hearts. 

Whatever comes along on your long and winding road--the good, the bad and the ugly--our ultimate purpose is to carry the Lord, and with Him, the inspired Word of God, in our hearts. We are the living letter of God given for our own lost and dying world.  Keep focused, keep true and finish well.
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”
2 Timothy 4:7-8 kjv