Thanksgiving Day Musing: The Challenge of Gratitude

Here in the United States of America it is Thanksgiving. A legally mandated day set aside to express gratitude and give thanks. Being thankful is the order of the day. It is true that for ordinary day to day things it can be easy to forget to be grateful. We at times have to be reminded to count our blessings. It is important to not take those day to day and important matters for granted and to have and express gratitude. Sure, sometimes that may seem trivial and unnecessary so of is ignored but engaging in being grateful is good for overall wellbeing.
Now gratitude for the blessings is actually the simplest aspect of being grateful. There is a much more difficult challenge in having a grateful attitude. The real challenge of gratitude is not being thankful for our blessings. No, rather it is being thankful for that which is unpleasant. It is being grateful for harm done. It is being grateful for pain and suffering. It is being grateful for loss. None of those areas are where one is able to be naturally grateful. Gratitude in such events is contrary to our own inclination. It is very tough yet that is what the Bible directs of each of us. The Bible directs us to “rejoice in the Lord always”(Philippians 4:4) not just when I feel good about things. The Bible directs us to “Give thanks in all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:18; Ephesians 5:20) not just be thankful about what is good for self. It is not be grateful for good stuff and curse the occurrence of bad stuff. It is in all things be thankful. So why does God gives us such direction? Be thankful about bad things happening, really? Wow! Pretty challenging!
The reason why God directs us to do so is it is taking focus off of self and onto God. No matter what occurs if the focus is being thankful the focus is taken off self. It is important to note that it is not really being thankful about the events, the good or bad things that happen. The thankfulness is something that is beyond what is happening for it is not about such things. Rather, our being thankful is about God and who He is. It is growing in awareness of the goodness and love of God. “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His love endures forever.” (Psalms 107:1) Our thankfulness is about God, not about self. True thankfulness in all things takes one away from the ups and downs of life to the constancy of God which is always good. And it is with God’s aid that we are able to enjoy and endure whatever may occur for with God all things are possible. So, today, be Thankful, in all things, and where you cannot turn it over to God and ask Him to help you to be thankful: for God is good and His does endure forever; embrace it; be thankful!

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Post Thanksgiving Day Musings- Being Truly Thankful

Thanksgiving has come and gone. It is a National Day set aside as a day of gratitude. For most people it is a time for food, fellowship, and football. Some may actually take time to express gratitude; others go about the day enjoying what has brought benefit. Others it is a day of respite from ongoing struggles. If you examine Abraham  Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation you will note that the proclamation came following the Civil War. It followed a time of national suffering and sought to bring honor to God for deliverance and blessing. It also advised the care of those who as a result of the events were not doing well. The celebrated first Thanksgiving was after a time of great suffering with loss of life with aide offered that helped all to survive. There was great hardship and the blessing of a fruitful harvest that was then celebrated. It was a celebration of survival and living life before God.

Somehow today, our view of Thanksgiving seems to be more a celebration of what we have, the good things in our life, the success we have made toward our achievements. We celebrate with those we care about, see to it that our hunger gets addressed, and engage in partaking in entertainment. The pattern is to really feel good and happy and thankful over whatever the gain or progress. Then that day is followed by what is now known as “Black Friday” the biggest day for engaging in consuming more, of purchasing for self and others, ever expanding and meeting varied wants and desires. It is essence a celebration of self.

There are for some a different attitude and approach. Some treat Thanksgiving as a time to give glory to God. Rather than celebrating the kingdom of self, it is moving beyond self. It is a recognizing not only of the good, but of the struggle. It is walking in gratitude. It is easy to be grateful for the good. It is even easy to be grateful when great suffering has been endured and triumphed over. It is very difficult to be grateful in the midst of suffering. The most difficult and painful Thanksgiving Holiday was the one in which my maternal Grandmother was in the hospital with death impending. We spent a lot of time at the hospital. The meal was some nearby restaurant. There was no desire to be entertained. It was simply a day to endure. Yet, each of us to the core had faith in God Almighty, not regarding whether she lived or died, but rather that God was in control and everything has time and purpose. At that time, it was a period of deep mourning, for loss was coming that was not of our will. We each were grateful to God, even if it was not evident at the time, even in the course of great pain.

True Thanksgiving comes from living in gratitude in the midst of whatever suffering we encounter. It is rejoicing in Jesus the Messiah through whom we receive eternal life. We rejoice for the sufferings of this world are but temporary. We rejoice because God is good and all good things flow from Him. We rejoice for without Jesus there is no hope and no light for any. Many miss this opportunity, not only on this National holiday, but in the day to day living of life. Walking in true Thanksgiving and gratitude is daily, moment by moment rejoicing in the King of Kings and Lord of Lords for all that is of self is filth. The concern is not about the blessings or sufferings, but the focus is on God regardless of circumstance for it is in God alone and in right relationship with him that any ability to be truly blessed comes, for it is in God alone that all things are possible.

Expressing personal gratitude to God’s servants that influenced my life

Recently at New Joy Church the Pastor started a sermon series on the book of Philippians. Click here to access the sermons online. At the end of the sermon during the first week, we were encouraged to make a list of people to express gratitude for their impact in our lives and spiritual development. Part of following up with that list for me is to write a post about some people who impacted me who have no way to get a hold of or what happened to them. These are people I think God for and helped make me the man I am today.

Sunday school teachers: I recall no names or specifics related to the assorted Sunday school teachers over the years, but they made an impact. The first church I that I am aware of attending was Calvary Memorial Church. At that church, there is one Sunday School lesson that stays with me to this day. It was a lesson on memorizing scripture. They taught a method of memorization using turning words into pictures. Now the method did not help me memorize but it was in that class that I was exposed to the verse Matthew 5:16. The verse is one that stuck with me easily and really became a central verse to how I live my life. So there is much gratitude to whoever it was that brought the verse to my focus.

On a related note, I spent the first seven years of my education career in a private Christian School, Chapel Hill Academy. The school served as foundational to my growth in understanding God and his word. There were a few individuals that the school that took time to love and interact with a generally uncoordinated, socially inept boy who tried to be himself and be nice to others regardless. I had always known that in terms of body awareness and coordination, I lacked but always felt I could do things to defend. There were people who took time to help me in some of those areas of development as well. There was a guy who took time with me waiting after school showing me how to shoot a basketball. Amazingly, my last year at the school I participated on a 7th grade soccer team, which was uplifting and encouraging as well, in spite of my weaknesses. I remember with sports I always focused on wanting to play defense. Therefore, to all those people I do not recall who loved and taught me as a boy, I express gratitude.

Now we are getting to some people whose names I recall. I remember fondly Pastor Bruce Olson. We moved to his church when I was in middle school. Now his sermons tended to be the kind that made me sleepy and bored. However, he did show a passion for God and life. It was through Pastor Bruce Olson that I was one that really first exposed me to extend periods of group prayer.

Another person I am grateful to is Pastor Dave Stavros who was the youth pastor at Wayzata Evangelical Free. He showed love, spoke truth, and helped me stay on track in relationship with God and in growing up. He also showed an example of someone who listened and followed God’s call because some time after I graduated he felt led to go to Lima, Peru as a missionary.

The last person I want to mention was only in my life a year, but he is a person I am very grateful too. He was a staff person for Campus Crusade for Christ my freshman year in college named Matt Grey (or Gray.) I went to Mankato State University (Now Minnesota State University, Mankato). My freshman year initially I struggled on my own with broader exposure to the ways of the world with little Christian input. He invited me to a Bible Study. I still remember arrogantly stating how I did not want a Bible study that went over the “basics” of the Christian life. I believed I “knew a lot” but actually lived out little. God used Matt to draw me closer to him and set me on the foundation of my Christian walk as an adult. He only was at Mankato for a year but I always remember Matt and am grateful God brought him into my life.

There are other assorted people over the years that have influenced my growth and life in Jesus including authors, musicians, leaders, and teachers. The ones mentioned today really stand as anchor points in my life and development.  So if anyone who is reading this who may have impacted my life, I thank and praise God for how he used you in my life.

Now take time to perhaps recall periods in your life and people who helped you develop as a Christian or person. Take time to thank God for what they did in your life, helping you reach where you are today. Feel free to share if you feel so led.

Personal Reflection: A gift on this day

Today is a day where God saw fit many years ago to bring into this world the person who became my wife and partner.  It is hard to fully put to words the thoughts, yet God created and gave life to my wife, Liz Blake.   God knitted her together in the womb.  Now it is hard to comprehend what God’s thoughts were when he knitted her together. Was I on his mind when he formed her in the womb?  How does the variance of our wills come into play?  These are answers we do not have as get lost in the complicated quagmire in the paradoxes of understanding God.  I know that today, on this day, God brought Liz to this world and she would one day become my wife.  Now we have moments of joy and pain, struggle and ease.  Yet, God has touched me through her, and I believe her through me.  So I thank God today for the gift of my wife, born many years ago on this day.  So today is a day of thanksgiving and blessing.  Even in thinking about God’s blessing of Liz, my thoughts go to my life journey, the ups and down, the moving past defenses and fears to get to the point where we are today.  God knew Liz needed a man like me as her partner and mate, and vice versa.  Please take time today to thank God for Liz, whether you know her or not.  Take time to thank God for the ways he as blessed you, even if times are tough and struggles and grief cloud your views.  For God is love, and he delights in seeing how we respond to love as our stories play out.  Also please take time to pray for Liz and what God has in store for her in the year to come. If you know her, find a way to bless her and wish her a Happy Birthday.

Thanksgiving Day Musing: Three common Thanksgiving elements

First all, may the readers of this article be found to have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving Day. My thoughts this year are focused on how we celebrate Thanksgiving. It was interesting that currently there are three elements to most Thanksgiving celebrations: Family, Food, and Football. Granted each of those areas have variances but I want to examine each element a little further and close with some thoughts on gratitude.

In terms of thinking of the Holiday, the starting point has to be the element of family. We all are born into a family. These are not people we chose to be with but we love knowing full well their imperfections. Some of the family members we love are folks that we spend time with only on Holiday occasions. They are important to us but not an active part of our lives. We all appreciate being loved and enjoy the relationships around us, even if at sometimes we really cannot stand the actions and choices of family members. Holidays are a time where we get together in love, it is not always easy, but loving each other is important. Taking time to think about how you value your family members is of great benefit, even better if you are able to communicate those thoughts. Now, not all of who we consider as family because so because of our birth. Some folks we consider family are family by choice. Clearly spouses fall into this category but there are friends that fit as well. For those that have entered the Kingdom of God, there is the greater family of the Church as well. Ultimately family is those that we love for good or bad. We do not always agree or even always demonstrate that love, but our families are where the dynamics of love, or sadly at times lack of love is played out.

The other element that is common to all during this Holiday is food. Usually it is the staple meal of Turkey and assorted fixings, but there are some differences there. The element of food and eating together is really about fellowship and celebration. The meal on this day is one that constitutes a feast. We take time to gather and show gratitude and enjoy the company of one another. We take to share a meal and engage in the intimacy of a mutual meal. There is something special about such activity and is something to be enjoyed. In the United States, we have had plenty and the Thanksgiving feasts really celebrate the many blessings. Even as times get tougher or darker, it still is good to celebrate and focus on the good that has transpired.

The last element I want to share thoughts on is that of Football. Now granted not everybody enjoys football. Not everybody even attends to football games. But outside the Super Bowl it is the one day of year where non-football fans tolerate the games. When reflecting on what football represents it comes down to simple relaxation. Something that helps takes mind off of any trouble, sit back and disengage while it is on, and relax. More often than not the Tryptophan in Turkey takes effect and people simply fall asleep. In general any form of entertainment serves to function to bring pleasure, relaxation, and serve as distraction. The same holds true in the American culture with American Football being an apex of entertainment.

Now this day where we love, celebrate, and relax is centered on the concept of giving gratitude. Sadly, gratitude is often easily set aside and the difficulties and sufferings of life attended. Yet, it is important for each of us to be able to express gratitude and be able to be thankful. Now for those not in the Kingdom of God, it is hard for me to understand what direction the gratitude is directed. Certainly can be directed to those that you love, but without relationship and connection or even belief in the Creator of the Universe, it seems gratitude is limited. That a Holiday such as Thanksgiving is limited to that which has benefited self and our own little kingdoms is sad. The most precious thing to me is that fact that I have a relationship with the creator and He cared enough for me to provide a way to reconcile the barriers to such a relationship through Jesus. I love and enjoy time with family, miss those that I do not get to spend time with on such days, but my gratitude is always directed to the most Holy God. Gratitude in and of itself is beneficial but without connection to the true source it is limited and fleeting.

 

Question of Week August 26: How do you pray?

This question for me is one that is key.  How do you pray?  Do you take the approach of giving God a laundry list?  Do you just do a quick hi, how is it, goodbye drive by prayer? Do you treat prayer as trying to get God to do for you? Is it something you feel you have to do?  Or do you treat prayer as relating to God including taking time to listen?

Prayer I find is something misused, mistreated, and ignored.  Do you realize that prayer is something common in world religions?  So it really comes down to your focus and who you communicate with.  So stop and think about how you pray and examine how you can alter your approach. Take time to study the Lord’s prayer and learn what it shows us about approaching and relating to God in prayer.

Self affirmations are positively pointless!

Self affirmations are positively pointless!

Self affirmations are positively pointless!

Just ran across an article  at www.psychcentral.com that references a recent American Psychological Association press release which indicates a recent study found that positive self-statements can result in a lower mood for people with low self-esteem.  The study just really confirms what is intuitively known by most of us.  In fact the absurdity of positivevalidations without any basis in truth was  soundly  lampooned in Al Franken’s pre-Senatorial career) Stuart Smalley skits.   The fact is we need to be able to tell our self the truth.  Saying positive things that have no basis in truth or reality is actually dangerous.  Lying to self does not improve mood. 

So then what are depressed people to do to feel better one might ask?  Well moving away from depressed mood and negative attitudes about self and the world involves first identifying the lies we hold about self.  We all need to ground ourselves in what is true.    You cannot counter one form of self-deception for another.  We always need to identify, test, and discover the truth. 

So what if there are truly awful things going on in a person life, what are they to do?  Well, it is not helpful to lock into an attitude of negative thinking related to hurts, pain and stress.  Besides being grounded in truth we also need to foster an attitude of thankfulness and gratitude.  When things are tough, find the positives to be thankful for.  The greater the pain the harder this is to do, yet it is effective in uplifting the mood, as long as the thankfulness is founded in truth. 

Now, as a Christian it is worthwhile to point out that truth telling and thankfulness have their limits.  If you identify truth and look to the positives in life, yet have not turned to Jesus, there is still something missing.  Now, turning to Jesus doesn’t automatically eliminate depression or any other mental health issue, but turning to Jesus is turning to strength beyond self.  In terms of thanksgiving the Bible directs to rejoice in the Lord, which is to say to look outside of self and depend on God as source and focus on thanksgiving and rejoicing.  It is taking this attitude in spite of what is going on.  The Bible also directs that true peace is found in Jesus.  This true peace is not making everything comfortable but rather changing  of focus that is different then relying on own strength.

If you are depressed and reading this, please do not mistake what I am saying.  The healing process and moving into truth and joy and peace is a process that God can work in you. Many Christians suffer depression and other mental health issues.  The essential point is that it is in Jesus that we find the strength to take on whatever barrier.  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and that includes mental health struggles.