Just another day to express my gratitude for what Christ accomplished. And the more His love transforms me, the more Thanksgiving becomes just an ordinary day and just another opportunity to praise Him in all things.
I was meditating on verses of thanks and gratitude and in more instances than not gratitude is a command. And God's Word says that if we fail to heed this command, even the rocks will cry out in praise (Luke 19). But somehow I think we get it in our heads that we are going to wake up on Turkey Day to the smell of thousands of calories waiting to be consumed, and somehow we are going to conjure up an 'attitude of gratitude' as we spend time those in our life that are generally hardest to love. But any amount of 'conjuring' is indicative of inauthentic gratitude. True gratitude is a choice of humility that springs forth from the heart of one who recognizes their need for a Savior. And we all sense the disparity between authentic and inauthentic gratitude... or I'll speak for myself, I sense this. I watch movies that display the idealistic American Thanksgiving.. everyone sitting around the table...resounding in heartfelt thanks. And then I contrast that to reality. There is a chasm that forms between the idealistic and the realistic, and though I know that I am an eternal idealist by nature (sometimes to my detriment), some part of me still feels that there is something right, true and good in what I see on T.V.
I look to God's Word and see that there is something right, true and good about the idealistic icon of the American Thanksgiving, however it is merely a reflection...a glimpse... of what is Right, True and Good. "For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true" (Ephesians 5:9) God defines these things that we desperately want to be a part of. Getting to know Him is experiencing them...and not just on Thanksgiving, every moment of every day. I release a big sigh of relief when my idealistic self runs away with me again, and I remember that any idealism...any desire for ultimate Good to triumph, has already been resolved in the person of Jesus. There is no need for me to conjure, just to breathe (Let everything that has breath praise the Lord...Psalm 150)
Gratitude is so much more than an emotion-based response to one day out of the year when we reflect briefly about our "blessings" and then go watch the games. No - gratitude is a choice... a choice that we make every moment of every day, regardless of circumstance. A choice of fixing our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. A choice of Christ above the lusts of our flesh. A choice to die so that He might be greater in us. Yes - gratitude is far deeper, far more painful at times, far more real than a nationally celebrated holiday or a fleeting emotion.
And from the grateful heart flows fruit : there is love there, there is joy...there is peace & patience & kindness & goodness & faithfulness & gentleness & self-control. The tree that bears this fruit is a life well-aware of its Savior & a life that sings of gratitude.
And gratitude is not an after-thought. It becomes the essence of one who chooses it. Like the life of my sweet sister (in Christ) Karen, who's husband is battling cancer right now. She sees with clarity that gratitude is a choice... a choice that rescues her and frees her and gives her strength amidst the painful, confusing, and dark circumstances that threaten to engulf her with fear, anxiety and bitterness. She gets that the humbling task of gratitude is a light yoke compared to the weight of what results when it is not chosen. She gets that the pain and uncertainty in her life are not ultimate... that God is sovereign. And she gets that by choosing to focus on all she has in Christ and taking the thoughts captive that call her to wander towards disillusionment, comparison, and despair... life can be experienced fully and abundantly even in the midst of trial. This is genuine Thanksgiving and Karen's life exudes it.
Every time I talk to Karen I am amazed and spurred on. Every day is thanksgiving for her. Sometimes it's a tear-filled, heart-wrenching, feeble expression of thanks... other days it's joyful laughter. But what it never is, is a victim or response to circumstance. May that encourage you as it has me, to not simply set aside one day out of the year but to set aside our hearts every day besie the altar of thanksgiving.
Some great quotes to ponder as you give Thanks today and always:
"Life without thankfulness is devoid of love and passion. Hope without thankfulness is lacking in fine perception. Faith without thankfulness lacks strength and fortitude. Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road." [John Henry Jowett]
"In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich." [Dietrich Bonhoeffer]
"We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction." [Harry A. Ironside]
"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." [William Arthur Ward]
"Let everything that has breath praise the Lord" [Psalm 150:6]
"Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift." [Apostle Paul - 2 Corinthians 9:15]
"By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name." [Hebrews 13:15]
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Just another day to express my gratitude for what Christ accomplished. And the more His love transforms me, the more Thanksgiving becomes just an ordinary day and just another opportunity to praise Him in all things.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Of course my intentions to write on here are always so optimistic that reality has a hard time keeping up. This is continued discussion from my emails and more lengthy observations from my recent trip to Rwanda....
Like I stated in my email, I think the majority of Westerners that travel to less developed countries like Rwanda arrive thinking “those poor people.” However, as I depart, I return home thinking that more of Americans. Don’t hear me wrong, I am not in any way minimizing the atrocities that a lot of African countries experience such as genocide, starvation & epidemic. In fact, most of the people I spent time with here shared heart-wrenching stories of survival, loss, displacement, and destruction. But the flip side of that pain is they are a people of true contentment with what they have and their lives exude more joy than most American believers I know (including myself). They do not point fingers in blame, they take the pain that comes their way and remain committed. Our concept of commitment in America is motivated by reward. We commit because of what we will get out of something and once that which we have invested in isn’t giving us the returns we had hoped for, we move on to something else or find things to distract and entertain us. Take marriage for instance…one would only need to look at our divorce rate to see this played out.
We are a society in need of constant entertainment/distraction lest we face the realities of our hearts. Rwandans don’t have things to distract or entertain, so they are forced to face the Truth..not run from it. And they are better for it. We have everything and yet nothing all at the same time. Our suicide rates continue to climb. Our depression rates continue to climb. Prescriptions for depression medications continue to climb. Divorce rates are at an all-time high. Our youth is out of control with boredom created by a narcissistic culture. Our lusts for the proverbial carrot on the string leave our hearts discontent and unable to enjoy the God who saved us. We are so consumed with proving something to the world and providing for ourselves that we miss out on experiencing God’s daily provision and we rarely experience Him as Savior, though we claim Him to be. How can we see our need for a Savior when we busy ourselves (with neglect to everyone and everything around us) looking out for number 1?
The Rwandan society is communal versus the individualistic society which we are all familiar with. Things which we can find “frustrating” in cultures like this where “African time” is not quite the same as the rigid time-schedules most of us keep as Americans, I have grown to love and appreciate in my time here. It is beautiful to me that one can be on his way somewhere here and if he runs into a friend, the opportunity to engage in relationship just became more important than wherever it was he was going. A lot more of a picture of Heaven if you ask me. Logically, it makes sense that relationships would supersede schedules in this thing called life, but somewhere along the way the enemy convinced us otherwise and the effects of isolation are trickling out and slowly killing us. Our concern is not physical genocide… it is emotional, spiritual, relational genocide and its death is slow. Our bank accounts are full but the rest of our lives are mediocre at best.
The Word says, “where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.” So…where is your treasure stored up? Are you tossing in all of your chips in complete dependence on God, or have you bought the lies of self-sufficiency, self-dependency and nicknamed them “responsibility”? I hear a lot of American believers (when confronted with the reality of their unsurrendered heart) justify it by saying, “yeah, well God calls us to be wise stewards and afterall…he gave us a brain, right?” This is a well-articulated attempt to justify living in lies because deep down they know the Truth. The Truth is that God’s call for us to be “wise stewards” was never to the expense of relationship. Wisdom flows from Truth. And Truth is found in the light… in God. If then, we yoke ourselves to worldly institutions and call that “wisdom” than we are no longer living in the Truth and therefore can no longer be “wise stewards.” Any effort on our part to be so is merely religious…like the Pharisees, our hearts are far from him. Or like Martha, we neglect to sit at His feet but busy ourselves in His name.
I was discussing this with Celestin and he noted that because the concept of community is so foreign to most Americans who are raised to look out for number one, we are indeed poor. We have everything at our fingertips and yet our lives are void of the stuff in life that really matters. Materially rich yet emotionally, spiritually and relationally poor sounds a lot worse off to me than materially poor, yet emotionally, spiritually and relationally rich. Don’t get me wrong… I think there is much opportunity for Americans to be God’s hands and feet throughout Rwanda and around the globe and in fact it is our responsibility to hold loosely what God has blessed us with so that He might use us. But compassion for others is proportionate to God’s sovereignty in our lives. The less defined our lives are by the institutions of the world (economics, politics, religion) and the more our lives are defined by Jesus…the more free our hearts are to love others. I think that is why Rwandans…especially Rwandan believers lead such rich lives. They give of what they have b/c they see everything they have as a gift. In giving their lives freely they experience freedom. We seek to find freedom in retirement or financial success… but the quest to get us to that place nearly kills us along the way and it destroys the relationships around us. One by one we burn bridges and finally we arrive… on an island alone. That proverbial carrot is no longer dangling and it doesn’t taste near as sweet as we thought it would.
The Rwandan culture has also taught me much about committment, faithfulness, and joy. In America, I think we confuse joy with happiness and as a result our experience of God remains in the shallow waters of the kiddie pool. God is unconcerned with our happiness...his concern is our holiness. Pleasure and comfort have become the false gods of our day and because so much of culture worships them, their influence even creeps into our relationship with the One True God. Though we would hardly articulate it outloud, we often measure God's goodness in our lives as directly proportionate to our happiness. When we adopt this mindset, we tend to project a false notion of Christianity to the watching world b/c we make God out to be a cosmic rabbit's foot.
As I talked to Celestin further regarding the differences between American society & Rwandan society, a couple other things he said he has a hard time understanding about America was kidnapping & serial killers. There is no concept of these things in Rwanda. I thought about it for a little bit and told him that I think these things are pervasive in America because of isolation. In Rwanda, neighborhoods are communities and if you live in close proximity to each other that is a free ticket into eachother’s lives. In America, we hardly know the neighbor next door. People can’t get away with kidnapping or serial killing in Rwanda, because those around them would know. It is so easy to isolate in the Western world that people can get away with these extreme acts of violence and still remain unnoticed. And most of the time the people who perpetrate these acts are victims of isolation themselves.
This all is a little jumbled b/c I'm tired and haven't had time to edit and make it eloquent. If you've read all this, you are a brave soul indeed.
I guess I wanna wrap up by saying that there is not one right way. There are positives and negatives to both societal structures and cultures, so it is critical to remember that there is much we can learn from each other. The tapestry God is weaving is made up of diverse colors of thread and we get a glimpse of its beauty when we can appreciate the spectrum of hues that collide to tell His story.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Most of you tuning in know of the ongoing saga with my stomach's alter ego, otherwise known as Petey (the Parasite). After a lifetime of stomach trouble, I have gone down just about every avenue available in efforts to alleviate my "stomach issues" (details spared). And though I've experienced little to no improvement (physically), the life lessons I've learned along the way have been invaluable:
1. there is no quick fix. and all who proclaim quick fixes are short-lived.
2. there is freedom in discipline. in my immaturity, i used to think freedom and discipline were opposing eachother
3. the details of my life are not arbitrary to God...good, bad, or ugly... everything runs through His sovereign hand. If He is allowing something in my life, I can trust that there is purpose and intention in it
4. God alone is my healer. And I may never experience full healing until I see Him and He hands me my new rockstar body.
5. if you're gonna be proactive instead of reactive in life, everything must run through the grid of scripture
6. society teaches us to protect our outer man while our inner man is dying. scripture tells us that God makes us new from the inside out. the choice becomes: keep up the facade and die inside -or- submit and live
7. God is most glorified when everything has gone wrong, and He's enough.
8. i choose who my Master will be. i can enslave myself to the frustration of living with a highly emotional stomach and become a victim -or- i can enslave myself to Christ and become a conqueror. Satan can't rob my joy unless I let him.
all this to say, what Satan intended for harm, God has used for good. And I know that in a perfect world without sin and stain, my stomach would be free of its insecurities and would work as it was designed to. so until that day when Petey will no longer plague me, I say God is good.
My efforts to be intentional about praying specifically for physical healing over the next 30 days is not so much a plea as it is just a conscious committment to actively put my trust in God instead of the plethora of quick fix remedies on the market. Tune in for my updates and pray with me!
8.28.2008: As I was praying this morning, the Lord showed me where I am allowing fear to create anxiety and worry in my life about my upcoming overseas trips. My fear is that I am going to be forced to eat things (i.e. Gluten) that I know make me sick. I ran across this verse in Matthew 6: 25"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"
I rob myself of they joy of experiencing God as my Provision when a. I allow worry/fear to consume me and b. when I am too busy trying to provide for myself.
9.3.2008: I read Mark1:40-42 this morning where the leper falls before Jesus saying "if you want to you can heal me". The text says that Jesus was deeply moved by the man and He responds with "I want to. Be healed." This is an encouraging verse for me, especially on the days I feel that my prayers travel no further than my ceiling. God wants to heal me...and in fact already has in Christ. Although God may withhold healing from me while on this earth, it is not a matter of His lack of desire. In an instant He could touch my stomach & make it whole again, but for whatever reasons He doesn't I can still trust that He wants to. Therefore, His restraint just as much as His healing is His story for me. My God is not arbitrary...seems to be my mantra these days. Praise to Him
9.13.2008: Of course, my intentions were to update this every few days. I guess every 10 days will have to suffice. Although I haven't updated here since 9/3, my prayers for healing have continued. And as I was reading in Luke this morning about the woman who was healed after 12 years of hemorrhaging by just the touch of Jesus' cloak, my heart was stirred by this story (found in Luke 8: 43-48). The simplicity of the woman's faith is humbling. She didn't clean herself up or go through any sort of ritual so that Jesus might heal her. She came to Him as she was. Weak. In need. Broken. And in complete confidence that Jesus was the only one that could heal her. Scripture says that she had spent every penny she had on doctors (sounds familiar) and none could help her. She heard Jesus was coming and placed her sole faith in Him as her Healer. She knew if she could just get close enough to touch even his cloak, that His power could stop her bleeding. She didn't care what people thought, even though she was 'unclean' and she knew she would be receiving some condescending looks if she were to enter the crowd of people. But she laid all that aside, and reaching out she closed her eyes and touched his cloak as he passed. At once her body felt whole. The bleeding had stopped. Jesus felt the power go out from Him and asked "who touched me?" She was scared but came forward. Jesus responded "Daughter, you took a risk trusting me, and now you're healed and whole. Live well, live blessed." (The Message). May I take that same risk and be found as bold as this woman.
9.20.2008: I've had a bit of a "crisis of faith" the last few days. I haven't been taken the matter of my stomach before the Lord & have allowed my heart to settle into frustration. I have moments where I feel exhausted with the pre-occupation caused by the chronic pain in my gut, the anxiety of continuously questioning what I should/shouldn't eat, the doubt that I'm ever going to see relief, and the frustration that there seems to be no pattern. It makes me want to throw my hands in the air and resign to eating whatever I feel like at the moment. But even in my frustration the Lord speaks tenderly to me, reminding me that this earth suit is going to be made whole one day and teaching me that my current pain is producing depenedence on him and faith in what is to come.
9.29.08: I just got done reading...correction, listening to the audiobook of....The Shack. I intend to blog further about what the Lord accomplished in me through that book...it is one of the most beautifully articulated pictures of The Trinity I have ever encountered. One thing I got a firmer grasp on through The Shack was God's bigger purposes through our pain. He is not the orchistrator of pain, pain is a result of our fallen state & sometimes of our choices, but He uses the pain as pieces of thread in the great tapestry He is weaving. This is a comfort to me.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
more thoughts on a conversation I had with a friend recently....
I hear ya on the "single friends dropping like flies" comment! Just wait until the "Friends Having Babies" Phase! Its very surreal. I attended a baby shower for a friend from high school that is two years younger than me...I, of course, am so happy for her & her impending motherhood, but I left that day praising the Lord with where He has me and just knowing that that lifestyle is not what He has for me right now. And I'm okay with it. It's funny though... running back into friends from high school (most of which are married with kids by now) and the first question is "Are you dating anyone?" I know it's just an innocent question on their part, but I do find it almost comical that society as a whole doesn't really know what to do with you if you get to be 27 and are just content being single.
Either culture wants to turn it into one big excuse to self-indulge...encouraging you to "be independent, continue to keep your options open, and hey, you still have the freedom to party". Subtly insinuating that committment is a negative thing. -OR- Christian circles want to turn it into a performance-driven preparation for what's to come. Handing you a long check-list of things to accomplish so that you are "ready".
Either way, it's postponing living in the moment and having faith that single or not single, God is unchanging, Good, and in-control. I think for so many women (I won't speak for men), the whole issue of singleness really all comes down to control. Are we going to allow society to control our mindset during this season by engaging in temporary fixes that keep us distracted & self-absorbed -OR- allow false Christian doctrine to make God into some reactionary being who we can control by checking all the boxes -OR- are we gonna trust He's never left His throne, He is intimately acquainted with us and His will for us at any point in time is for our eventual joy and His glory.
Trust in Him is the only thing that gives us freedom to be content where we are at & to keep the focus off of us.
Ha...After reading this it makes me sound like I am just blissfully floating through singleness.. not the case. It is a battle and I definitely would love to be married sometimes...though suburbia life makes me wanna throw up a little in my mouth. I kinda picture traveling the world w/ my husband...with kids in tow as more of my speed.
Anyway...all that to say God is good and it's not a matter of where we are at in life relative to where someone else is at...it's where He has us and so its good. God doesn't ever get the "Teacher's Pet" mentality & play favorites so it is never a matter of comparison. See Romans chapters 9-11. I may not like it sometimes, but I have to believe that God is not arbitrary in allowing it. He is a God of details...a God of initimacy...so these little glitches where I can find myself asking "God, where were you in that situation or circumstance?".... must all be somehow weaving together b/c God doesn't have "senior moments" or momentary lapses of judgement. He does everything with intention and purpose. And some of those purposes I will not know until at last I am Home.
My hang-up sometimes comes with the not-knowing-and-still-trusting though. I must trust that despite not knowing or understanding the "whys" that God is worthy of my trust. That He isn't some abusive control freak who gets kicks out of allowing me to see only bits and pieces. He is not manipulative in His power and I can fully trust His authority in my life. That is good news for me, a person who struggles alot with lingering issues with authority figures as a result of my upbringing.
And this is also Good news because it frees me from the Shame-Performance cycle of feeling like I must not be worthy enough to be blessed with a husband yet so I must get busy proving my worth and value as an ambassador for Christ so that I can be rewarded. What a flawed view of God and Singleness for so many reasons: a. Pride in thinking that my actions/ my works determine God's next move in my life (like me and God are playing some Cosmic Chess Game) b. again Prideful and ASSuming that marriage is what God has next for me. What if it's not and what if I don't even have tomorrow? There are endless possibilities for how my life story could play out, so why would I modify my lifestyle now around only one potential outcome? c. because I want to hang on to control and trust in myself and what I think/want/feel. d. emotions (perpetuated by Hollywood) are given way to loud a voice. e. because we "feel" like something might be right or good, God owes it to us. We adopt the mentality of an ungrateful teenager and our bratty requests to God are a slap in the face to the Cross. Its what God can do for us, and there is no sacrifice or death to self on our part. [INSERT] major problems with the church here. (see Prosperity Gospel).
I was listening to a Matt Chandler sermon recently that ties all this in very nicely. Check it out HERE. http://www.thevillagechurch.net/resources/sermons.html
Scroll down and the sermon is called "Hope in Real Life", dated 5/25/08
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Someone sent this to me in an email forward, which somehow bypassed my Trash folder where all of the other forwards are lovingly sent on their merry way. For you animal lovers, like myself, this is a beautiful tale of friendship and gratitude that is endearing.
If you read the front page story of the SF Chronicle, you would have read about a female humpback whale who had become entangled in a spider web of crab traps and lines.
She was weighted down by hundreds of pounds of traps that caused her to struggle to stay afloat. She also had hundreds of yards of line rope wrapped around her body, her tail, her torso, and a line tugging in her mouth.
A fisherman spotted her just east of the Farralone Islands (outside the Golden Gate) and radioed an environmental group for help.
Within a few hours, the rescue team arrived and determined that she was so bad off, the only way to save her was to dive in and untangle her - a very dangerous proposition.
One slap of the tail could kill a rescuer.
They worked for hours with curved knives and eventually freed her. When she was free, the divers say she swam in what seemed like joyous circles. She then came back to each and every diver, one at a time, and nudged them, pushed gently around--she thanked them. Some said it was the most incredibly beautiful experience of their lives.
The guy who cut the rope out of her mouth says her eye was following him the whole time, and he will never be the same.
May you, and all those you love, be so blessed and fortunate to be surrounded by people who will help you get untangled from the things that are binding you. And, may you always know the joy of giving and receiving gratitude.
This brings tears to my eyes for two reasons:
1. I am a sucker for animal stories like this. You don’t ever want to be beside me in a movie where an animal dies or gets hurt.
2. I am blessed to have friends that are voices of Hope and reflections of Joy, and whose hands and feet are used by our gracious God in the tedious work of untangling me from life’s hurts & my own self-absorption. Because of you, I’m free to swim.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
I've recently been hanging out some with an acquaintance of mine, Discontent. Perhaps, you are acquainted with him too... slightly bothersome but strangely alluring fellow that always seems to show up at the most inconvenient times. There is something initially inviting about Discontent, perhaps his loyalty, but each time we hang out I always leave feeling like the life has been sucked from me. Like the other day when I intended to make a quick stop to re-fill a perfume bottle and I look over to see Discontent walking my way (at least I saw him coming this time, usually he blind sides me). I quickly dashed behind one of the make-up counters and pretended to be really interested in blush all of the sudden. I avoided him for a little bit, but eventually he found me and of course all he ever wants to do is talk about the latest and greatest. Not too long after that we ran into Discontent's associate, Comparison. Comparison is even more of a gossip than Discontent, but they feed off of each other like parasites. They have an interesting relationship and usually you know that if one is around, the other is somewhere near. Comparison is a classic "Chatty Cathy". Sometimes I even wonder if she stops to come up for air. But Discontent always encourages her, mostly listening and agreeing, but also throwing in his pessimistic two cents. Their narcissistic personalities seem to work well together and their business is thriving here in Dallas. Their under-the-radar operation is endorsed by the most elite corporations and they recenty formed a merger with Northpark Mall. But their success can be largely attributed to the brains of the whole operation, Insecurity. Insecurity is a behind-the-scenes, often very elusive character and because he has been around so long, people usually don't even realize that they've been with him. He is extremely introverted and a bit of a wallflower, so he is easy to overlook. Almost everyone is acquainted with Insecurity, but very few people admit they even know of him because there is such a stigma with his name. And while Insecurity remains independent of Discontent and Comparison, he provides the driving force of everything they accomplish.
So, after an hour of listening to Discontent and Comparison go on and on the other day, I finally just got up and left. I'm sure they perceived that as rude, but even just that short amount of time spent with them began to drain the life from me so I didn't care. I needed fresh air. It felt good to take a stand against their meaningless chitchat that was wasting my time. In the past, they used to be my constant companions, but the more time I spend apart from them, the more obvious it becomes that they are a detriment to my soul. Truth and Grace are a couple new friends of mine, and the more I hang out with them, the less I want to be around Discontent and Comparison. The saying goes that "you are what you hang around." The depth of friendship and the life that I find with Truth and Grace makes me a better person, which I could never say about Discontent, Comparison, or Insecurity.
"The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy but I have come that you may have life and life to the full." - Jesus
-- Where have you recently crossed paths with Discontent? At work? With your spouse? With your friends? When you look in the mirror?
-- Is Insecurity an acquaintance that you haven't admitted to? Where is Insecurity robbing you of life because you allow it to remain in the shadows of your heart? Who can you be real with today about the Insecurity in your life?
-- What voices of Comparison have you been listening to for far too long? What Truth can you replace that voice with? (See Colossians 3:1-4 as a starting place)
-- What other things/ people have you been hanging around that are slowly draining life from you? Why do you keep returning to them? Who/ What can you begin to replace those toxic environments/relationships with so that you are filled with the abundant Life Jesus promised? What is stopping you?