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Archive for the ‘Gratitude’ Category

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48 (NIV)

 I face the temptation on a regular basis to think that I’m not personally responsible for the plight of people around me who are less fortunate than I. I’m grateful that I have experiences from time to time to rouse me out of my complacency and selfishness.

For some years now I adapt my weekly schedule to do some volunteer work at one of my local charity shops. I find the few hours a week I spend at the shop refreshing to my soul. It gets me out of my dusty routine and into the daily lives of many people that I might not otherwise meet during a given week.

Just this week while working at the shop’s “till” as we call it in Ireland, I was quite surprised to see a very destitute looking man enter the shop and begin to play with a child’s musical toy. I had only priced the toy at the value of three Euro some minutes before.

If I could only have had two free hours with this individual I would have gladly re-clothed his badly soiled garments, treated him to an hour bath and burned the filthy rags he was wearing. You could smell an individual like this coming from blocks away. He was that bad off!

After a few minutes of rummaging around the shop, he approached me at the till and asked if he could purchase the musical toy for a small girl who was with her mother in the shop. He inserted his filthy fingers into a long-worn pocket and found three Euro to complete the purchase. I left the receipt for the sale on the till as I guessed he wouldn’t be interested in it!

I admit that I have a strong tendency toward feeling entitled to more that I already have. We live in a world that is consumed with consumerism. It’s also very popular today to think that we should have the best of everything at reasonable prices and we should demand our rights if we don’t get what we want. Often I feel that I’m on the giving end far more than the receiving end, which is in fact, totally false.

The words of Jesus Christ, quoted above, come at the end of one of His many parables. In the parable, Jesus speaks of a faithful and wise manager who is entrusted with his Master’s possessions. The key is how the manager behaves, knowing he will one day be held to account for that which he has been entrusted. How the manager views the Master is the key to the parable. If the manager feels that there will not be a day of reckoning in the future, he can even go so far as to beat the Master’s servants and begin to believe that he will not be held to account for his actions.

There’s also an added precaution – the manager must face the reality of the trust he’s been given.  Those entrusted with more – more will be required of them.

Upon reflection, I find that even the most impoverished among us still have something to share with others. One person who is a most unlikely candidate for admiration, is still made in the image of God and can display generosity and kindness.

The reality is that I have been endowed with far more than I can ever imagine with grace, goods and gifts of many kinds. By one act of kindness, I’m reminded that I have been entrusted by my Master with infinite riches. The more I can manage to give the more I seem to gain. Perhaps He’s arranged it to work that way.

 

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“In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.” – Hebrews 2:10-11 (NIV)

As we get into the Christmas season, the days seem to go by rapidly with thoughts of shopping, cards, and preparations for our annual celebration and the end of another calendar year. We don’t often take time to reflect on the reason we celebrate Christmas and our personal stake in it all.

At Christmas we who are followers of Jesus are often aghast at how the world around us prepares for the season with a mad frenzy. However, we ourselves become so caught up in the process that we forget our own sins, failures and shortcomings that were actually the reason God chose to send His Son to redeem us. This is denial at the highest level.

We are all subject to denial. For years of my life I tried to avoid or admit to personal failure not realizing that by doing so I was standing in the way of my own transformation. I’m sure during that time I never missed a Christmas Celebration.

The news this year has been full of heartbreaking stories of the victims of war, refugee movements and other major calamities. We don’t have to look very far to see the depths to which humanity has fallen.

If we ever needed personal and societal redemption it certainly is now! However, I’m not sure that true transformation of heart and character can be genuine without failure and personal setbacks. It’s very much an enigma to me.

Even though Jesus Christ did not experience failure as a result of personal sin, as fully human He did identify with all of us in His sufferings. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews tells us that He was “made perfect” through His sufferings. And in doing so He invites us into His family! He accepts the broken, the wounded and suffering and dares to call us family – brother, and sisters.

There was something that would have been incomplete about the life and ministry of Jesus without suffering and setback. I think the same is true for us. There’s something incomplete about our own transformation without suffering and failure. I’d rather this wasn’t the case but now I see there is no other way.

Jesus Christ came into this dark, broken world to bring transformation to our lives. We don’t often realize it was because of our personal failure and brokenness that He came. We’d like to think that we are “pretty good and decent” people who try to do our best and don’t have to ask God for very much. It’s that very attitude that blocks our personal transformation.

Now for me, Christmas is a time to reflect on my own neediness and failure for which I have no answer other than the Incarnate Son of God and His work in my own life and soul. Without His redeeming work I’m stranded without transformation and my sin and failure have no redemptive value whatsoever.

Christmas should be a reminder to us all the God sent His Son into a broken world to transform it. It won’t happen through political movements or self-improvement programs. God’s plan is more personal and profound that we ever realize.

Whatever failure, setback or suffering has been part of this year for us we must remember that Jesus joins us in our deepest struggles and doesn’t shrink back from accepting us as brothers and sisters. When we surrender to Him even failure can be transforming if we allow its lessons to transform our hearts. That seems to be what God’s family is all about and I’m so grateful to be accepted into it – all because of Him.

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My thoughts on healthy acceptance of what we cannot change in life

“Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” – Romans 8:23 (NIV)

A New Resolve: “Armed with the knowledge that God has my best interests in mind I can learn to trust Him through uncomfortable circumstances realizing that some of my deepest desires may remain unmet.”

Its springtime again and after a long winter we long for the weather to improve, at least in the northern hemisphere, so that we can get back to the enjoyment of outdoor activities. In reflection, I’m reminded that it’s not always a pleasant experience waiting for something positive to develop.

In this modern age of Internet communication and global travel we live in a world where instant gratification is not only expected but demanded. We have a difficult time waiting for anything, yet if we are honest, many of the deepest desires of our hearts remain unmet.

The reality of life is that we are destined to “groan inwardly as we wait,” as the Apostle Paul says so aptly above. For the believer in Jesus Christ life in this world will never be perfect but we live with the expectation that our full redemption will one day be complete.

However, in the present circumstances of life we always seem to be waiting for something we don’t yet have. I know single people who long to be married to the right person. I know married people who long to have happier marriages. I know childless couples who long to conceive a child of their own. I know unemployed people who are waiting for employment. I know cancer patients who are waiting for healing, and the list could go on endlessly.

In every season of my life I can look back to desires I had during each phase that at the time were unfulfilled. The same is true today. There are desires and aspirations in my own heart that are yet to be fulfilled. As I grow older it seems that time grows shorter and shorter and the reality is many of my deepest desires may never be completely fulfilled in this life.

In his book, “Living with Unfulfilled Desires,” the Swiss missionary Walter Trobisch records a series of conversations he has by letter with a young African. The African, being single and in his late teenage years is struggling with sexual desires and engaging in critical dialogue with the author. The key piece of advice Trobisch gives to this young man is, “You have to learn to live with unfulfilled desires.”

It seems that one of the great challenges of life is developing the maturity, resolve and skill to live with the tension that some of our deepest desires are yet to be met.

We can become fatalistic or try to dismiss, deaden or deny our desires. We can treat our desires as sinful and wall off desire as something that is apart from us. Not only can it not be done, it also would result in a lifeless existence.  A life without desire is no life at all.

Somehow God in His wisdom has given us good desires that find significant fulfillment when directed toward Him and used for His divine purposes in every walk of life. When we begin to shortcut the process and seek immediate gratification for ourselves things seem to go chaotic and crazy.

I’m learning that growth takes place in us when we wait patiently on God for the fulfillment of our desires.

When living with unfulfilled desires we can be grateful – grateful for where we are and grateful for where we have come from. It seems that learning gratitude throughout this life is something that God has given to us for our growth and our well-being.

God in His sovereignty has His purposes for you in whatever situation you currently face. God must be up to something when you have to wait for the fulfillment you long for. Waiting for God seems to be at the heart of the spiritual life. Our longing for fulfillment drives us to Him.

The longings of our heart can also cause us to live in the present with a perspective of hope for the future. We can look to the future and “wait eagerly for our adoption.”

Even in the darkest night and the deepest struggle we can know that our longings will one day find complete satisfaction in God and His Kingdom. That’s a real assurance in any season of life.

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My thoughts on healthy acceptance of what we cannot change in life

“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” – John 14:2-3 (NIV)

A New Resolve: “I cannot change the future but as it unfolds I can learn to rest in God knowing that long ago He made preparations for my future.”

Suicide. It’s the word we never want to hear, but is a terrible reality in our world. Recently it hit home hard as a dear friend took her own life. She had everything to live for – a lovely family and many friends who dearly loved her – but depression and despair had clouded her vision. For unexplained reasons she didn’t or couldn’t see a future for herself in this life.

We grieve for her and even more for the family she left behind. In seeking to process the pain of it all we are left with far more questions than answers.

If I’m honest there have been difficult times in my own life when I wondered why God still had me living in His world and even why He had ordained for me to be here.

Now I am more convinced than ever that we all have a mortal spiritual enemy that seeks to destroy our lives, but we also have our Lord and Maker who has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. There is no doubt that there is a battle raging for control of our hearts and minds. That’s where decisions are made – where lives flourish, flounder or fail to thrive. That’s where we decide to choose life – or choose death, in one form or another.

Just before His crucifixion and resurrection Jesus reminded His followers that He was leaving but He also assured them of His continued presence. The Holy Spirit would come to guide, comfort and empower His followers.

Jesus also assured His followers, “I go ahead of you to prepare a place for you.” This is the assurance of a glorious future in Heaven for all those who submit to the leadership of Jesus in this life.

In reflecting on the tragedy that befell my good friend and searching my own soul, I think our mortal enemy tries to deceive us into thinking that there will be nothing good for us down the road. We might as well just “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.”

To be honest, with the pain, failure and suffering that many of us have experienced life doesn’t always look promising for the future. But Jesus assures us, “I go to prepare something special for you.”

In another context, the Apostle Paul spoke of Jesus’ followers this way, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

When I began to grasp the reality that Jesus prepares a place for His followers in Heaven then it dawned on me that He must have good purposes for them on earth until that day comes. We are “God’s workmanship” and as such we are being shaped for deeds that are good and most of them yet to come! These works are good. Not only good for our world but they will be good for us too!

Regardless of what our present situation is like there is good news for everyone to keep on living, even in a broken world. God is preparing good works for us and He’s preparing a future home for us too.

For those of us who struggle with depression, worry, and anxiety we can be reassured that God holds the future. He’s already there ahead of us – far ahead. We can leave the future in His Mighty Hands and trust Him as it unfolds.

Several years ago when I was processing a lot of failure in my own life I prayed on more than one occasion that if God no longer had any purpose for me in this life, He was more than welcome to take me “home.” I know now that my dear friend felt the same way.

Looking back I’m so glad that God didn’t answer my foolish prayer. I’m also thankful that He shows me on a continual basis that He’s got my future, and all of our futures in His hands.

God’s desire for us is to live with Him now and forever. We can embrace an uncertain future by preparing our hearts for good works, then we can walk by faith alongside Jesus confidently into the future.

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A New Series on Acceptance – my thoughts on healthy acceptance of what we cannot change in life

“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.” Philippians 3:13-15a (NIV)

A New Resolve: “I cannot change the past and must only carry life-lessons with me.”

I used to feel that the more energy I expended on negative things in my life the more likely I was to fix them. Actually just the opposite is true.

I’m not suggesting that we ignore our problems or escape reality. So often the energy we could be expending on effectively dealing with today’s problems gets diffused by carrying unnecessary baggage with us along life’s journey.

Even though I think I’ve made peace with my past there’s often a reminder that I’m not as far along in “letting go” as I think I am.  Sometimes reality has to hit before we realize how our past is robbing us of joy and contentment in the present.

Last year I really suffered with my back. When the problem started I immediately made an appointment with my physiotherapist. After she couldn’t work out the problems after almost six months of treatments I discovered Tony a local Osteopath who was recommended by some trusted friends. Tony found the solution to my back problems but also reminded me of what I knew in my head but in reality wasn’t practicing.

Tony indicated that not only were my back problems related to a past physical injury that was never resolved but they were also related to my emotional state which wasn’t healthy either. He said, “Jesse, you have to let go! You’re still holding on to a lot of things and tension is keeping your problem going! I have no clue what it is, but you have to find it and let it go.”

My weekly sessions with Tony ended up being consistent reminders to me that I cannot change the past and have to “let it go.” No matter how much I try to grasp the things that don’t seem to be resolved the only things worth holding onto are positive lessons learned through life’s failures and success. It seems we always learn a lot more through failure than success.

I think this is where the Apostle Paul seeks to take us in the passage quoted above. Even though he had a lot of things going for him as an individual, as an apostle and leader in the early church he was focused on the present and the future. The task of being a builder in God’s church in the early stages of its existence was too great a task for him to be bogged down by the past – precisely where he could not live and what he could not change.

But Paul also had the personal resolve of knowing God intimately through Jesus and was fully convinced of his eternal destiny. He took every opportunity to present Jesus Christ to others and proclaim the message of the Cross – that God’s sacrifice of His Son, when accepted, resolved his past and gave him everything he needed for the future.

To say that Paul had his eye on a larger picture would be an understatement at best.

So often when I get focused on the past I insist on carrying fear, wounds, grudges, burdens, shame, anxiety and bitterness with me. In doing so I am focused on the small picture. It usually just has “me” in the picture and no one else. We often carry scars with us that tell a story of difficult situations and perhaps others that harmed us. Carrying all the negatives with us will lead to depression and despair. I know, I’ve gone there far too often.

When we refuse to “let go” of the past we lose sight of the fact that God in His greatness can run the universe. He’s been doing it from eternity past and we can trust Him with the present and future no matter where we have come from.

So let go of the past and be grateful in the present. Be grateful for where you have come from and the lessons you carry with you instead of getting mired in the details. Be grateful for where you are headed, but be sure you are headed in the right direction.

Ultimately the only place secure in this world is the eternal world to come where we will be free from every snare that kept us in bondage during this life. There is One who goes ahead of us who is quite willing to take us there.

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“But Job replied, ‘You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?’ So in all this, Job said nothing wrong.” Job 2:10 (NLT)

Have you ever received a Christmas gift that you found difficult to accept?

Have you ever been downright disappointed in what you’ve received?

I know I have. I vividly recall one Christmas in my late teen years when my parents gave me a gift that I flat out rejected. It wasn’t a pretty scene. Today I’m really embarrassed that I behaved so poorly and was so unappreciative of my parents who had previously never failed to make Christmas a special occasion.

Being a somewhat typical man, I admit I’m hard to shop for when it comes to gifts. I can’t always make up my mind what I really want anyway, so how could my family know what gift to give me?

I don’t know about you but I struggle with the idea of acceptance. We love accepting things that we enjoy especially when fun surprises come our way. But when we get what we aren’t expecting – especially when it comes in the form of disappointment, adversity or suffering – that’s when we are not so sure we can accept the gift.

Being the natural perfectionist that I am, I’m always looking for the best deal I can find so when I get less than what I think is best, disappointment can quickly sink in.

I have found that when I set my standards high and don’t figure in setbacks and suffering into the mix of life, I set myself up for struggles with disappointment and a lack of acceptance.

Lately, I’ve been listening more carefully to people who have graciously struggled with pain, suffering and adversity in their lives. Many of them describe even adversity as a “gift” from God. One that we don’t ask for, but which inevitably comes our way, living in this fallen world.

A colleague of mine has been struggling with cancer for over fourteen years. Barring a miracle her condition will not change for the better this side of heaven. The painful process she’s been through she describes as a “gift.” She has had countless opportunities to speak to others of God’s grace and provision for her during her time of affliction. I don’t know if I would be that accepting if I were in her shoes.

From time to time professional golfer Gary Player alludes to the fact that he had a difficult childhood in South Africa but grew up with the dream that he would be one of the world’s greatest golfers in his generation. He is often quoted as saying that adversity is one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind even though we don’t see it that way. By facing adversity with a more than positive attitude his accomplishments continue to back up his bold statements.

Jealousy and envy also make acceptance a difficult task. When we think that others have it better than we do in some area of life we look at our own situation and covet the possessions of others. We never expect that they might be looking back at us with similar sentiments. We aren’t so quick to envy others for the suffering they endure even though it might just be the making of us.

Part of accepting God’s gifts to us – the pleasant and the painful – is the realization that He is doing something unique with each one of us that only He can accomplish with our willing participation. We refer to this as a “faith” journey with God, trusting that His way for us is tailor-made and whatever is beyond our control comes directly from His gracious hand.

This Christmas I find myself desiring a new perspective on acceptance and gratitude. The more that we can accept what God gives us and respond to Him with a heart of gratitude the less disappointment will be part of our daily life-experience.

God’s greatest gift to the world was His very own Son – our Christmas Treasure. The rich gifts that He offers to all of us – His grace, mercy, peace and forgiveness – can’t be measured or removed once received.

When we gladly accept Him, in all His richness, we can easily accept whatever else may come our way – without disappointment!

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“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV)

We live in a very disappointing world. Seems to me that very few things in life “work out” as we hope they will.

I don’t know about you, but I seem to spend a good deal of time in my life waiting for something to “significant” to happen. Often due to disappointment with present circumstances, I seem to be waiting for something “better” to come along so that I can finally give myself “permission” to be happy.

Recently I was watching a sporting event that kept getting interrupted by commercial breaks. It was a tense, close match and I started getting anxious during the breaks not knowing what might be coming in the next chapter of the contest.

I began to realize that I could literally live the rest of my life that way. Living in anxiety between scenes of the story – looking for outcomes rather than enjoying the journey.

We may regularly find ourselves in a predicament that keeps us in the “not yet” mode –

I haven’t found true love – not yet

I haven’t found my life partner – not yet

I haven’t found contentment in my marriage relationship – not yet

I haven’t seen my children finish school and get a job – not yet

I haven’t found fulfillment in my job – not yet

I haven’t paid off my debts – not yet

What has to happen next before you can be happy? I find this to be a very revealing question to ask myself.

I’m finally realizing that how we behave while we are waiting on something we think will make us happy says a lot about the way we “do” life. Disappointment is largely a result of expectations, but our disappointment in someone or something does not alter reality one way or another.

The Apostle Paul makes a very bold statement in the verse quoted above. He says that there’s a “secret” to learning contentment regardless of the situation. I think Paul learned this over a period of time, it wasn’t an immediate realization. He had to do a lot of living through many life experiences to arrive at the point of making such a bold statement.

If you are like me you have many things in your life that you wish were different to the positive side. I can easily get distracted by all the things in our world that are insufficient and incomplete. And there’s no one more insufficient and incomplete than myself.

I think that contentment is the ability to fully live life in the midst of the tension between where we are and where we wish to be. Nothing “has” to happen before we can be content. Our Lord and Maker has designed life that way. He is the source of all that is good and satisfying even in a disappointing world.

For the man or woman of faith it’s a certainty that at present we are not where we wish or hope to be. Heaven is a future destiny not a present reality. Even so we, like Paul, can change our present attitudes regardless of the circumstances no matter how insufficient we feel they may be.

In an incomplete world full of setbacks and disappointments we will always be looking for something that we don’t yet have to “make” us happy. I’m finding this to be a poor investment of my valuable energy which seems to be diminishing day by day.

The life of contentment is one of gratitude to the God who is always there for us personally and intimately regardless of our present reality. If Paul learned the secret it must be available for us also.

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