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Archive for the ‘Gratitude’ Category

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” – Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

I need not remind you of the volume of distractions these days that beg for our time and attention – 24/7 news reports, e-mails, texts, social media, Slack, WhatsApp, the list goes on, and on and on! I heard recently that some 3 Billion hours per month world wide are spent on people playing video games alone!

For a number of years now I have kept a personal journal dealing with issues that relate to what’s going on in my life at deeper levels. I’m far more self-aware than I used to be and exploring what’s going on “below the water line” so to speak. The parts of me that others cannot see.

Several years ago many “D” words were showing up in my journal vocabulary – “Depression, Despair, Discouragement, Disappointment.” To say that I was dissatisfied with this situation would be an understatement. And yes, that also begins with the letter “D”!

In my daily devotions I seriously began to look attentively “inside” and question why these persistent emotional battles were being fought. I was convicted because if one was to look at my life from the outside they would see very little, if anything, that would account for these feelings. It just wasn’t reasonable or rational.

To some degree I discovered that many of the emotional maladies I suffered were due personal choices as to where I invested my time and attention. For years I was a worrier and brooder – thinking deeply about things that disturbed and saddened me. The internal focus of my life was not invested well in the things of eternal value that I knew in my head were much more important and essential.

In the passage quoted above the Apostle Paul in writing to the Colossian church in the first century describes some incredible truths. He says that a person who has trusted Jesus Christ in this life (which would describe me and thousands of others world-wide) has a new identity that is now “hidden with Christ in God.”
This profound truth, he explains, now means that even though we live in the physical realm, we can focus the center of our lives on the eternal reality that we are given a new identity that will endure forever. Paul says, set your hearts and minds on this new reality.

I have found that this is a matter of moment-by-moment and day-by-day choices of where we focus our attention. In reviewing my journal in recent days I see that words of gratitude, grace and thankfulness have replaced the nasty “D” words that once so dominated my thinking.

Obviously this is a long-term process, but it’s also a daily choice.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to counsel a man who had dealt with several addictive patterns in his life. He had successfully dealt with a serious gambling problem but wanted to go deeper and deal with other issues as they surfaced. He had learned in the recovery process that an addict is “chasing good feelings.” I had to admit in my own life that I was guilty of doing the same thing even thought I had never been into gambling or substance abuse.

I now see that God wants to give us great feelings. But the difference is that the great feelings are based on great realities – those of an eternal realm that will endure long beyond this beautiful but broken world we now inhabit.

I’m now convinced that good feelings are not an end in themselves but are a result of where we focus the center of our lives.

God’s desires for us include feelings of love and acceptance, of beauty, grace and mercy. These all flow from who we are and what we have in a relationship with Jesus Christ. He wants us to turn off the noise and give moment-by-moment attention to the new identity we have in Jesus that is not based on material possessions or on our status in society (or even the “Christian” community), and certainly not based on our personal performance.

If you will engage in this process with me you’ll also discover, as I have, that in this new pattern you will have much more time and energy to give to those around you who need your love, acceptance and availability.

By shifting our awareness of where our attention is focused we can become people who are growing strong in giving our energy to others who are of eternal value as well.

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“These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” – Psalm 42:4-6 (NIV)

As a boy living back in Fort Worth, Texas in the late 1950’s and 60’s I really loved Thanksgiving. Each Thanksgiving Day we usually had a family gathering with my father’s side of the family.

In attendance were two of my uncles who had attended the University of Texas at Austin. In those days, there was a traditional American college football rivalry each Thanksgiving between the UT Longhorns and the Texas A&M Aggies. If the game was televised, the meal couldn’t take place during the game! It WAS that important! In later years the Dallas Cowboys played a late afternoon game and the tradition continues to this day. My wife, who didn’t grow up in Texas and didn’t have brothers, isn’t sure this is a cause for giving thanks!

Not one Thanksgiving celebration went by that the food wasn’t spectacular.

The meal included traditional turkey, my mother’s cornbread dressing (or stuffing as we refer to it where I now live in Ireland) along with all the trimmings. I didn’t appreciate it at the time but my mother spent hours early in the week mixing up a huge batch of potato salad for the big event. I usually asked her to withhold the olives in mine as I thought they spoiled the flavor. My cousins now rave over that potato salad and one of them now sports his own version of “Aunt Blanche’s” potato salad. He tells me that his version of her recipe he copied from her years ago still isn’t as good as the original!

Each Thanksgiving weekend was a welcome break from the school routine which came as a relief from a little boy who wasn’t enamored with school at that point in life! Other priorities seemed so much more important.

As I grew older and Thanksgiving celebrations changed in my adult years, a funny thing happened. Life happened. The responsibilities and challenges of adulthood can spoil our fun if we let them. We now live in a much different environment than the one with which I was familiar.

In my years of innocence, the worst thing that might happen Thanksgiving week was that I might have to eat my potato salad WITH olives, or the UT Longhorns might lose to the Aggies. Now we are beset with much larger issues – the threat of terrorism, mass shootings, international political turmoil and the list goes on. Even though in my youth we were constantly exposed to the Viet Nam war and campus unrest it all seemed to come to a halt on Thanksgiving Day.

I’ve come to realize over the years that I’m not generally very satisfied with the blemishes that appear on every aspect of life. I would make life perfect for everyone if I had the power, which I obviously don’t. It’s a personal challenge and discipline to be grateful in a hostile, broken world.

I really resonate with the Psalmist, quoted above, as he ponders about the downcast state of his soul. He asks, “why are you so disturbed within me?”

Today my soul is downcast for the myriad of women who are coming forward to expose the brutality of thoughtless men who have groped, raped or abused them. My soul is downcast for the multitudes of children in the world who are orphans or living in poverty. My soul is downcast for numerous other reasons with which I’m relatively sure you are all too familiar.

The tendency for me is to withhold gratitude until a perfect world arises from the ashes of life. I now realize I simply cannot wait that long until I express gratitude to God for all that He is and for all He is doing to care for me and for His broken world.

If I’m really honest, I have far more to be grateful for than I realize and my attention needs to be far more focused on the One who is the source and giver of all good gifts.

The Palmist has a simple remedy for ingratitude and a perfectionist attitude, he simply says, “these things I remember as I pour out my soul.”

Whatever our circumstances this Thanksgiving season we can and must “remember” that for which we can be grateful and pour out our souls to our living God.

Remember who you are –  your family of origin, your past, the good and bad, the things that have shaped you are part of your personal story; you are who you are because there has been a personal God involved with you, whether you acknowledge Him or not

Remember whose you are – you belong to your Heavenly Father who is seeking out your heart every moment of every day

Remember what you have – your family and friends for starters – I know I have so many to be grateful for; for us who are followers of Jesus we have every spiritual blessing in Christ; even in material terms I know I have far more than I deserve and there are many in this world who are content with far less than what I possess

If you haven’t done so lately, this might be a good time to spend some quality time in solitude, pour out your soul to God, and gratefully remember that you are blessed far more than you ever imagined!

I know I am.

 

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“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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