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Embracing ‘Gain’ and “Got”

22 Jan

Good humor can help to put us in a cheerful mood ~ especially when there is an unexpected punchline. Ponder these humorous sayings:

  • He who laughs last … thinks slowest.
  • When everything’s coming your way … you’re in the wrong lane and going the wrong way!
  • For every action, there is an equal and opposite … criticism.
  • Love is blind … but marriage is a real eye-opener.
  • A day without sunshine is like … night.
  • Save the whales … collect the whole set.
  • Half the people you know … are below average.
  • If at first you don’t succeed … destroy all evidence that you tried.

Speaking of unexpected, the new Special K cereal dieting commercial grabbed my attention, because it is so contrary to the norm. The ad shows women stepping on scales to begin a dieting challenge, only to be met with motivating words, not incriminating numbers.

“What if we stopped focusing on what we want to lose and started focusing on what we want to gain?” the commercial asks.

I’m not going to debate whether the Special K challenge is a good idea or not ~ whether the diet plan is good nutrition and with sufficient calories ~ but I have to admit that their catchy question made me evaluate my attitudes.

So much of my life I focused on the negative … trying not to be bad, trying not to fail, trying not to disappoint, etc. A few years ago, I turned that all around by making some proactive, intentional choices to embrace what is good, life-building, and healthy. That’s what the Lord intended for us, I think. A positive, biblical focus.

Don’t get me wrong.

There certainly must be times to examine our hearts for sin (Lamentations 3:40) and to confess sin (1 John 1:9), and there is the continual “putting off” of  some sinful attitudes and behaviors as we “put on” the opposite righteous attitudes and behaviors (Ephesians4:22-24).

But does our Father in heaven want us to get bogged down in incriminating thoughts, focusing on how bad we are ~ and the truth is, there is no good thing within us without Christ (Romans 7:18; Galatians 5:17) ~ or does He want us to rise up in victory and embrace who we are in Christ and our eternal gain in Him?

A few years ago, when I began to concentrate on God’s grace and goodness in redeeming me, I was far more motivated to live for Him in humble gratitude than when I was forever digging about in my heart for some hidden sin.

I decided to ask my loving Father to reveal my heart in His own time and way (Proverbs 16:2; Psalm 26:2-3). He has been faithful to do that. Sometimes there are periodic times of heart-searching in a “revival week” experience, but I’ve found that when I stay in the Word and open to God ~ asking the Holy Spirit to teach me ~ God uses the Word of God and the everyday experiences of life to rub off the rough, sinful, foolish edges of my life.

The truth is, the Special K ad actually stops short.

Rather than even focusing on what I want to gain, how much better to consider what I’ve already got ~ how blessed I already am ~ because of my relationship with God in Christ.

Rather than focusing on my fear, I focus on courage and the strength He gives. Rather than focusing on my tendency to stress out and worry, I focus on the Sovereign God who is always in control. Rather than focus on what I believe I don’t have (which leads to a spirit of discontent), I focus on the abundant life God has promised to me.

How about you? Are you focusing on what you want to gain in life… or better yet, what you’ve already got?

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Pilgrim-style Gratitude (Not What You May Think)

21 Nov

Thanksgiving Day was approaching, and the family received a Thanksgiving card with a painting of a Pilgrim Pilgrims_Going2Churchfamily on their way to church.

Grandma showed the card to her small grandchildren, observing, “The Pilgrim children liked to go to church with their mothers and fathers.”

“Oh, yeah?” her young grandson replied. “So, why is their dad carrying that rifle?” (1)

The story of the American Pilgrims is a lesson in survival and gratitude. After the hardships and horrors they endured, including terrible grief and suffering, the Pilgrims who survived turned to God and gave thanks with a three-day celebration! It was the sacrifice of joy that David talked about in Psalm 27:5-6 ~ kept safe and then sacrificing with “shouts of joy.”

Rev. Scott W. Alexander wrote a bit about that first Thanksgiving celebration, but he also took time to detail some of the tough things our Pilgrim forebears had to deal with in 1621 in their search for religious freedom. (2) There was a horrible winter ~ every family touched by disease and death. Imagine the grief. As they sat at their celebration table with their Indian neighbors, most of them were probably weak and thin from the ravages of that winter.

Alexander points out, “It is spiritually important that we not romanticize that first American thanksgiving as some carefree festival of reckless joy … It’s a miracle of the heart that those pilgrims could even think of giving thanks to God, or celebrating life’s bounty …

“It seems to me that what makes the real Thanksgiving story so remarkable,” Alexander wrote, “is not the joy which the Pilgrims and Indians shared, but rather that their painful backdrop of grief was not allowed to block out their celebration … Somehow they were able to choose gratitude over bitterness, generosity over greed, thanksgiving over self-pity.”

Have you known modern-day pilgrims like that ~ brave souls who refuse to let life’s tough circumstances thwart their sense of purpose or rob them of joy?

I have. I’ve observed:

  • A pastor with lymphoma who chose to trust God and express gratitude for life
  • A woman waiting for new lungs, choosing to express praise to God during the wait
  • A couple experiencing job loss, and choosing to seek God in the midst of that pain
  • A mother with a rebellious daughter, choosing to see her through God’s eyes

Alexander pointed to the familiar story of Victor Frankl, a Jew who survived Auschwitz, as an example of the kind of choices that lift us beyond tough circumstances.

Frankl wrote,

“Everything can be taken from [us] but one thing: the last of the human freedoms, to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. And there were [in Auschwitz] always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom ….  It is this spiritual freedom which cannot be taken away, that makes life meaningful and purposeful.”

As Christians, gratitude at Thanksgiving is to be in this context, but even more. Life may pummel us with many blows, but we who know eternal life in Jesus have a different perspective. In Christ, there is joy, beauty, hope, and satisfaction that the world cannot understand, because in Him, God redeems all things ~ we are truly “made alive” in Him (Ephesians 2:1-10) and have so much to celebrate with joy (Psalm 126:3).

Leadership specialist Michael Hyatt carries a rock with him, in his pocket, to remind him to be grateful for whatever is happening in his life. Whenever his hand touches the “gratitude rock,” he thanks God for his immediate circumstances ~ whether good or bad. It’s a wonderful idea.  Or perhaps we can put a special object that represents gratitude where we will see it every day, for the same purpose. We need to be more deliberate in our words and responses.

So no matter what you are facing today, Friend, you can still choose gratitude. You are a blessed survivor in Christ!

(1) “Pilgrim Church,” from Cybersalt Digest, Issue #3493, 11/24/10

(2) Sermon by Rev. Scott W. Alexander, “The Pilgrims in Our Lives,” http://www.bigskyuu.org/sermons/pilgrimsinourlives.pdf

Grandma’s Wisdom

10 Oct

How many of these descriptions of grandmothers sound like YOUR grandma?

  • A grandmother is a lady who has no little children of her own. (LOL!) She likes other people’s.A Hug and Kiss for Grandma
  • A grandfather is a man grandmother.
  • Grandmothers don’t have to do anything except be there when we come to see them. They are so old they shouldn’t play hard or run. It is good if they drive us to the store and have lots of quarters for us.
  • When they take us for walks, they slow down past things like pretty leaves and caterpillars.
  • They show us and talk to us about the color of the flowers and also why we shouldn’t step on “cracks.”
  • They don’t say, “Hurry up.”
  • Usually grandmothers are fat, but not too fat to tie your shoes.
  • They wear glasses and funny underwear.
  • They can take their teeth and gums out.
  • Grandmothers don’t have to be smart.
  • They have to answer questions like, “Why isn’t God married?” and “How come dogs chase cats?”
  • When they read to us, they don’t skip. They don’t mind if we ask for the same story over again.
  • Everybody should try to have a grandmother, especially if you don’t have television, because they are the only grown ups who like to spend time with us.
  • They know we should have snack-time before bedtime, and they say prayers with us every time, and kiss us even when we’ve acted bad. (1)

A few weeks ago, while I (Dawn) visited my dear aunt Julia in Kokomo, Indiana, I had the wonderful blessing to return to the town where my Grandparents lived while I was a little girl. I visited a park where I caught crawdads under a famous old red covered bridge.

 Grandparents' graveI visited my grandparents’ homes ~ very old and broken down now ~ and then the cemetery where they were buried. There was just something about seeing their tombstones that brought me up short, and made me realize, once again, that someday my name will be carved on a tombstone. As my husband snapped a photo, I thought about my grandparents, and especially my Grandma Lillian Webb, nicknamed “Bill,” for some reason.

I often talk about my mom’s mom, Grandma Parks, because she was the last of the four grandparents to pass on, and she was a woman that I loved dearly. My sister Pam had the privilege of caring for her until she died.

But my Grandma Webb is etched into my memory because of the things she said. Perhaps you had a grandma like her.

I am so grateful for her influence in my life. Some things she said were the typical things that all grandmas say ~ like “Pretty is as pretty does.” But the times I remember most were the special moments when she encouraged me to live for God. I remember praying at her knee in her living room as she taught me to simply have a conversation with God like I’d have with a good, loving friend.

Grandma told me repeatedly that she was praying for me and praying for my husband who was “growing up somewhere in the world. (That is something this Grammy now does for her own grandchildren!) Grandma told me to be careful about the choices I made in life, because many of them would be hard to change, if I got them wrong. She encouraged purity and integrity, and Grandma reminded me that success comes from “acknowledging God” and obeying Him ~ not depending on my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6). And it was my Grandma Webb who wisely sent me the information about a Bible college in Pennsylvania when I was considering some secular ones nearer my home. It changed the direction of my life.

Grandma could be stubborn, but it was stubbornness for good. She knew God and wanted all of her family to know Him, too. She fulfilled Psalm 145:4 ~ “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” She left my sister and I a rich legacy of God-centered thinking that helped to shape our lives.  I know that I was spurred on to seek wisdom because of the wisdom I saw in my Grandma and her Bible-based perspective on life. Because of my Grandma ~ in fact, because of all my grandparents ~ I understood the steadfast love of the Lord (Psalm 103:17).

Grandma and son

Grandma and my dad

Now a Grandma myself, I’ve realized that grandmas have the potential to shape the future as they share truth with not only their children, but their precious grandchildren. They can encourage their their dreams, and point them toward the only things that matter in this life:  love of God and His Word; and love for people that causes us to reach out to serve, teach, and share the Gospel. In this way, grandmothers (and grandfathers) “bear fruit in old age” (Psalm 92:14-15).

Do you have good memories of your Grandma? If not, was or is there a wise “Grandma” figure in your family or church who has helped to shape your life and walk with God?

Take time to thank the Lord for this precious woman ~ and if she is still alive, drop her a note to express your love and gratitude.

(1) “Grandmothers,” Cybersalt Digest, Issue #3676, http://www.cybersalt.org

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