Posted in Character, Faith

Growing in Gratitude

Thank You

Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. I had several activities in mind for this Thanksgiving weekend. My daughter and I figured out a cooking schedule for all our dishes. Family from the Seattle area arrived Wednesday night. We were ready for a fun, food-filled celebration. Then, later that night, one of the granddaughters got sick. My daughter was up with her every hour. Some time during the night, my grandson also got sick. There was lots of laundry on Thanksgiving Day for the soiled bedding and towels. We still managed to prepare and enjoy our meal. Everyone was in good spirits, and it seemed like the worst was over. However, on Friday afternoon some of us started to feel sick. My son, daughter-in-law, and grandson went home for their second Thanksgiving celebration. By the evening both our households were miserable.

This isn’t the first time illness has visited a holiday celebration, and it probably won’t be the last. There have been many Christmases, Easters, and Mother’s Days when one or more family members got sick, requiring adjustments to my expectations. Each time I am faced with a decision—Will I practice gratitude? Or will I practice self-pity?

I have lots of experience practicing self-pity. During my child-rearing years, feeling sorry for myself came easily. “Why is this happening to me?” “Bad things always happen on special days.” “It’s so unfair!” My mopey attitude would take an unfavorable situation and make it worse.

Many years ago I felt convicted by a passage of Scripture.

Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people (Philippians 2:14-15, NLT).

I have never liked arguing, but I can be really good at complaining. If I don’t guard my thoughts and attitudes, complaining can flow like water. Complaining spreads negativity and affects the people around me. Additionally, complaining damages my example as a Christ-follower. The light of Christ in me does not shine as brightly. I certainly don’t want that!

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done (Philippians 4:6).

Giving thanks is the opposite of complaining. (It is also a remedy to worrying.) I want to grow in gratitude. This Thanksgiving was a perfect opportunity to practice it. I was concerned that my family members felt terrible, and I did my best to help care for them. But, I wasn’t discouraged. I was out of commission for two and a half days. In the midst of my discomfort, I thanked the Lord for His continual presence with me and I prayed for healing of my family. I felt thankful that we had a long weekend to recover. I appreciated the kindness of a friend who went to the store to buy Gatorade when none of the adult in our home were able.

Every time we encounter circumstances that are less than what we would like, it is an opportunity to practice gratitude. When are you tempted to complain? How can you turn complaints into words of thanksgiving? Take the challenge to avoid complaining and practice gratitude.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, You are good and perfect, always loving and faithful. When times are tough at home, in the workplace, or other places in my life, help me to focus on your blessings and develop an attitude of gratitude. Help me to shine as a bright light of Christ through my attitude, words, and actions. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

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Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Finding Grace in Thanksgiving

I am grateful

The Thanksgiving weekend tops my list of favorite holiday celebrations. I love Christmas and Easter, because of their spiritual significance. I know the calendar dates are not accurate, but where would we be without the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? However, Thanksgiving is the pinnacle for me, as I reflect with gratitude on the many blessings of life surrounded by the people dearest to me.

We hear a lot about the importance of gratitude this time of year. The deliberate practice of gratitude comes to the forefront, especially for Christ followers. In fact, it is entirely possible to be thankful without expressing gratitude. We may recognize God’s blessings and appreciate the kindness of others (being thankful). The next step is to actively express that recognition and appreciation (being grateful).

There is another element we do not hear much about during this season. That is grace.

A thankful heart starts with finding grace. In the Old Testament God’s grace describes deliverance from enemies or adversity. It also speaks of empowerment, daily guidance, forgiveness, and protection. In the New Testament, God’s grace focuses on the provision of salvation. It is God’s love in action towards people who earn the opposite of love. (That would be all of us.) Grace is the undeserved favor of God.

The longer I follow Jesus, the more I’m aware that I don’t deserve any of God’s kindness. There is no way I can measure up to His standard of absolute perfection. He has already paid the penalty for every single wrong thing I have done and made the way for me to spend eternity with Him. I am truly entitled to nothing. Anything I receive is a beautiful gift of grace, and the Lord continues to give and give and give.

I am not suggesting that we become self-deprecating. We are highly valued and deeply loved by the Lord who created us and knows us by name. He desires to be in relationship with us. Nevertheless, His love and desire originate from the Lord Himself not from our own greatness.

Even though we have been given much, our human nature complains about what we don’t have and that what we do have is not enough. It zooms in on the suffering, the tragedies, the injustices and inequities. Thankfulness cannot be found among such negativity. I don’t want to ignore the sorrows or pretend that everything is rosy, but I want to view life through the lens of grace. The lens of grace helps me to see the good in the midst of messy relationships and a hurting world. It leads to a thankful heart, which I choose to express.

Cultivate an awareness of grace, and be thankful. Don’t let your thankfulness go unsaid. Practice gratitude by giving voice to your appreciation.

Have a grace-filled Thanksgiving, my friends.

PSALM 100 (NLT)

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
     Worship the Lord with gladness.
    Come before him, singing with joy.

 Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
    He made us, and we are his.
    We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
    go into his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good.
    His unfailing love continues forever,
    and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I am so thankful for Your goodness and love. You have provided me salvation through Jesus Christ and pour out many blessings. Shine the light of Your Holy Spirit on the areas of my life affected by selfishness and entitlement. Teach me to see through the lens of grace, to recognize your gifts, and to express thanks. Empower me to be a person that practices gratitude well. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Personal Development

One Way to Change Your Perspective

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Sometimes I am my own worst enemy. One of the downsides of being emotionally sensitive is that I am prone to depression and thinking negatively. I have come a long way since childhood. As a kid, there were times I felt intense hatred toward myself. I would beat myself verbally with harmful words, and even physically on occasion. When I became a Christ-follower, the Holy Spirit began to transform the way I thought about myself. As I learned what God’s Word said about me as His dearly loved child, I began to speak those truths as personal affirmations. Slowly my self-talk and self-treatment became more positive, reflecting the affirmations I began to believe.

Today, affirming what God says about me is an important part of changing my perspective and thriving in the midst of challenging circumstances. Like every person, I am more susceptible to destructive thoughts and emotions when I am tired or hormonal (the joys of womanhood) or haven’t taken time to care properly for myself. If I am not aware, I can easily spiral into a deep pit where hopelessness resides. There I imagine every part of life falling apart, with me left alone unable to pick up the pieces. As soon as I realize what’s going, I start using affirmations.

Affirmations centered on God’s Word are powerful, because they change my perspective.

When I feel like I am too weak to accomplish what the Lord has called me to do…

  • I affirm that He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).
  • I affirm that His grace is all I need, because His power works best in weakness. He is my strength when I am weak (2 Corinthians 12:9).
  • I affirm that I depend on Christ’s mighty power that works within me (Colossians 1:29).

When I doubt that my life has meaning and purpose…

  • I affirm that God has a purpose for me and He is fulfilling it in me (Psalm 57:2).
  • I affirm that every day of my life matters. God’s thoughts about me are precious (Psalm 139:16-17).
  • I affirm that I am His masterpiece, created anew in Christ, so that I can do the good things he planned for me long ago (Ephesians 2:10).

When I feel unloved and alone…

  • I affirm that I am more than a conqueror through Him who loves me (Romans 8:37).
  • I affirm that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus my Lord (Romans 8:38).
  • I affirm that God is my refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).

Affirmations can address any area of struggle. They are personalized statements in present time based on God’s Word, declared out loud. Affirmations are powerful, but they aren’t magic. It isn’t enough to mindlessly recite an affirmation over and over again. Affirmations must be believed and then acted upon. They certainly do not take the place of hard work. However, when believed they will change your perspective of yourself and your world, making healing and growth possible.

I encourage you to identify an area in your life where healing or growth is needed. Find Scripture that relates to that area. Make it personal and declare it when you find yourself thinking or feeling otherwise. Trust the Holy Spirit to transform the way you think and help you thrive.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:2, NLT).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the work of Your Spirit in my life. You see where I am, the places I get stuck, the places where I am broken. Help me to believe Your Word and declare Your Word as truth about me. Take the affirmations I make, and change the way I think. May I develop a positive perspective about myself and my situations, knowing there is always hope. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Faith

You Have Been Chosen!

christmasgift

When my daughter, Jessi, was five years old she made a deal. Actually it was a bribe from us (her parents) borne out of desperation, and she accepted. For months, Jessi had been asking for a puppy. I wanted nothing to do with one more creature to take care of. I was already on overload with four young children ages five and under. But perhaps if she could prove she was responsible enough to take care of a puppy, we would consider it. What would be the proof? Jessi would have to do her chores every day for a month without being reminded.

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The days and weeks passed. To my surprise and consternation, my little five year old faithfully did her chores without any reminders, but perhaps a few hints. As the goal line grew closer, I wondered, Why didn’t I set a longer time period…like a year? Jessi was triumphant and the pursuit to find just the right dog began.

We weren’t going to the local pound and pick out the first dog that won over Jessi’s heart (although going to the pound or Humane Society is a great way to get a pet). Our daughter’s puppy would be deliberately and specifically chosen.

Jessi eagerly learned about the different breeds of dogs. She and Dad (also a dog lover and completely in her corner) decided on a Springer Spaniel. It couldn’t be just any Springer Spaniel. Dad insisted that our dog be a papered pure bred. The two of them scoured the ads regularly and finally discovered papered pure bred Springer Spaniel puppies on Whidbey Island, a mere three hour journey from our home. We loaded the kids into the mini-van to claim the newest member of the family.

There were six adorable puppies in the litter. Fortunately Jessi already knew she wanted a girl, which narrowed it down to two. She studied and interacted with the females until she made up her mind. Finally she announced, “This is the one I want.” Jessi affectionately scooped up her prized puppy and held her close. On the late night trek home, she named her Brownie.

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Whenever I read in the Bible about being chosen, Jessi and Brownie rush to the front of my memories.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure (Ephesians 1:3-5, NLT).

You have been chosen! Just as my daughter spent great time and attention in selecting her beloved puppy, Your Heavenly Father’s choice of you was not accidental or haphazard. His intentionality goes so far beyond my endearing human illustration. He had you in mind before you were born. Even with your mistakes, purposeful poor choices, pain and brokenness, or other things you feel disqualify you, He chose you. His choice was based on love for you, and seeing who you are through Him. Adopting you into His family gave the Lord great pleasure.

As a Christ follower, you probably already know that you have been chosen in a theological sense. However, is it a truth deeply embedded in the core of your being, the steadfast anchor in the midst of the capricious waves of life?

When I know that I know that I know I have been chosen as a beloved child of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, there is no earthly circumstance that can shake me. Absolutely nothing can separate me from His unfailing love. I can thrive because I am rooted and established in Christ’s perfect love. I am chosen!

During the Christmas season, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ—God’s gift of love to the world—remember that He is also God’s gift of love to you, because you have been chosen.

They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light (2 Peter 2:8b-9).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, thank You for loving me and choosing me. May I not forget how precious Your thoughts are toward me. You have poured out immeasurable grace on my life. As one who has been deliberately and specifically chosen, may I reach out to others with Your amazing love and serve them with compassion. May I share the Good News with others that they have been chosen by You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Faith

The Thanksgiving Tree

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A couple weeks ago, one of my staff members surprised me. She came into my office and declared, “I think you’re rubbing off on me. May I show you something?”

My curiosity was piqued, and I traipsed after her to the staff meeting room.

“You know how I don’t like to think deeply about things?…” she began.

“Like, not at all,” I teased. This staff member clearly doesn’t enjoy my love for introspection and exploring the “why” behind “what” we do, but she is always a good sport during staff meeting exercises.

“Well, you got to me.” She chuckled as she pointed to the wall.

There on the wall was a large poster with a bare tree made of construction paper.

“It’s a Thanksgiving tree,” she explained. “There are paper leaves to write what we a thankful for, and then we put them on the tree. I made one for the office and one for my house.”

I smiled with delight. She was correct. The Thanksgiving tree was right up my alley. My staff and I have been filling the bare places on the tree with colorful notes of gratitude. We still have a lot to add.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Even though it isn’t a church-centered occasion like Christmas and Easter, it is still very much Biblical.

The Bible refers to giving thanks and gratitude over 140 times. That number doesn’t include the word praise, which involves the element of thanksgiving.

As Christ-followers we should be the most grateful people on the planet. Consider the gift of salvation that our heavenly Father provided through the excruciating sacrifice of Jesus. We who were separated by sin from Him are now in relationship with Him. We have been adopted as His dearly loved children. What else do we really need? Anything else is a bonus. And yet, He has poured out His blessings on us.

Thanksgiving is a time built into our calendar where we can focus our attention on gratitude. We live in a culture of entitlement. It’s easy to get sucked into the lie that we deserve more than we have. Regardless of our income, we somehow believe we should have a comfortable place to live, a nice car, the newest version of the iPhone (sorry, Android users) and other technology, and go out to eat as often as we want. All our ventures should succeed, and we should enjoy widespread recognition for our accomplishments. Add other things to the list as it applies. Negativity seeps into our lives as we entertain these kinds of thoughts. Negativity breeds discouragement. Discouragement infects others. Tragically I have witnessed families and groups—even entire organizations—dismantled by discouragement.

Hope is required to move forward from a set back, disappointment, or mess. Hope allows us to to see the blessings and possibilities in our lives. Gratitude primes the pump for a positive, hope-filled perspective.

Perhaps you feel that your life is lacking, that it is bare like a deciduous tree in winter. You can turn that around by reflecting on your blessings and adding the colors of gratitude. If you’d like you can even start your own Thanksgiving tree. And then, use it to inspire you to develop the discipline of gratitude throughout the year.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever (1Chronicles 16:34).

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

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, it is easy to get caught up in an attitude of thanklessness. Open my eyes to see where I have allowed selfishness to rule and to discover any lies I have believed. Teach me Your ways, O Lord, that I may walk in Your truth. Show me how to live with a perspective of gratitude during this Thanksgiving season and throughout the year. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Watch Out for the Enemy!

chess

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by God’s call on your life? In the midst of saying “yes” to Him and following His lead, do you struggle with walking it out on a day-to-day basis? I certainly do. In each area of my life, whether with my family or leading in ministry, I can find myself struggling, doing my best to hold my head above the rising water.

While giving my all to serve Jesus, sometimes I forget about the very real spiritual battle raging behind the scenes. When it gets tough, I pray. I remind myself that God is in control and that His Spirit dwells powerfully within me. But I lose sight that there is an enemy out there, and he is doing his best to thwart God’s children.

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8, NLT).

The reminder came to light in dramatic fashion the last couple weeks.

As the Executive Director of a non-profit organization, one of my primary responsibilities is to fundraise. Our biggest fundraiser of the year is held the beginning of November. It is a tremendous opportunity to raise both money and awareness for our ministry. There is a lot riding on the success of this event. There is also a lot of pressure leading up to it, starting in August and culminating on event day. I have come to expect it.

During this time period I enlist additional prayer, I schedule specific times for fasting and invite others to join me, and I surround myself with Scripture focused on the greatness of our Lord. However, I was not quite ready for things to unfold the way they did.

One week and counting before the big event…

  • The doctor diagnosed my disabled daughter’s foot ulcer as infected to the bone and suggested amputation as a possibility.
  • I contacted the hospital familiar with my daughter’s condition. I made the three-and-a-half hour trip there and back to transport her for admission and extended stay.
  • After conducting some tests, the experts concluded that my daughter’s bone was not infected. She would be released once they decided on the proper treatment plan. They assured me they would find transportation for the trip home.
  • A dear member of our former congregation passed away. The family requested that we officiate the service.
  • Despite our request for confirmation of attendance, nearly one hundred people contacted us after the deadline. This caused additional work for seating assignments.
  • Some of these people called to complain about their seating location.
  • The caterer was unwilling to accommodate our request for additional guests.
  • Our copy machine malfunctioned and needed to be repaired.

The day of the big event…

  • I received a phone call that one of my staff members fell and cracked her head.
  • The convention center had not set up the tables and chairs according to specification.
  • The audio-visual equipment was not prepared for our camera man to provide a live feed for the event. The sound system technician was not present for our musician’s sound check.
  • Several people called to cancel their reservations due to a death in the family, sickness, and other unforeseen issues.
  • The hospital informed me that they were unable to provide transportation for my daughter to return home. She was ready for discharge and I needed to make arrangements.

The news from the hospital was the final straw. I wanted to quit, to announce to all the volunteers helping with set up that I was done. They would simply have to find someone else to lead. Why did the Lord place me in this position anyway? Didn’t He know that I can’t handle this kind of pressure?

Instead I cried out to the Lord for a sense of hope, to be carried by His strong arms. If He called me (and I know He did), He would need to equip me. Then, I spent some time in worship.

Every high thing must come down, every stronghold shall be broken. You wear the Victor’s crown. You overcome, You overcome!
(Victor’s Crown (c) 2013, Israel Houghton, Darlene Zschech, Kari Jobe)

As I listened to the bridge of this song, my spirit lifted. I realized that the last several days were more than a series of unfortunate events. I was in the middle of spiritual warfare!

I wiped my tears with firm resolve, fiercely determined to be the leader God called me to be. The darkness would not overcome me, because I serve the Overcomer!

Not everything bad that happens is directly from the hand of our unseen enemy. However, the devil and his demons use bad things to distract and discourage us. One of his tactics is to get us to take our eyes off Jesus and place them on the circumstances and on our own inability to deal with them. Watch out for the enemy! Then arm yourself with the truth that Jesus is victorious!

By the way, the fundraiser was incredibly successful. Much excitement was generated for our cause, and we raised more money than we have for many years. Yes, victory! Praise the Lord!

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes (Ephesians 6:10-11, NIV).

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, I confess that I forget there is a spiritual battle going on. Thank you for reminding me that the enemy is defeated and that, through You, I am victorious. Strengthen me to live for You and to lead where You have called me. May I not be discouraged by circumstances, but rather learn to trust You in the midst of the circumstances. You always overcome! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Vision & Goal Setting

Our Story, God’s Story

I love the Christmas story, and I love the Christmas season. It is thrilling to think about the arrival of Emmanuel, the One conceived by the Holy Spirit who made His entrance into this world. It is inspiring to hear about the mighty angel chorus announcing the birth of the Savior to the shepherds in the fields.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14, NIV).

And yet in the midst of the story, it is easy to forget that the miraculous took place against the back drop of the ordinary.

Mary was nine months pregnant when the decree for the census was given. Traveling at the end of pregnancy is an unpleasant experience for any woman. Pictures depict Mary as riding on a donkey, which would have been uncomfortable. However, she may have made the journey on foot. Either way, conditions were not ideal for the trip, and Mary was most likely miserable.
Bethlehem was crowded, and there were no rooms available for Joseph and Mary. They were able to find shelter in a stable when the time came for the Baby to be born, and the Savior of the World was laid in a manger—a feeding trough for animals.

Glory to God in the highest. Yes.

Peace on earth. Yes.

A miracle arrived…in a very ordinary setting.

We need to remember as we go about our daily lives to be aware of God at work. Pastor Randy Frazee, refers to two stories unfolding simultaneously—The Lower Story and The Upper Story.

The Lower Story deals with the here and now, what we see and experience in the moment. It’s ordinary life, as we take care of the details—our family, conflict at work, gridlock traffic, and racing the clock to get everyone to church on time. It’s our story.

“In the Upper Story we discover what God is up to; how he is weaving our story into his one divine love story. The Upper Story is God’s Story” (Randy Frazee, 2011).

The Upper Story is harder to see, but it’s just as real (and even more so) than the Lower Story.

Don’t get stuck in the Lower Story, even when things are going well. Keep your eyes open to the Upper Story.

“Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, NIV).

Mary certainly didn’t understand the events as they occurred, but she trusted the Lord to fulfill His promises. She couldn’t see clearly how her Baby Boy would be the Messiah, but she trusted the Lord to accomplish His plans.

As you lead, as you make business decisions, as you live every day, ordinary life, in the good times and the bad times, keep your heart tuned to Jesus and the Upper Story. How is He revealing Himself? How can you represent Him in each situation?

God works all things for the good of those who love Him (the Lower Story) and are called according to His purposes (the Upper Story) (Romans 8:28). Ponder and treasure His faithfulness, as He lovingly weaves the miraculous upon the strands of the mundane.
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/2011/10/05/the-lower-and-upper-story-author-randy-frazee/#ixzz3MbiVLTSw