Thanksgiving Thoughts

gratitude-appreciation-article (745x440)To be truly thankful is one of life’s most enriching experiences. Everything looks different in a good way. Thankfulness grows on us or explodes in us. In a flash or over time, we know we have been given something we didn’t deserve, and there’s a delicious sensation of being blessed.

Thankfulness is also a choice. Scripture urges us to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” adding, “and be thankful” (Colossians 3:15). Would God command us to be thankful if we couldn’t do that? I don’t think so. We have the ability to choose to be thankful; God gives us the grace to do so. Thankfulness may allow the peace of Christ to rule – the word means to be the umpire – in whatever situations we find ourselves. But it may begin with a choice to be thankful.

Even in difficult times, we can decide to be thankful. Scripture calls us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Be careful not to read that as a summons to be thankful for all circumstances. No. Some things are not good. When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer several years ago, it did not feel good. To give thanks in every circumstance is to be grateful that we do not face anything alone. When we walk into a valley of deep darkness, we need fear no evil because God is with us.

Often thankfulness is not a knee-jerk response for me. God has to tug on me, get my attention, open my eyes, give me another perspective. Slicing a ham recently, we suddenly discovered the juice of the ham was running all over the counter-top, down the front of the dishwasher and onto the floor. That’s why our dog was licking his chops at our feet! Thankfulness was not my first reaction.

It’s the most fun, and the most transforming, when we recognize the goodness and grace we are sampling at the moment. That happened recently for me with a flat tire. Having aired the tire once, I pulled into my garage in just the right spot so that, standing behind the car, I could see the head of a nail in a rear tire. I attempted to pull the nail out, hoping the hole might seal. But a gush of air said, don’t do that. Carefully, I pushed the nail back into the tire. I didn’t want to drag out the spare, jack up the car, struggle to break the lug nuts loose, put on the spare and drive it in for repair. But wait. I was not somewhere along a highway, with a narrow shoulder, battling a flat tire. I was in the comfort of my garage. I was thankful.

Gratitude - Nancy Lee Demoss- LIESYOUNGWEOMENBELIEVE.COMc33c393fb6c3001e288b2591ac230dc9 (736x736)Of late, I was unable to call my wife’s cell phone or receive her calls. Annoying at best, it was also a great concern because my mother, who is prone to falling, was with us. What if she fell when I was away from home and Mary needed me? Since Mary’s phone was long overdue for replacement, I thought her phone was the problem. Researching the cost of a new phone only added to my frustration. So I called tech support. A patient tech person methodically combed through possible reasons and was stumped again and again. She surmised that I may have blocked my wife’s phone. Blocked her? No way. Yes, I had. It was funny. Driving home from a church meeting that evening of the breakthrough, I was so thankful the problem had been resolved. I only had to swallow my pride, and I did not have to buy a new phone.

In my last blog post, I wrote about Mary’s scary diagnosis of Giant Cell Arteritis. We are about halfway through the treatment, and she is making remarkable progress. Again and again, we’ve been filled with thankfulness for how God went before us and led us to the right doctor, in time for a positive prognosis. And the peace of Christ rules.

The Psalmist wrote in the 103rd Psalm, “May I never forget the good things God does for me.” Yes, may I never forget. “God, open my heart that I may be a truly thankful person.”

Easter Hope

Easter is my favorite time of the year. It always has been. Maybe it’s because I went to the front of the church on an Easter Sunday morning to publically show that I intended to follow Jesus Christ. It was a mere beginning. I didn’t comprehend the significance of that water shed moment. I’m still turning pages in that adventure book. Or, maybe it’s because I preached my first sermon at an Easter Sunrise Service when I was a teenager. It was a memorable experience. I still recall my subject – doubting Thomas – though I’m likely alone in what I remember.

Easter is more to me than either of those events. Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The more I comprehend that truth, the more it puts everything else in perspective.

I overheard a parental holler-back to a child near the card display in Target this week. Perhaps I missed something. The child must have asked a question about Easter cards. The parent, rushing to the checkout lane, yelled back something like, ‘Easter . . . who celebrates Easter?’ I felt sad. Easter, the Resurrection, is my hope. I believe Jesus’ resurrection is the hope of the world.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the reverberating exclamation point to his earthly life and ministry. Everything Jesus said, everything he showed us about God, everything Jesus did, is given credibility by his resurrection from the dead. Opening the New Testament letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul affirmed that truth when he wrote of Jesus: “He was shown to be the Son of God when He was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 1:4, NLT).

For me, there is no reasonable explanation for the Church being born other than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus turned around the discouraged, depressed, disillusioned disciples who fell apart after Jesus was crucified. They denied they knew him, threw in the towel and announced they were going back to their old work, and they hid in fear. How could anyone thinking this through, believe those same disciples would soon be willing to die for their faith in Jesus, for any other reason than they came to know their dead leader was now very much alive?

A human body was necessary for God-in-Jesus to walk among people and show them what God is like. His body, God then and there on earth, made Jesus’ name, Immanuel, God with us, pulsate with meaning. Jesus showed people love, touched people and told them they were released from their sins. In his human body he looked people in the eye and spoke truth with grace. God-in-Jesus would cause John to later exclaim: “We saw Him with our own eyes and touched Him with our own hands” (1 John 1:1).

The resurrection allowed Jesus not to be limited to one place at a time, but freed him to be with people everywhere, at any time. A new friend said recently he daily thinks of Jesus as somewhere in this room. He’s so right! Jesus’ words, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20), are filled with hope for our darkest, most discouraging time, all because Jesus was raised from the dead. Say it to yourself: Jesus is here, beside me in the car, while I’m eating, when facing a difficult boss or co-worker, rushing the kids to school, or facing a difficult health issue.

I was reminded of this again this morning. We attended a Good Friday service and were given a piece of paper as we arrived. Invited to write down struggles, sins, personal battles, what we wish could change, we were then to fold the paper, take it to the front of the church and place it in a large bowl of red liquid, where a person with a big spoon submerged it. We were encouraged to “Leave it here.” Then we received the bread and cup, remembering that Jesus absorbed our sins into himself when he died on the cross. It was a profound reminder of why that Friday was good.

This morning I took some quiet time with God. As I was reading, I suddenly realized things I had written down in the Good Friday service were now being addressed in what I was reading. The here and now Jesus was in the room with me, letting me know he cared about what I had written.

After having more of these experiences than I can count, coincidence is clearly a silly, inappropriate word, a denial of a Real Presence, more a refusal to believe than an attempt to explain why things happen as they do. Beyond the huge hope of life after death, practical episodes like I had this morning are pulses of grace from a living Christ. Jesus IS with us. That is the hope of Easter. It’s one of the underlying reasons why I am grateful to be a Christ-follower.