Live in Thanksgiving

“Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7)

“Forgive me for the days I was not grateful” were the words a man, by the name of Markus Sims,  chose to have engraved on his headstone. When I first heard of his story, immediately my heart was challenged. To be quite honest, convicted is a better word. I’m not always the best about being grateful, especially when life is throwing me curve balls. So for Markus to have those words engraved on his tombstone, struck me. Markus, being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2012, chose to be grateful. He said in his interview, “I wasn’t always grateful, I had to learn how, so I started by being grateful for the small things: my next meal, clothes, etc. The more thankful I became for the little things, the easier to become grateful for the big things, and in the hard things.”.

Many of us read this statement and think, so I need to be more grateful, but do I need forgiveness for being ungrateful? And the answer is yes. 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “give thanks in EVERYTHING for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”. Notice this scripture wasn’t a suggestion, it is a command. And it’s God’s will for you. By being ungrateful, we are also disobedient; disobedience is a sin. Ouch! Trust me, I know. Can I make an observation though? Scripture reads in everything, not for everything. I was not thankful that diabetes and cancer took my grandparents; Markus was not grateful for his cancer either, but we can still be grateful in everything. Start small, be thankful for the food on your table, the clothes on your back, the little bit of paycheck you do have, and the breath you woke up with today. You won’t always be thankful for the situation, but you can still find something to be grateful for in your situation.

Psalm 39:4, Lord, make me aware of my end and the number of my days so that I will know how short-lived I am.

For Markus, it took a significant diagnosis for him to realize the importance of thanksgiving. Suddenly perspective changed, he was thankful for a lot more considering his life would soon come to an end. Maybe you too are facing a life-altering situation and are learning to be grateful, start small, but start. Perhaps you are a lot like myself and being grateful is just a challenge at times, again start with the small things, find the little things to be thankful for. Maybe you struggle to see things in your life to be grateful for, seek things in Christ, look to eternity. If you are a child of God, you can be thankful that He came, He died, and He will come again! Our sins are forgiven, the promise of eternity with Him, the very anticipation of heaven will always be enough to make you grateful.

God, forgive me for the days I was not grateful, you delivered your son to die for me, and while that is enough, you didn’t stop there. You also sent him to prepare a place for me, a place I never deserved. Help me to be thankful in all things; I can be grateful just knowing you’re near. I pray that through the joy you give me, through thankfulness in all things, I can touch and change lives for you. Amen.

Comparison Trap

My cousin Jacob and I have had an ongoing, yet innocent battle over the latest gadget for years. It usually starts with him purchasing the newest electronic and kindly taunting me about it. I remember one year he and his wife had bought a flat panel television, back when that was the new thing, many moons ago. Well, it wasn’t too long after that, I began to covet what my neighbor, aka my cousin, had purchased. Weeks later my husband and I set out to buy a new flat panel television; only I needed to one-up him, so I bought one that was one inch bigger. Ha! I showed him. Now some of you are reading this thinking we’ve lost it. But I assure you we aren’t serious about this battle; it’s all in good fun.

In 1 Samuel 8, we come across the story of the Israelites demanding a King. Up until this point, they had never had a king. Samuel prayed to the Lord, and God granted the request despite the rejection that he was their King. While God listened to the people’s demand he did so with a warning from Samuel, as to what it would mean to have a king (read 1 Sam 8:10-20). Verses 19-20 reads, “The people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We must have a king over us. Then we’ll be like all the other nations: our king will judge us, go out before us, and fight our battles.”

Now the part of this story that gripped my heart was “then we will be like all the other nations.” Israel had a king, God himself, but they looked around at the other nations and were no longer satisfied with Him.  

I realize the story I shared about Jacob and I is all fun, but for a lot of us, it’s real life. God has graciously blessed us, but we look at our neighbor, and we are never satisfied. We see the new car in their drive, and suddenly ours begins to seem a little dated; the new purse she carries, or the deer gear he’s purchased. Sadly, some of us even look to another’s marriage and begin to pick apart everything wrong in ours. The comparison trap is a dangerous place to be. Our satisfaction isn’t meant to be found in anything but Christ. But we allow the world to woo us through comparison with our neighbor.

Just like Israel ignored the cost of a king in verses 10-18, we too overlook the cost of comparison. Comparison can cost us financially, emotionally, and spiritually. It isn’t above costing us our family, friendships, or our joy!

Please understand, God wants us to have a beautiful life full of His blessings. He wants to bless us financially, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. We were meant to have astounding marriages, but not through comparison with others. He loves us and wants all these things for us. But the way to get God’s gifts is by giving ourselves entirely to Him! And can I take things a step farther and say, when we are wholly His, we are content with what we have, and we don’t look so much to what our neighbor has.  

Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.”

Philippians 4:11-13, “ I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself. I know both how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Our contentment with and in all things can only come through Christ. He is our strength when jealousy and discontentment well up. He is our provider. Let’s look at Christ to satisfy, and His blessing will follow.

 

Mimicry

Recently, my littlest guy, Tyler, has been learning about insects in science. Since I am his teacher, I also have the opportunity to relearn a lot of things. A couple of weeks ago we learned about mimicry, in particular, the viceroy and monarch butterflies. The viceroy butterfly looks almost identical to the monarch, but there is a big difference in the way they taste to birds. Monarchs taste terrible. So because the viceroy looks like the monarch, birds will not eat either of the butterflies.

Did you know we too were created to mimic? We were designed to mimic God’s son (1 John 2:6). Often, however, we find ourselves imitating the world rather than Jesus. We put on our camouflage when we head to church, or when we are out with our “church” people, but underneath the camo, we look like the world. And when we mirror the world, we produce fruit like the world.

Matthew 7:15-18  “Be on your guard against false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit.  A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit.

We may be able to fool people with our camouflage for a time, but eventually, they will see the fruit we bare. The life we live on the outside must also be the life we live inwardly. The way we live during Sunday worship service shouldn’t cease when we walk out the doors of our church. Our life will only ever produce one kind of fruit at a time, good or bad. So what fruit are you yielding? What life are you mimicking? When people see you, do they view you as peculiar (1 Peter 2:9), do they witness Jesus within you? Or do you tend to look more like the world? Is the fruit you bear edible to those around you?

Friends, we are living in a world full of lost and hurting people and the last thing the world needs are Christians with rotten fruit hanging off them. God gave us a mission and a command: to love Him above all, love people as we love ourselves, and to go and change the world (Matthew 28:19). The only way to do what he said, is to do what Jesus did. When you mimic Jesus, not only will your life be different, but you’ll change lives in the process.

Can you Hear It?

Lord, please, give me a sign! Has anyone else ever prayed this prayer? If I’ve prayed it once, I’ve prayed it a thousand times, and I’m willing to bet you have too. You’ve heard or thought you heard God speak, but you just need some confirmation, you need a sign. God can and will perform mighty signs to get our attention, but God’s voice is more often but a whisper, yet we are usually looking for those giant signs with His signature at the bottom telling us what we’ve already heard from Him.

I have currently been in this season, I’ve heard from God but just need some confirmation, so I’ve spent months in prayer hoping for a sign full of directions and details. I just need to know for sure that’s what he wants for me. Several months back my pastor had a guest speaker at church to encourage our staff. This particular speaker has a great gift of prophecy, and with much anticipation, I waited for my confirmation through the man of God. He came and went, and he never had a word for me. Now I’m just going to be honest and tell you; I was not very pleased that God didn’t supply the confirmation that I was so sure I needed. So I’m pouting and fussing to God about how I needed to hear from Him, and well, that didn’t go as I planned either. God spoke to me at that moment, and He reminded of a time that He talked, and I listened, and His whisper came to fruition in my life. There was no significant sign or confirmation needed. Then God said to me ”learn and listen to my voice, I’ve already told you what you need to know, and you need to trust my voice, you don’t need anyone else to tell you what I’ve already said.” Ouch! That my friends was a hard truth to swallow. I needed to have faith in His voice.

In 1 Kings 19:1-13 we come across Elijah. I’ll give you a rundown of what’s happening here.  So Elijah is fearful and running for his life, he plopped down under a broom tree and prayed to die, he’d had enough. Sound familiar? Does anyone else ever feel like giving up? God knew Elijah needed a pick me up, so he sent an Angel to feed him and give him the strength to go on.

Verse 11-13, “Then he said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the Lord’s presence.” At that moment, the Lord passed by.  A great and mighty wind was tearing at the mountains and was shattering cliffs before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, there was a voice, a soft whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.”

Our entire belief in God has been built on faith, yet often we look for signs rather than listening for whispers. The very definition of faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). The voice of God requires our faith. We can see signs, but we can’t look at His whispers. The still small voice requires faith and ears to hear. So how do we tune our ears to listen to the whisper? We spend time in His presence. In the book of 1 Samuel 3, we find the story of Samuel when he was just a boy. The Bible tells us Samuel was lying in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. He was lying in the presence of the Lord. The Lord spoke to Samuel three times, but each time Samuel thought it was Eli who was calling. The third time Eli told the boy that it was the voice of the Lord he was hearing. He instructed the boy to respond, “speak for your servant is listening.”  

Can you hear it? The whisper. If you’ve felt like God isn’t speaking, could it be that maybe you aren’t listening? Or perhaps you need to spend some time lying in his presence? God wants nothing more than to whisper in your ear, He has an incredible plan for you, tune in and hear what He has to say.

 

A Very Bad Day

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. My family and I love this movie, to say it’s hilarious is an understatement. If you’re ever having a bad day and need a good laugh, it’s one you’ll want to Netflix for sure. Now I’ve had some rough days before, but none that have looked quite like that. Alexander makes a wish that his family would know what it was like to have a bad day, and boy do they find out. The whole family wakes up to a complete disaster of a day. Now their story doesn’t stay bad; eventually, all turns out well for them, but not before a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. 

Something God has been challenging me with recently is how I respond and allow him access to my less than good days. The truth is, we all have bad days from time to time. Some come through things at work, maybe family issues we are facing, possibly from getting up on the wrong side of the bed, or perhaps it’s more than that. Maybe your bad day came in the form of cancer or a financial struggle. Whatever your bad day looks like, God wants to use it for His glory. 

In Acts 16:16-34, Paul and Silas started out on a journey from the Lord (verse 10) and all was well until they met a fortune teller. First, they were annoyed by the crazy lady to the point of having to call out the demonic spirit within her, causing them to be arrested and thrown into the inner prison. How often is this us? We are living the life we believe honorable to God, but yet find ourselves having some terrible days. But before we get too disappointed and want to throw in the towel, let’s read what happened to Paul and Silas. Verses twenty-five and twenty-six, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains came loose.”. Yay! A bad day turned great, right!? Well, yes, but this isn’t where the story ends. About verse twenty-seven we see the jailor come into the picture, and thinking everyone has escaped, he decides he’ll kill himself before anyone else has a chance to. But before he can take his life, Paul calls out to him and reassures him everyone is there. And the big bad jailor hit his knees and asked to be saved. In turn he and his entire household were saved and baptized. What the enemy planned for evil, God meant for good (Gen 50:20).

As I read and reread this story, I couldn’t help but think about my selfishness. When I have awful days I make it all about poor me, what I should be thinking is how can I use this bad day or situation for God’s glory. Paul and Silas were on a mission for God yet were thrown into prison. Even in the midst of our circumstances, God has a plan for good. He knew there was going to be a jailor and his family who needed to be saved that day, and he had just the men for the job. Now please don’t misunderstand, God doesn’t cause our bad days, but he does make the bad days have a purpose. Sometimes our most significant inconveniences can be our most significant blessings. So before you write your bad day off, is there someone God can reach through you and your bad day? Our terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days aren’t always just about us. 

Dream On

Most of you are probably aware of Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. I love King’s dream speech for several reasons of course, but one reason being that he shared it with the world despite those who would disagree. Often I hear those words echo in my heart; I have a dream. I believe God has given each of us a unique vision, and he plans to fulfill every one of them (Philippians 1:6). God created us with purpose. Jeremiah 1:5 reminds us that he knew us even before he formed us in our mother’s womb. Not only are we known, but sanctified, set apart. He created us with a purpose to fulfill, a dream to pursue. 

There are dreams God has spoken to my heart and yours as well and plans he’s whispered to us. Understand though, just because God has given us a vision doesn’t mean everyone will love or understand our dream. I’m reminded of Joseph and his dream in Genesis 37:5, “Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more.”. Maybe you too have a dream God has birthed in you, and it’s caused some jealousy from others to well up. Genesis 37:18 “They saw him in the distance, and before he had reached them, they plotted to kill him.”. There will be people who love your dream, and those who want nothing more than to see it die but keep dreaming. The hatred towards Joseph’s dream landed him in a well, into slavery, in prison, but eventually into the palace. No man, woman, or weapon can stop what God has planned. Your job is to keep dreaming, seeking, and obeying. Maybe you feel like you’re in the pit, I get it, me too sometimes. But remember, God’s promises have a process just like for Joseph, so keep the dream alive, keep moving forward, and one day the palace of your dream will be the reality.

“The Lord of Armies has sworn: As I have purposed, so it will be; as I have planned it, so it will happen.” Isaiah 14:24

Before the Fall

Pride: a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction for one’s own achievements. I personally tend to struggle with this five letter word from time to time, and I guess, at some point, you probably have too. Pride has been a struggle for people throughout the ages.

King Uzziah was sixteen when he was made the king of Judah. Can you even fathom electing a child to be president? It blows me away to even think of someone so young having such power. Uzziah’s story is found in 2 Chronicles 26, but let me just give you a rundown. Uzziah was crowned king at sixteen, verse five says “during the time that he sought the Lord, God gave him success.”. So he went on to have great success as a young king, but it didn’t last forever. By the time we reach verse fifteen and sixteen, scripture says, “So his fame spread even to distant places, for he was wondrously helped until he became strong. But when he became strong, he grew arrogant, and it led to his own destruction.”. Uzziah goes on to act unfaithfully toward the Lord and ends up with leprosy.

As I read this story, two things jumped out of the bible at me. One came in verse five, “during the time he sought the Lord,” that tells me there was a time he chose not to seek the Lord. When we are faithfully pursuing God in our lives and ministries, He will faithfully bless us. God gave Uzziah success in every area, and He wants to do the same for you and me. The problem isn’t that God stops blessing, it’s that we stop seeking.

Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33

The second thing that popped out at me came in verses fifteen and sixteen, “until he became strong.”. He became so accomplished throughout the land, he decided he didn’t need God. Maybe, in his own mind, he was enough. How often do we think we are enough? We get in the mindset that we can do things on our own. We allow self to take the place of Lord in our life. Sadly when we become strong, we too often weaken Christ in us.

Pride comes before destruction and an arrogant spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:18

King Uzziah was going places and doing mighty things with God’s blessing. But the moment he stopped seeking God and started pursuing self, and the applause of man, all that ended. No matter how great we may become, we can never stop chasing God and His will. And we must always look for the applause of God not man. A dear friend of mine, Faith Schweizer, wrote and sings a song called Audience of One. Her song speaks about how we live to make Jesus famous in our life, not ourselves. Faith sings, I write, and we live for an audience of one. Don’t allow pride to steal your promotion in kingdom business.