Everyday Thanks

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In 2014, my life was changed and enriched by the magic of habitual thanksgiving.

That’s when I read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, as well as her One Thousand Gifts Devotional. In these books, Voskamp introduces a practice that revolutionized how she looked at life. Basically, she started counting…counting ways that God had been gracious to her, counting things she was thankful for, including everything from broad generalities to minute, personal details. Her goal was 1000 things, but the results were much more overwhelming. She kept on until she’d numbered thousands of gifts and she insists her perspective was changed into one of habitual joy, seeing God in everyday moments and gifts—even things she hadn’t seen the beauty in before.

I’m sure many of us have heard of or participated in different variations of this. When I was a child, my mom had something on the counter she called the Blessing Jar. Throughout the year, we would write down things we were thankful for, or answers to prayer, and put the pieces of paper in the jar. At Thanksgiving, we would paste some of them on the paper feathers of Tom the Thankful Turkey, a kid-sized cutout bird taped up on the wall of the kitchen. This was a great reminder for me as a child to cultivate thanksgiving throughout the whole year, not just on the day designated for giving thanks.

Of course, holidays shouldn’t be the only times we give thanks…any more than Sunday should be the only day we worship and fellowship with God. I’ve heard Sunday described as the “anniversary celebration” of the Relationship that exists all week. Thanksgiving is like that. It’s a holiday marked by giving thanks and noting our blessings, but cultivating a lifestyle of thanksgiving makes the celebration come alive all throughout the year.

Making note of things I was thankful for blended writing with a spiritual discipline and I loved the beautiful list that unfolded. Here is a snippet of the first 1000-gifts list that I recorded back in 2014:

–The smell of warm, wet wax from a desk candle

–The tiara of first snow in my hair

–Faces…the light of God’s creativity in eyes and smiles

–Mountain color palettes

–The first patter of rain

–Full family dinners

–The pleasure of finding just the right book

–Sprinklers catching sun midair

–How God’s Word stands for me

–Bird chorus in storms

 

As you can see, Voskamp encourages you to be specific and personal, and I relished the opportunity to turn every day into a treasure hunt–a search for blessings, great and small, hidden and obvious. My final journal entry at the end of the year went like this:

My name, Jubilee, means Trumpet Sounding, but so often I disconnect from it, hesitating, waiting for God to somehow prove Himself again. But I’ve been wrong to do that. He is Goodness itself! And in dark or light, joy or pain, He deserves praise. He doesn’t take. He gives. He gives Himself, the best gift ever. And His Life consumes, empowers, enlivens, invigorates, redeems. What more could I ask for? This journey of deliberate thanks has brought me into the land of blessing that I desired.

So on the eve of another Thanksgiving, be encouraged! Take a moment and really think about the little things. What is it about God that just blesses your socks off? What details of life do you really appreciate? If your life is feeling flat and stale right now, this is just the remedy, I promise! Ask God for open eyes and you’ll be amazed at everything that was there, all around you. All the Grace and Beauty and Mercy. There is so much real power waiting for us when we declare God’s Blessings and “forget not all His Benefits” (Psalm 103). Andrew Murray said: “Let us thank God heartily as often as we pray that we have His Spirit in us to teach us to pray. Thanksgiving will draw our hearts out to God and keep us engaged with Him; it will take our attention from ourselves and give the Spirit room in our hearts.”

 

Cultivating a lifestyle of thanks by making note of things we’re thankful for is truly a step heavenward. As the writer Joni Eareckson Tada puts it: “With each [gift or blessing] we experience on the earth, God leans over and whispers, ‘Just wait…one day you’ll bask in glory like this, and it will last forever’” (Tada, The God I Love, 283)!

If you’re interested in learning more about One Thousand Gifts, visit Ann Voskamp’s personal page.

http://www.aholyexperience.com/ann-voskamp/

 

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Spoiler Alert…

It happened again. I sat in the movie theater, barely seeing the preview of the Olympics flash by me because I was so captivated by the song blasting through the speakers. I’m shocked at how the very words and warnings we need to hear as a culture are consistently flooding our iPods, theaters, and TVs, and we still don’t seem to get it.

Fellow Christians, have you heard the words of Katy Perry’s single “Rise”?

Listen…really, and consider what we’re up against.

“I won’t just survive/Oh you will see me thrive

Can’t write my story/I’m beyond the archetype.

I won’t just conform/no matter how you shake my core,

‘Cause my roots/they run deep.

Oh ye of so little faith./Don’t doubt it. Don’t doubt it.

Victory is in my veins./I know it. I know it.

And I will not negotiate./I’ll fight it. I’ll fight it.

I will transform.”

I’m stunned yet again at how God can shout His Truth, using the voice and talent of someone who doesn’t acknowledge Him (that I’m aware of).

This was back in the summer, obviously, since this song was used as a TV spot for the Olympics. But I don’t need to reiterate that we are embroiled in a battle that goes far deeper than the crunch of extreme sports. Whether we’d like to acknowledge it or not, we are faced with the eerie potential of a leader taking office who will likely detonate what has been simmering beneath the surface. We’ve seen it coming…or maybe we haven’t…a mounting opposition to the Gospel and those who choose to live it out loud.

But this isn’t a political rant as much as a cry for the sleeping children of freedom to awaken. And I don’t just mean Americans. I mean those of us who have been brought from death to life, who know the Freedom that comes from being filled with the Spirit of God–the Founder of Life and True Liberty. The words of Perry’s song give voice to what’s in my heart and what I’m hearing resound from believers across the nation.

This is not a political battle. It’s a spiritual one. We’ve known this all along: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against…the powers of darkness in the heavenly places” Ephesians 6:12. But it’s more apparent now than I’ve ever seen it–all across the world. Darkness is becoming more and more manifest in broad daylight, stripping off its masks and pretensions, no longer hiding its design. But what happens when the sky darkens? The stars shine brighter.

“The path of the righteous is like the dawn, shining brighter and brighter until full day,” Proverbs 4:18.

Listen to the words of this chorus:

“When the fire’s at my feet again

And the vultures all start circling/they’re whispering,

‘You’re out of time’

But still I rise.

This is no mistake/no accident

When you think the final nail is in/think again

Don’t be surprised/I will still rise.”

This is not the time to negotiate. This is not a time for compromise. And this is certainly not a time for panic and defeat. This is the time to keep our windows open, like Daniel, and pray to the God of heaven, Who is not planning on abdicating His Throne simply because a “progressive” culture does not favor Him. I believe God has so much more for this country and we, His People, should not be ashamed. We should not be full of anger, fear, and strife. We have the opportunity to stand firm in our faith and resist the enemy, knowing that these same kinds of trials are happening to our brothers and sisters all over the world (1 Peter 5:9). This is a time for unity. This is a time to stand.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what the future holds for this country, for the world, for me, even. But I do know one thing–two, actually. God is still God and He will never quit or be deposed or voted out. He still has a Plan and He’s calling His People to wake up and shake off our slumber to be part of it. Otherwise, we will be scattered by circumstances and live in confusion and despair and disillusionment. That is not how we were meant to live.

I want to encourage everyone who believes–it’s not over. No matter the outcome of the elections. God is not going anywhere, and nor should we. Remember it’s not so much about who you are as it is about Whose you are! I don’t know who our next president will be, but I do know the One Who is Victorious: Jesus the Great I AM. My God. My King. And that is a Victory celebration I know I will get to take part in.

The Word of God is clear. “Today, when you hear His Voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:15).

“In the final days, flattery will corrupt those who abandon the promise, but those who know their God will be strong and take action (Daniel 11:32).

We serve a Mighty God and He is among us. He will never leave us or forsake us. That’s why I titled this post “Spoiler Alert.” Because we know the ending of all this. Jesus is the Author and Finisher of our Faith. If we keep our eyes on Him, we will always win.

“As for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast Love, answer me in your saving faithfulness” (Psalm 69:13).

***VOTE THIS WEEK! AND PRAY! PRAY WITHOUT CEASING!!!***

Friendship in the Fear

first-leaves

It’s late September in northern Illinois and we are slowly dipping toes into Autumn. A few trees are adding yellow caps and red tassels to their branches, while others are waiting for a real cold snap to signal their surrender.

I recently heard a brief online message by worship leader and songwriter Melissa Helser about the trees and how they lose their leaves and surrender to barrenness for a long, dark season. She talked about how she sat staring at the bare hardwood trees in the dead of winter and God asked her if she ever expected the trees to be nervous about losing their leaves, afraid that they would never bloom again in the spring. Of course she hadn’t. Because the trees instinctively “know” in their roots that spring always comes and they will bloom again in that season.

How much more should we trust the One who created times and seasons and who has made us in His Own Image? This was the point of Melissa’s message…since we have the ability to know God, unlike the trees, shouldn’t we be able to trust Him, wait on Him?

I don’t know how many times I’ve had to remind myself to wait on the Lord. Not just as a spiritual activity but a way of life.

Psalm 25 is one of my favorites and the other day when I was reading, the words stood out to me with fresh truth. “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust. Let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for you will be put to shame….make me to know your paths, O Lord. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation. For you I wait all the day long.”

The first thing that I noticed was that we have to lift up our souls to the Lord. We have to make an effort to place our trust in the Lord, and call to our minds how He has “dealt bountifully with us” in the past (Psalm 116). This is where we’re different from the rest of nature. Nature trusts God by instinct, without even “realizing” it. We can trust God by choice.

I also noticed that no one who puts their trust in Him will be put to shame. So it is only when we are placing our trust in things other than or outside of God that we find ourselves “put to shame”, disappointed, let down.

But the revelation that specifically blessed my heart, the words that spoke to me personally, came from Psalm 25: 12-14.

“Who is the man (or woman) who fears the Lord? He will instruct them in the way they should choose. Their souls shall abide in well-being, and their offspring shall inherit the land. The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He makes known to them His Covenant.”

I realized that these verses specifically address each of my top fears. That is what is so special about being told to trust God. He isn’t speaking generally. We can trust Him with the tiniest details of our lives because He knows us inside and out. The fear of the Lord is where we find our safety, our identity, our security. The fear of the Lord is when we have such a clear, solid picture of our Lord that we no longer wonder who we are. We start to think of life in terms of God’s thoughts about us, rather than our thoughts about Him, or ourselves.

So back to the specific fears these verses address. And I’m sure these are not entirely unique to me.

  1. I am afraid of being lost. I don’t like not having a plan/purpose and I’m often afraid of losing my way, coming to a crossroads and not knowing which way to go. In response, God says that the one who fears the Lord will be “instructed in the way he/she should choose.”
  2. I’m afraid of being soul-sick. I’m afraid of living depressed or sad, afraid of living with a smile on the outside while carrying around a weight inside. I’m afraid that circumstances will change how I feel and I won’t be able to get the good feeling back. But God’s Word tells me that for the one who fears the Lord, “his soul shall abide in well-being.” That is the meaning of the song “It is Well With My Soul”. It’s referring to a peace that goes beyond circumstances, assuring me that I can be well, no matter what–and not just when I feel well. I can be well, and live there.
  3. My last fear is more of a recent one, growing as I get older and draw closer to the season for having children of my own. I worry about what kind of world I’ll be bringing them into, how to prepare them for what they will encounter. But God says that for those who fear the Lord, “their offspring will inherit the land.” In other words, there is a future for the children of one who finds their security, identity, and safety in the Lord.

I am always amazed at how Scripture speaks directly to our experiences, letting us know that God knows what we face, He understands our fears and is acquainted with the temptations we deal with–and He has provided the way out. “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear Him and He makes known to them His Covenant.” God desires relationship with us, for His Truth to make a clear difference in our everyday lives.

The lesson of the leaves and the trees is so much bigger for us…we can be involved in the process of trust and receive His Words as coming from a God who wants friendship with us. When we do this, the Glory and Power He puts inside us is unmatched by anything in this world.

 

Like a Lioness

Lucy and Aslan

I’m sure a lot of people can say this, but I’m going to also…Narnia changed my life.

First the books and all their charming mystery in C. S. Lewis’ enigmatic style, and then the breathtaking cinematic version that came out around my 15th birthday. Now I’m twenty-five and I am still spellbound by Narnia. My heart still freezes when Lucy approaches the wardrobe, races when she and Susan leap onto Aslan’s back, and jumps into my throat when Aslan lets out a roar that shatters the witch’s evil. The joy that rushes through my veins when the great lion steps out of the tent to greet the children is more than just pleasure from a cinematic experience. Aslan is meant to represent Someone Else. The Divine Lion of Judah, who has won His Victory and shares it with His Children. The King who has called us out of the kingdom of darkness into His marvelous Light. The One who captivated C. S. Lewis’ heart, and later, mine.

Of the four Pevensie children, Lucy was always my favorite. Unhampered by Peter and Susan’s pride or Edmund’s selfishness, the youngest sister is all innocence and wonder, leading the way through the wardrobe and taking Narnia for what it is.

When Aslan crowns her Queen Lucy the Valiant at the end of the first film, I always felt a rush of pleasure mixed with longing. How I wanted my Lord to describe me as His valiant one. What would I have to do in order to be known that way?

As a young teenager immersed in the excitement of the saga, it was easy to think that there was a lot of action involved in being valiant. But looking back now, I see a much different picture. Of all the siblings, Lucy does the least amount of fighting, planning, and directing. She’s the smallest, the youngest, and is given a flask of healing oil and a tiny dagger as gifts, while her sister and brothers are given bigger weapons. She is the diplomat, interacting the most with the creatures of Narnia, quicker to make friends than enemies.

Most importantly, she always reminds the others of Aslan.

From the moment she first saw Him, Lucy was captivated by the Great Lion King and she carries in her heart an equal mixture of reverence and adoration for Him that makes their relationship a beautiful thing to behold. That’s always been my favorite thing about Lucy. But it’s also what makes her valiant.

She runs to Aslan.

My favorite scene in the movie Prince Caspian is in the heat of the final battle. Hope is waning fast for Narnia’s weary troops. Everyone races to the river, where they encounter Lucy calmly walking out onto the bridge, into the hordes of advancing soldiers. The armies crash to a stop in confused wonder as the small girl stands there, smiles at the lion beside her, and simply pulls out her tiny dagger. When the enemy soldiers launch themselves at her, Lucy steps back to make way for Aslan’s earth-shattering roar. It’s what the armies of Narnia have been waiting for…not all that patiently.

Lucy is able to stand strong and calm in the midst of danger because she recognizes that the One standing beside her has all the resources she lacks. While the others worry and argue and scheme, she calls to their minds who really defeated their enemies in the past. While the others sleep, she gets up to follow Aslan into the woods. She isn’t focused on displaying her own physical prowess or battle skills. She just knows who can win the battle, so that’s who she runs to. Her battle plan is to step back and let Aslan do what He does best.

During their talk in the forest, Lucy comments to Aslan that she wishes she were braver. Aslan simply smiles wide and declares that if she were any braver, she would be a lioness.

Valiance, courage, bravery–it all comes from spending time with the King. When we know Who He is and who we are in Him, we are able to step out into whatever battles we’re facing and boast in our tiny daggers and weak stature because we know our God has a chance to display His Might in us.

His Presence is what makes me what I can’t make myself…valiant.

Aslan and Lucy

 

Peace with God

Doing a little devotional study on Romans 5, and thought I would share some of it. The whole chapter is spectacular. Seriously, if you’re feeling run-down or even just need to remember what it means to follow God and be a Christian…read Romans. Just sit down and read it, and let it soak in that this is all really true and really available to us! It’s amazing!

Romans 5 begins, in vs. 1: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have Peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Side-note: sometimes we get discouraged reading Scripture because we think that we have to devour huge portions every day, understand every word, and memorize it all verbatim. There is merit in reading whole chapters in one sitting, or committing verses to memory. Absolutely! However, there is also a lot to be said in just one verse of Scripture, and we so often brush by the individual verses, forgetting how crucially they contribute to the whole. If we take time to meditate on one single verse and really ask the Holy Spirit to show us what’s being said and reveal Himself to our hearts, we will find ourselves being fed, and I believe over time we’ll develop a greater awe of the Scriptures. In addition, this often helps me to memorize larger portions of Scripture, beginning one verse at a time and really thinking about what each one is saying.

This was my prayer as I read through Romans 5:1 and looked up some commentary on it.

God, thank you for providing us with this Peace through Your Son Jesus Christ! Jesus, thank you for breaking down the wall of hostility with Your own flesh and blood. God, may we never take this lightly or forget that this Peace that passes all understanding and guards our hearts and minds is only in Christ Jesus.

And it isn’t a passive peace, a casual acquittal that justifies us in court, and then lets us walk, unaware and unaffected.

This Peace in Jesus offers Relationship. It necessitates Abiding.

So help us, God…help me…to walk in Your Peace and never let it go by turning and going my own way, because apart from Jesus, I have nothing.

But in Him, I have everything!

 

Humanity can rejoice because God has made the way clear and has invited us to be His Friends.

Rejoice with me today, believers! We are Friends of God!

 

More than it seems, these dreams…

Sunset 1The world we live in continually exalts achievement, finding your impact, and living your dreams.

As a Christian, I delight in the same possibilities, believing that God has plans for my good and has specially designed me to make a unique mark on the world, a mark that bears His Name and makes Him known! However, life doesn’t always seem to play along. Why do we often come to seasons of life where our dreams don’t seem like they’ll ever be realized? Why do we not get certain things we prayed for? And specifically for Christians, where does the concept of “dying to yourself” fit with the idea of fulfilling our God-given dreams and aspirations?

I’ve been seeing a recurring theme around these questions lately, not just in my personal Bible study, but also on social media and in books I’ve read.

It is a biblical reality that in order for Jesus to be King of our hearts and lives, we must die to ourselves—to our way of thinking and living before we accepted the Lordship of Jesus. However, in light of this reality, there is something very important we have to keep in mind: the purpose of this “death.” Remember, God is the Author of Life and all life flows from Him. He is the Fullness that fills all in all. God never allows something to die just for the sake of death. Recall that He didn’t allow Jesus to stay dead. Death on the Cross was not Jesus’ whole story. And it isn’t ours either!

After being resurrected from the grave, Jesus sent us His Holy Spirit so we could live through Him! And this new life isn’t just indicative of heaven. It is a new life that begins here and now! Needless to say, dying to ourselves is not the whole story!

So what happens when it feels like our dreams have died or we find ourselves scrambling to keep up with or make sense of a life that doesn’t look much like we planned (or prayed for)?

For an example, I think of George Bailey, Jimmy Stewart’s famous character in the black-and-white film It’s a Wonderful Life. You’ve probably seen the movie at least once around Christmastime. George is a talented, charismatic, likeable man with big dreams and a strong moral compass. However, his attempts to live out his convictions seem to continually steer him away from all the things he dreamed of doing…going to college, traveling the world, becoming an engineer. George becomes increasingly frustrated until the pivotal point in the movie when, faced with utter ruin and bankruptcy, it seems as though he has sacrificed all of his dreams for nothing. It takes an act of God, literally, to show him that his life has not only been worth something, but has actually fulfilled much—a truly wonderful life. But moments before he will start to realize this, George is standing on a bridge, contemplating suicide. This is a harrowing picture of where the enemy wants us when our plans go awry: defeated, despairing, believing that it was all worth nothing and God doesn’t have a plan for us.

Hence one very important truth that we have to keep in mind: God is NOT a dream killer. He’s not a killer of anything, for that matter. He is Life itself. Everything in our lives hinges on His utter and constant Faithfulness. The Bible says that He planned things for us to do before we were even thought of…not works to earn salvation, but talents and gifts, good things to do throughout life, ways to partner with Him during our lives and bring Him glory. Many Christians know the all-time favorite verse, Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

But consider the verses immediately following that one. “Then you will call upon me, and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek Me and find Me. When you seek Me with all your heart, I will be found by you, declares the Lord…”

The ultimate goal in finding our life’s work, the fulfillment of our dreams, is to connect with God. Our dreams and aspirations, our talents and gifts, are all conduits through which God can display His Glory and bless the world. But, like all of life, they must be given to Him first. And often, in the course of our lives, we see certain dreams fade for a season or take on a new face that we don’t recognize. It’s hard not to feel lost when this happens. It’s hard not to paint a picture in our minds of what our lives should look like or how our dreams will be fulfilled. And there’s nothing wrong with having plans. But if God redirects that plan, do you come undone? Was your hope and trust in that plan or in God?

These are tough life questions, but the way we respond to them will determine the quality and impact of our lives.

So what is happening when we start to feel like George Bailey? (I realize that sometimes we get to certain places in our lives due to poor choices we made, but God is the ultimate Redeemer, and He is never caught off guard or struggling to keep up with our lives.)

What I am mainly talking about here is that point where you feel like your life is just not turning out the way you wanted, like your dreams have been put on hold. (And this seems to be a fairly common place for people to come to. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people describe their lives this way.)

At this point, we must first remember the character of our God. We have to seek Him in order to discern His will, but He is not trying to hide it from us.

If our dreams seem on hold or out of the picture for a season, one of two things is happening.

Either God is fazing a particular dream out of our lives completely in order to make room for something better, something we might not have thought to choose, but something He intended for us to do in His Strength,

Or God is allowing a dream to “die” in the sense that we thought it would be accomplished, in order to raise it up again in the right time to be more than we could have ever fathomed.

Think Joseph in Genesis. His dreams of power and position seemed to die when he was sold into slavery, but God used him and his gift of interpretation to bless not only his family, but the whole known world and the future of Israel…something Joseph would never have pictured on his own.

The point is that dying to ourselves is only half of the equation. Colossians 3:10 continues with the other half. “You have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.”

Remember, the gifts and talents inside you were placed there by God and can best be used by God. Everything you desire in life can be traced back to God, and finds its fullness in Him. God has not forgotten you or your dreams. Don’t give up on them. Bring them to Him. Seek Him and you will find yourself in the process. The goal is to delight in God, finding your purpose and your hope in Him. And holding fast to His Promise: that as you draw near to Him, He will draw near to you, and will give you the desires of your heart.

 

*****Disclaimer*****

In these Christian-living posts, it is never my intention or plan to become a preacher or point fingers at any particular person. These posts simply reflect what God is teaching me in a particular season or something that I came across in Scripture that impacted me. They are meant to encourage readers to turn to the Scriptures for new perspective in their own lives. This kind of sharing is part of what it means to be a Christian. In Colossians 3:16, we are encouraged to celebrate the truths in Scripture and spur each other on to focus on the Truth Himself, Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, for me, these posts represent part of what it means to be a writer. As Sheila Walsh puts it: “I’m not one who writes as an expert on a subject. I’m one who writes out of a hunger to understand.”

So please feel free to comment if you have any questions or need clarification on anything, but know that I’m writing from the middle of the journey.