Thankful for Grace

Taking time to be thankful is an important task in maintaining spiritual health. It takes us away from “navel gazing”, focusing on what we lack, think is missing, or what we desire for ourselves, to thinking in a broader sense about all that has been given to us.

Much of what has been given to us we haven’t earned and, truth be told, we don’t deserve.

I think this is especially important in the climate of our current culture. So much of the discourse is negative, divisive, polarizing and unkind. The focus often seems to be on “what is best for me”.

My oldest friend (not in age but in years of friendship) Carol and I just returned from visiting our mothers who live in the same retirement community in Wheaton where we both grew up. Carol’s mother just turned 90, and my mother will be 90 in May.

Driving the 648 miles each way together gave us plenty of time to talk. (not hard for either of us!)

We talked about what God had been putting on each of our hearts recently. Carol is being impressed to practice the presence of God, sparked by a rereading of the book of that name by Brother Andrew. She feels that she needs to recognize every opportunity during the day to mediate or pray. Carol’s days are often filled with family responsibilities, yet she also realized that time slips away each day that could be used to sense God’s presence.

Instead of fretting over waiting in line, or delays in traffic, turning one’s attention to God and what He might want to impress her with, she wants to adjust her outlook on daily interruptions. Instead of becoming stressed and resentful, Carol desires to be thankful and aware of God’s presence.

Carol’s thoughts helped me refocus on something I need to do as well.

I shared that I was being impressed to practice GRACE. I realized I was being critical. My criticism was mainly directed toward people I think are critical. Critical of critical people. Really?! How hypocritical!

Grace.

I shared with Carol that as I realized how sinful my critical attitude was, I also realized the answer was – grace. I don’t know the real motives of why people do what they do. Their motivation might be a deep hurt or a lack of understanding.

God has given me SO MUCH grace. The older I get the more I realize how amazing that grace is! Just like the song says…..”Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me”….

So, as Thanksgiving comes this week, I want to focus on being thankful for these two insights, as well as my dear family and friends – and

  • the opportunity to practice the presence of God day by day
  • the grace of God that allows me to sense His great love, in spite of my sin, and extend that love to others.

May God bless us with truly thankful hearts.

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Tender, Thankful Hearts

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There are many people in our country and the world today that are suffering. The pain, fear,and loss they are facing leaves little room to be thankful.

Here I am, looking forward to the arrival of some of our children, grandchildren and friends tomorrow. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because I enjoy the family gathering, the food, and the focus on being thankful.

Yet I know many are not blessed the way I am. Recently, friends from church lost their college aged son in a tragic accident. A school bus crashed this week causing the loss of five young children. What is there to be thankful for in these situations?

A dear young mother recently shared in our women’s Bible study group that she was dealing with reconciling the fact that –

God is good,

God is faithful,

Yet the pain of the loss of seemingly senseless death lingers.

We are studying Ezekiel, a challenging book heavy with judgement. Yet this young mother shared that she felt challenged by the following verse. Ezekiel 36:26 –

26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.

“Do the situations around me cause me to harden my heart, or soften my heart?”

When my young friend said this  – I realized  – that is the challenge for me as well.

Will I allow situations around me, and personal suffering to harden my heart? Will I allow God to give me a new, tender heart that is able to see and feel His presence in the midst of suffering?

We have much to be thankful for, yet the suffering some face is very real.

The book Defiant Joy, the Remarkable Life and Impact of G.K.Chesterton by Kevin Belmonte recounts that during a period of utter despair, Chesterton “was filled with both an enormous sense of thankfulness, and an enormous need for someone or something to thank.” (p. 218) This insight caused Chesterton to embrace Christianity. He went on to become a critic and writer that greatly influenced the lives of C.S.Lewis among countless others. “The test of all happiness” he wrote, “is gratitude; and I felt grateful.” (p. 221) The defining quality of his life as described by his contemporaries was JOY. Thankfulness leads to joy.

Notice that it was “during a period of utter despair” that Chesterton came to the point of recognizing his need for God. He had a change of heart.

As we gather this Thanksgiving, let us remember to pray for those throughout the world who are suffering in loss and fear.

Pray that we would have tender, thankful hearts to experience God’s faithfulness and love in the midst of all we face.

 

 

A Thankful Heart – Again, Yes, Again

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Turkeys in our front yard

Turkeys in our front yard

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There are several reasons for this. I love the food that is traditional on Thanksgiving. I love getting together with family and friends and sharing food and fellowship. I also appreciate that Thanksgiving is about being something as opposed to giving and receiving.

Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful, and I am amazed and humbled when I think about all I have to be thankful for. Yet this year I can’t help but think of all those suffering around the world because of recent terrorist attacks.

How can we be thankful when so many are suffering?

Suffering is a part of our existance as human beings on this planet.

I believe God is present in suffering just as He is in times of blessing. We often associate thankfulness with circumstances, yet the Bible teaches that God is faithful in all things. Looking back on my life I have seen God’s faithfulness in the midst of times of suffering as well as when He blesses me.

It is not enough to be thankful, we must express our thankfulness to God. He alone is worthy of our gratitude for all that He has done, is doing, and will do to accomplish His will in our families and the world.

I recently read the book Defiant Joy, the Remarkable Life and Impact of G.K.Chesterton by Kevin Belmonte. The book recounts that during a period of utter despair, Chesterton “was filled with both an enormous sense of thankfulness, and an enormous need for someone or something to thank.” (p. 218) This insight caused Chesterton to embrace Christianity. He went on to become a critic and writer that greatly influenced the lives of C.S.Lewis among countless others. “The test of all happiness” he wrote, “is gratitude; and I felt grateful.” (p. 221) The defining quality of his life as described by his contemporaries was JOY. Thankfulness leads to joy.

Last week I saw the following in a store window – “It is not happy people who are thankful, it is thankful people who are happy”. How true!

Psalm 145: 3-5

3 Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom. 4 One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. 5 They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty— and I will meditate on your wonderful works.

Here the Psalmist is saying that one generation must let the next know just how mighty, glorious, and splendid God is! As parents and grandparents this is a challenge and a great opportunity. As we share with our children just how faithful God has been and how much He has done for us as His children, it will remind us of His work in our lives and at the same time, bless our Heavenly Father as we give Him the glory.

As we are thankful this Thanksgiving, let us remember to pray for those thoughout the world who are suffering in loss and fear.

Pray they will experience God’s faithfulness and love in the midst of all they face.

Thankfully Joyful

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Thankfulness leads to joy.

If you don’t sense any joy in your life – make a conscience effort to be thankful.

British writer and literary critic G.K.Chesterton said, “The test of all happiness is gratitude; and I felt grateful.” (from the book Defiant Joy, the Remarkable Life and Impact of G.K.Chesterton by Kevin Belmonte. p. 221) The defining quality of Chesterton’s life, as described by his contemporaries, was joy. Chesterton had a significant impact on the spiritual beliefs of a generation. That impact lives on even today. Chesterton saw reasons for joy in small as well as big events in his life and that joy spilled over in his writings and public discourse.

If we cultivate thankfulness for our children, despite the whining, diapers, messes, etc. , we can experience joy in our homes.

If we cultivate thankfulness for our spouses we will experience joy in that relationship. That joy will spill over to bless our children, grandchildren, and others around us. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to love our spouse.

Paul’s prayer of thankfulness for his fellow Christians in Phillipi is an example of how we might feel and pray for our families.

Phillipians 1: 3-9

3 Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. 4 Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, 5 for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. 6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

7 So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. 8 God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.

9 I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. 10 For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.

May God give us eyes to see all we have to be thankful for.

Want Joy? … then be Thankful!

Phil and Gayle

I was married in 1975 during Thanksgiving weekend. That event has brought immeasurable joy to my life. I appreciate that our anniversary often coincides with my favorite holiday – Thanksgiving. I attribute much of the blessing of our 38 years of marriage to the fact that we are thankful for each other – warts and all!

From the moment Phil and I made the committment “for better or for worse” the better has greatly outweighed the worse. I am thankful to be married to a man who loves me even though he has seen me at my worst, and the worst is not pretty.

Is our marriage perfect?

No.

Do I always FEEL love toward Phil, or FEEL loved by him?

No.

As in all human relationships, there are many variables.
* feelings
* health issues
* stress from family, work, friends
* broken promises
* unfulfilled expectations
At any point these variables could have resulted in a severed relationship. Phil and I are sinful, broken people saved from our selfness by the grace of God.

So if I feel gratitude for my marriage and the years we have shared together, to whom am I thankful?

I am thankful to God.

People who meet us as a couple for the first time have often asked “How did you two end up together?”
We could be the poster couple for “Opposites Attract”. It is quite obvious to those who know us that our relationship is the result of God’s presence in our lives and therefore our marriage.

We know other couples who started out committed to God and each other and yet their marriages have not survived. I don’t know the explanation of why some marriages end and others weather the storm.

I do know that I am thankful for my husband.

The things that bless me about Phil now are very different than they were 38 years ago. One thing I particularly appreciated about him was his red hair. Now it is almost entirely white. (mine gets grayer by the day)
But the most important quality has not changed – Phil’s committment to God and to me. I am so very thankful for that.

British writer and literary critic G.K.Chesterton said, “The test of all happiness is gratitude; and I felt grateful.” (from the book Defiant Joy, the Remarkable Life and Impact of G.K.Chesterton by Kevin Belmonte. p. 221) The defining quality of Chesterton’s life, as described by his contemporaries, was joy.

Thankfulness leads to joy.

If we cultivate thankfulness for our spouses we will experience joy in that relationship. That joy will spill over to bless our children, grandchildren, and others around us. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to love our spouse.

Paul’s prayer of thankfulness for his fellow Christians in Phillipi is an example of how we might feel and pray for our families.

Phillipians 1: 3-9

3 Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. 4 Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, 5 for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. 6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

7 So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. 8 God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.

9 I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. 10 For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. 11 May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ[b]—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.
May God Bless us with thankful hearts.

A Thankful Heart – Again!

Thanksgiving is today, and it is my favorite holiday. There are several reasons for this. I love the food that is traditional on Thanksgiving. I love getting together with family and friends and sharing food and fellowship. I also appreciate that Thanksgiving is about being something as opposed to giving and receiving.

Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful, and I am amazed and humbled when I think about all I have to be thankful for. Yet something that is brushed aside in our current culture is the object of our thankfulness – the One to whom thanks is due. I loved teaching about the first Thanksgiving when I was teaching elementary school, because it was an opportunity to talk about God, prayer, and sharing with others.

In 1782 the Continental Congress made a proclamation of which the following is a portion – (Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln made proclamations of their own in subsequent years)

I Do hereby recommend to the inhabitants of these States in general, to observe, and request the several States to interpose their authority in appointing and commanding the observation of THURSDAY the twenty-eight day of NOVEMBER next, as a day of solemn THANKSGIVING to GOD for all his mercies: and they do further recommend to all ranks, to testify to their gratitude to GOD for his goodness.

I am blessed by the words – “Thanksgiving to God” and “gratitude to God”. It is not enough to be thankful, we must express our thankfulness to God. He alone is worthy of our gratitude for all that He has done, is doing, and will do to accomplish His will in our families and the world.

I am currently reading the book Defiant Joy, the Remarkable Life and Impact of G.K.Chesterton by Kevin Belmonte. The book recounts that during a period of utter despair, Chesterton “was  filled with both an enormous sense of thankfulness, and an enormous need for someone or something to thank.” (p. 218) This insight caused Chesterton to embrace Christianity. He went on to become a critic and writer that greatly influenced the lives of C.S.Lewis amoung countless others. “The test of all happiness” he wrote, “is gratitude; and I felt grateful.” (p. 221) The defining quality of his life as described by his contemporaries was JOY. Thankfulness leads to joy.

When we express to God our heartfelt thanks – it blesses Him. This attitude of gratitude is something we must intentionally cultivate in our children. One of the marks of the current culture is an attitude of entitlement which says  “I deserve this!” As sinful beings in a fallen world, we do NOT deserve the blessings we receive from God. It is His mercy and grace which enable us to call God “Abba, Father.” As a loving Father He desires to bless His children.

Psalm 145: 3-5

3 Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;     His greatness no one can fathom. 4 One generation commends your works to another;     they tell of your mighty acts. 5 They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—     and I will meditate on your wonderful works.

Here the Psalmist is saying that one generation must let the next know just how mighty, glorious, and splendid God is! As parents this is a challenge and a great opportunity. As we share with our children just how faithful God has been and how much He has done for us as His children, it will remind us of His work in our lives and at the same time, bless our Heavenly Father as we give Him the glory.

So, this Thanksgiving, let’s express thanks to God as this old hymn written in 1636.

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices, Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices; Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us, With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us; And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed; And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given; The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven; The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore; For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

A Thankful Heart

Thanksgiving is this week, and it is my favorite holiday. There are several reasons for this. I love the food that is traditional on Thanksgiving. I love getting together with family and friends and sharing food and fellowship. I also appreciate that Thanksgiving is about being something as opposed to giving and receiving.

Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful, and I am amazed and humbled when I think about all I have to be thankful for. Yet something that is brushed aside in our current culture is the object of our thankfulness – the One to whom thanks is due. I loved teaching about the first Thanksgiving when I was teaching elementary school, because it was an opportunity to talk about God, prayer, and sharing with others.

In 1782 the Continental Congress made a proclamation of which the following is a portion – (Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln made proclamations of their own in subsequent years)

I Do hereby recommend to the inhabitants of these States in general, to observe, and request the several States to interpose their authority in appointing and commanding the observation of THURSDAY the twenty-eight day of NOVEMBER next, as a day of solemn THANKSGIVING to GOD for all his mercies: and they do further recommend to all ranks, to testify to their gratitude to GOD for his goodness.

I am blessed by the words – “Thanksgiving to God” and “gratitude to God”. It is not enough to be thankful, we must express our thankfulness to God. He alone is worthy of our gratitude for all that He has done, is doing, and will do to accomplish His will in our families and the world.

My husband has taught middle school Language Arts for a long time. (Bless his heart!) Last year he came home and told me “I had something happen today that has never happened in all my years of teaching. As this student left class today, she turned to me and said, “Mr. Woody, thank you for teaching me.” Phil was so blessed by this.  Now he has received many nice and sincere notes and cards over the years from students thanking him for what a great teacher he is. Yet the heartfelt, spontaneous words of this young lady meant so much.

When we express to God our heartfelt thanks – it blesses Him. This attitude of gratitude is something we must intentionally cultivate in our children. One of the marks of the current culture is an attitude of entitlement which says  “I deserve this!” As sinful beings in a fallen world, we do NOT deserve the blessings we receive from God. It is His mercy and grace which enable us to call God “Abba, Father.” As a loving Father He desires to bless His children.

Psalm 145: 3-5

3 Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; 
   His greatness no one can fathom.
4 One generation commends your works to another;
   they tell of your mighty acts.
5 They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
   and I will meditate on your wonderful works.

Here the Psalmist is saying that one generation must let the next know just how mighty, glorious, and splendid God is! As parents this is a challenge and a great opportunity. As we share with our children just how faithful God has been and how much He has done for us as His children, it will remind us of His work in our lives and at the same time, bless our Heavenly Father as we give Him the glory.

So, this Thanksgiving, let’s express thanks to God as this old hymn written in 1636.

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.