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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

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The Power of a Positive Attitude

25 Aug

A boy, playing baseball alone, was heard to say, “I’m the greatest hitter in the world!”Little Boy Swinging Bat in Yard

He tossed the ball into the air, swung, and missed. “Strike one.”

Undaunted, he picked up the ball, threw it into the air, and said to himself, “I’m the greatest baseball hitter ever,” and he swung at the ball again. Again, he missed. “Strike two!”

He paused a moment to examine his bat and ball carefully. Then a third time he threw the all into the air. “I’m the greatest hitter who ever lived,” he said. He swung the bat hard again, missing a third time.

He cried out, “Wow! Strike three ~ what a pitcher! I’m the greatest pitcher in the world!” (1)

Don’t you love that little boy’s attitude? He consciously choose to look on the bright, positive side of life, and his experience did not disappoint!

It’s easy to have a good attitude when our relationships are good, everything in our house is in working order, our health is good, our work is manageable, and our days are filled with blessings.

The challenge comes when all of these things fall apart.

Maybe our husband is grumpy, our children are uncooperative, or a co-worker is moody. Maybe our computer, car, and appliances conspire against us and act up or break all in the same week. Perhaps we’re suddenly sick, or on overload with too many tasks and not enough time. Maybe life just seems dull.

It’s harder to be positive when life doesn’t meet our expectations, isn’t it?

That’s when the intentional choice to be positive makes such a difference. A positive attitude seems to empower and energize us ~ it helps us cope. Winston Churchill said, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference!” (2)

I (Dawn) am not talking about a Pollyanna attitude ~ although Pollyanna made some wonderful choices with her “Glad Game.”  But I’m talking about a positive attitude that is based in two things:  choosing joy as a child of a loving Father God (Can you hear Pam saying, “Choosin’ Joy!”?), and also choosing gratitude.

In other words, when we pause to think about who we are in Christ, and the many blessings that we have because we are related to Him, we can move forward no matter our circumstances.

Positive Attitude boy - Thumbs Up!A positive attitude might show up in a number of ways:  optimism, motivation, being inspired, determination, creative thinking, seeing problems as blessings, being a problem-solver, seeing opportunities, or anticipating success.

[Note:  In our book, Pam and I suggested 10 Things to do when you don’t feel like “LOL-ing.” If you really struggle with a positive attitude, try some of these things, and see if taking some practical, positive action will help you develop some positive attitudes.]

Sometimes our circumstances don’t change for a long time … or maybe never this side of heaven; yet we can choose to respond with truth-based confidence in God’s loving care for us. It’s all a matter of our perspective. God is our hope!

We can decide not to let circumstances ruin our lives, knowing that God redeems every situation for good (Romans 8:28-29). Our lives will grow stronger as we depend on the Lord to change us from the inside while we cooperate with that transformation by pursuing godly, positive attitudes and actions on the outside.

As believers, we give God our sin in a spirit of repentance, and He gives us the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21); and that incredible exchange is the source of our deepest joy and deepest desire to live for God.

Remember that little boy … the would-be-hitter-turned “pitcher”? His attitude (and creative thinking) made a big difference in his day. A positive attitude is always powerful, and it’s made up of many choices each day.

(1) Michael Hodgin, 1001 Humorous Illustrations for Public Speakers  (Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), Illustration #77, p. 40

(2) http://thinkexist.com/quotation/attitude_is_a_little_thing_that_makes_a_big/219106.html

Why Be Negative?

30 Jan

Pessimist'sBloodType - Tshirt“I was born to be a pessimist. My blood type is B Negative.” ~ (anon), quoted by funny guy William “Bill” Carlson on Facebook

Ever observed someone who is  wrapped up in the negative? The glass is always half empty. I (Dawn) actually saw a glass  “Pessimist’s Mug” online (from Despair Laboratories™) that featured a half-way marker etched in the glass. Under the line were the words “This glass is now half-empty” to remind all avowed pessimists that life can indeed get worse.

For the pessimist, life is always a struggle. Perhaps he or she is used to that slant on life, and can’t imagine another way to live. Oscar Wilde once defined “Pessimist” as “One who, when he has the choice of two evils, chooses both.” Pessimism can also spiral into depression.

American journalist and author Norman Cousins  suffered a deteriorating physical condition, but he returned to health, in part, through the power of humor (watching Marx Brothers movies). Cousins once said, “No one really knows enough to be a pessimist.”

As I thought about that in terms of the Christian life, I had to say, “Amen!”

We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. We don’t know if a war will start somewhere, or a loved one will die. We don’t know when or how God might answer our prayers. We don’t know a lot of things. We don’t even know if we’ll draw another breath!

We can choose to be negative about all of these things, or we can think biblically. We can act on faith, trusting God to care for us and answer our petitions. We can choose spiritual attitudes like contentment and joy. We can live in hope and anticipation of how God will work. We can observe what’s happening in the world, but know that God is still on the throne  (and He wins in the end)!

So, as Christians, how do we combat pessimism ~ if that’s our problem? Continue reading

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