Gratitude, Day 15—Thanksgiving Day


I’ve said more many years that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There are just so many things that are right about the day.

For example it’s a celebration of those early thanksgivings our forefathers held because they lived to bring in a new harvest. I mean, life was not something they took for granted. So they wanted to express their gratitude for life and food.

What’s more they invited native Americans to join them, not as guests but as contributors and participants. They recognized the role their new friends played in making it possible for them to have success in their endeavors.

And of course they were thankful to God because they recognized that without Him, they would not have survived the ocean crossing or had the encounters with people who would help them or received the rain and the sunshine they needed to grow their crops.

With that thought, I want to share a meditation on Thanksgiving which I wrote here in 2013.
– – – – –
My first observation about thanksgiving in general is that it is a responsive action. People give thanks because they have first been given something or have benefited from some condition or in some other way have experienced favor or provision. In other words, we don’t start out being thankful. We become thankful as we realize what we have received.

Thanksgiving, then, requires a level of humility. If we think we have earned all we have, if we aren’t acknowledging the fact that we received from another’s hand, we won’t be in a mindset to give thanks.

In that regard, Thanksgiving also requires a measure of reality. We need to see the truth about our circumstances. We need to have clarity of vision so that we realize both what we have received and what we would be like if we hadn’t received.

True thanksgiving, having been properly caused, seems to erupt from within. As someone on another site noted, thanksgiving can’t be mandated. No one can be thankful by order of the President, even if that President was Abraham Lincoln. Rather, thankfulness flows from a heart of love and relief and appreciation, not only for the thing received, but for the person who made it possible.

Third, thanksgiving is expressed. Real thanksgiving has legs. It moves from being an emotion to being a demonstration, through words or actions. People giving thanks aren’t silent and they often aren’t still. Thankful people give smiles and hugs; they pack bags and fly hundreds of miles across country; they send cards and presents; they sing songs; they put offering into the plate at church; they get up a half hour early to pray. The cook dinners and bake pies. In short, thanksgiving is not passive.

I can’t help but think of the story Jesus told Simon, the Pharisee who hosted him for a meal.

“A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” (Luke 7:41-42).

Jesus didn’t say, which will be more thankful? He said, which will love him more? Thanksgiving isn’t passive. It turns into love and service and shameless adoration. At least, real thankfulness does–the kind that recognizes the great gifts which have been bestowed and receives them in humility.

In the end, I guess that explains why we so often take time on Thanksgiving Day to think about the things we’ve been given. An awareness of what we have that we did not earn puts us in a place where we can experience thankfulness and then respond.

So let the count begin of all the blessings God has bestowed upon us. Let’s not forget the things God has revealed about Himself that are treasures in and of themselves: He is infinite in love, His mercy extends to the heavens, He is abundantly trustworthy to the point that He will never fail us or forsake us, He is righteous in all His works, His goodness is untainted with even a shadow of wrong doing.

And the list goes on!

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Published in: on November 21, 2018 at 4:59 pm  Comments (1)  
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Gratitude, Day 14—Places To Go; Things To See


I’ve purposefully been avoiding the things we so commonly include on a list of “what are you thankful for?” No profound reason. I just assume everyone already knows I’m thankful for friends and family, clothes and food, a roof over my head.

I almost broke that resolution to write about my parents, specifically about my dad because today would have been his birthday. I’ve put off writing that post for a long time, but I’m getting close to the point where I will be ready to put some thoughts down. But not yet.

Instead I want to write about how thankful I am that God gave me the opportunity to travel. I never expected to do so. I didn’t even want to do so. After all, I’d moved so often when I was a kid, I didn’t see the desirability of moving to a different country or of living out of a suitcase.

Little did I know what God had in store for me.

My first move outside the US was to Tanzania, East Africa. I know. Not a typical travel spot. Living in the small town of Korogwe, between the capital of Dar es Salaam and the tourist town of Arusha at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, changed me. I saw people in new ways—rich or poor, African, English, Indian, or American, they are people. We all laugh and get hungry, have a sense of curiosity, work hard, bleed, fall in love, love our children, and on and on.

I also saw that the US is not a place to take for granted, that there are wondrous sights in the world, that traveling can open eyes.

Well, it sure did mine. I wouldn’t have articulated this then when I was just seventeen, but I had a greater understanding of what God meant when He said He loved the world.

I could do a post on Tanzania alone and what I learned, but that was just the first.

Not so long after, I had a friend invite me to spend the summer in Mexico attending summer school at UNAM—a university in Mexico City. I went. From that short trip, I learned that I had an affinity for the Hispanic culture. Except I thought it was for the Mexican culture. I knew some Spanish, loved the people, the architecture, the history, the life style. So I determined to go back.

I applied to a mission organization to be a teacher at a missionary kids’ school. Instead of going to Mexico, however, I decided on a school in the country just south: Guatemala. After all, what could be different?

Well, everything!

OK, people still spoke Spanish, but the country is poor, the terrain is rocky, the land ringed with volcanoes. But there were still wondrous sights, and adventures to experience. There was history right in our backyard. There was paganism lived out on the steps of a church and on a high place outside of town.

Again my eyes were opened—surprisingly, more about myself than anything. I lived through a devastating earthquake and survived a bike accident that gave me a concussion that wiped a day or so out of my memory. I flew in a prop plane for the first (and hopefully, last) time. I spent Christmas eve worshiping in a little out of the way church, accessible only by foot.

I haven’t mentioned the trip my sister and I took when we returned from Africa, that took us to Athens and Rome and Switzerland and Amsterdam and London.

There’s also the two weeks I spent in Tokyo one Christmas vacation—a humbling experience when you can’t even read a street sign or a menu and you can’t ask a story clerk where the tuna is or how much the bananas cost.

Each of those experiences changed me and changed my worldview in ways that are impossible to explain or enumerate. But one thing I never imagined when I first began to travel: I have a wealth of information about other people and other places that I can use in my fantasies. The fantasy world of Efrathah where my protagonist goes, has a little of Tanzania, a little of my home state of Colorado, a little of Guatemala, a little of this place or that. What a treasure trove my travels have become.

So today, I want to say how grateful I am that God gave me so many varied places to visit and so many experiences to shape me. That He also has given me the opportunity to put what I learned into my stories is beyond great. I mean, when I got on the plane heading for Africa, I had no intention of writing fiction. I had no idea how writing journal entries or character sketches of the people I met would put me on a path toward fiction. Only God could plan and prepare me for such a thing so far in advance.

He’s great, and it is really Him I am thankful for in all these varied topics I’ve included in the Gratitude posts.

Published in: on November 20, 2018 at 5:31 pm  Comments (4)  
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Gratitude, Day 13—Prayer


I’ve written from time to time about prayer (other articles include this and this, but there are more), but I still don’t really understand it.

My atheist friends keep asking about answered prayer, as if getting what we pray for would prove that God exists. I’ve tried to explain that asking God for stuff isn’t really what prayer is about, but I haven’t been able to articulate it clearly. It always sounds so nebulous.

And still, I’m so thankful for prayer.

I have to wonder, what would I do for a friend who is having surgery if I couldn’t pray for her? What would I do for a family that is in danger from the California wildfires, if I couldn’t pray for them? What would I do for someone who just lost a loved one if I couldn’t pray for him?

I am so grateful I don’t have to find out. The very idea of prayer means I can bring all the stuff I’m concerned about to God. Somehow, trusting Him to work, however He chooses, is far more important than “getting what I want.”

Then Sunday, the pastor who preached, gave a wonderful example from our study in the book of John, tying it with 1 Peter 5:6-7.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

The incident recorded in John relates the first known public miracle Jesus performed—turning water into wine. In this case the “prayer” was Mary’s as she came to Jesus with the problem. Someone else’s problem, our pastor added; she wasn’t just praying for what she needed but for what others needed.

The “prayer” itself was simply a statement of the problem. Mary didn’t precede to tell Jesus how she thought He should handle the circumstance. “They’re out of wine, Jesus. Do you think you could have a couple of Your disciples take a cart to the farm down the road and buy some wine from them. Of course, we’ll need to take up a collection first so that we have enough money to pay for it. Maybe you should send two others to the farm just beyond that neighbor, just in case. After all, we want to be sure it’s enough this time.”

No, Mary, left the problem in Jesus’s hands so that He could solve it as He saw fit. What He chose to do was surprising and abundant and beyond what the steward expected: the wine was the best of the feast—far better than was usually served at the end of such an event.

How often do we Christians dictate to God what He should do for us when we pray, rather than presenting Him with the problem and letting Him work as He will? I know I do that. But we also have Jesus’s model when He prayed in Gethsemane. There He gave a specific something He wanted His Father to do: “Let this cup pass from Me.” But He didn’t stop there. Instead He submitted to His Father’s will.

These were not words He indiscriminately tacked on as part of religious formalism. Jesus actually was giving the Father control, even if it meant NOT saying yes to what He’d just asked. Actually, He knew His Father was not going to say yes. I mean, He came to earth for the very purpose of dying for sinners. So why did He bother to ask? Because that’s what He wanted. He didn’t want to suffer. He didn’t want to die. But He wanted to obey His Father more.

I think that’s what is lacking in a lot of our prayers. We don’t actually want what God wants if it means we don’t get what we want.

So why am I thankful for this kind of prayer that is . . . not really procuring what I need? Well, what I actually need is submission to God. So it is precisely what I need. And it is communion with the Living God, which is precisely what I need. And when He assures me that He hears my cry, I am so moved, so humbled, that He would listen to an insignificant, low-on-the-totem-pole believer like me. I’m not even the chief of sinners (Paul already claimed that place). I’m not the chief of anything. I’m just a little flower, here today for only as long as the number of days ordained for me last. I’m not the chief hostess or the chief apologist or chief writer or chief evangelist. Not chief anything. And God still listens to me. Actually He loves to listen to me. He longs to listen to ME! I have no idea why except that He is God.

So I am beyond grateful for prayer. It is an awesome, awe-inspiring privilege to pray.

Photo by Ric Rodrigues from Pexels

Published in: on November 19, 2018 at 5:18 pm  Comments (7)  
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Gratitude, Day 12—Music


I admit: a friend of mine wrote a cool piece on Facebook yesterday, about being grateful for music. Me too, I thought. That one belongs in my list of gratitude topics. (As an aside—fair warning that when you have dealings with a blogger, what you do or what you say might end up as fodder for a blog post. Just saying!)

When I was a kid, I wanted in the worst way to learn how to play an instrument. I never told my parents, though, until I was probably in sixth or seventh grade. Well, what instrument are you interested in playing, my parents asked. The violin. It was an identifiable instrument, and I loved the various solo pieces I heard. One of my favorites was Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, I think. My dad in particular was a classic music aficionado, so I grew up with the great classic symphonies and concertos and even a number from minor composers.

But the problem with me learning the violin—well, there were many issues. For one, I didn’t read music. For another I hated the idea of practicing. I knew this because there was a time when my sister took piano and she was supposed to them teach me what she learned. The few times I actually sat down and practiced did not convince me that this was something I wanted to do. My parents didn’t force me.

In truth, I wanted to have learned the violin so I could perform. I didn’t actually want to learn.

I had one short stint with the guitar. My inability to read music was not an issue, but there was still the part about me not liking to practice, so that went nowhere.

The only real success I had with music growing up was with the harmonica. Again, I didn’t read music and so I didn’t really have a clue how to play tunes I was familiar with. So, I simply made up others. I learned to string a bunch of notes together that actually sounded pretty good and expressed my heart. But I could never duplicate what I was playing. It was really only just for me.

Singing. I love to sing and I love to be a part of great congregational singing. It’s the closest thing to being a part of a choir. I imagine. I’ve never actually been part of a choir, because, you know, I don’t read music and I don’t like practicing.

But I love music.

I’m not too particular, either. Having grown up listening to classical music, I still love a number of pieces, like that Tchaikovsky concerto I mentioned. But I also grew up when “contemporary Christian music” was birthed. As songs went from the somewhat sappy and simplistic (“It only takes a spark, to get a fire going . . .) to more worshipful and challenging, I went right along with it. I bought praise tapes every chance I got. I loved Second Chapter of Acts and Keith Green and Amy Grant, then Jeremy Camp and a host of other artists.

I skipped over my “secular phase.” When I was in high school, I listened to the same songs every other teen was listening to. The thing was, the music was so far from punk or rap or raggae or heavy metal. It leaned more toward folk music, though it was transitioning to rock. I was pretty much fine with the style of the day. What I did not like was jazz or big band or country.

More recently I’ve had some exposure to country (The Voice, anyone?), and I have to say, I no longer hate it.

The point is, I’m not all that picky about the style of music I listen to. I mostly like music that touches my heart, that expresses something inside.

Not everyone agrees with me, but I think a lot of the old hymns do that for me. On top of the music that takes hold of my soul are the lyrics that point me to Christ or to the Father or even to the Holy Spirit, though I think the hymns that are Biblically accurate in their depiction of the Spirit are few and far between.

I like the hymns that have been inspired by Scripture and portray Biblical truth. “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” the classic by Martin Luther, is one of them:

1
A mighty Fortress is our God,
A Bulwark never failing;
Our Helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
2
Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth His Name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
3
And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

4
That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever.
(from hymnal.net)

There are so many though, and not the least are contemporary hymns by the likes of Keith and Kristyn Getty.

I find that the music that stirs my soul, in combination with the lyrics that focus my thoughts on God are the ones I like best. I still like classical music, though. I just have to supply the “lyrics” myself, in prayer and meditation.

So music, though I don’t listen to it the way so many do today, is something I’m so thankful for!

Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels

Gratitude, Day 11—Children


I’m specifically thankful for little children, toddlers, infants, preschoolers. Little people.

I spent over thirty years teaching the big kids, and I loved doing so. But the little people are the ones with no guile. True, they might be shy, but chances are, if you smile at a little person, he will smile at you. They haven’t learned the art of deception yet, and they aren’t looking for deception from those they meet. Other children are playmates. Other adults are question marks, unless we give them some attention. Then they giggle, and run, and sparkle.

Infants, of course, can do nothing but lie there and look cute. And that’s all great—because I’m not in a position to change diapers or give baths or get up in the middle of the night with a colicky, crying baby. But even when I was the aunt who took a turn doing those jobs, it was not burdensome.

There’s an element of hope. This little bundle of crying cuteness is a person. A wonderful person with all kinds of unknown potential. There’s joy in the discovery.

It’s great to watch children learn. The world is all so new to them and they want so much to do what the grown-ups in their lives do. That’s how they learn to talk—by imitating. That’s what makes them want to read or color or build with the Legos someone has given them.

They’re also filled with creativity and wonder and joy. Well, besides thinking the whole world revolves around them. But there’s just so much potential in little people.

But I have to admit, I also like little people books. The art, the simple wording, the unhidden point made on each page. Take Hannah C. Hall’s God Bless books, such as God Bless Our Fall, for instance. The first page reads

The trees are dressed in gold and red.
Their colors seem to call,
“God decorates what He creates.”
We say, “God bless our fall.”

Simple. Straightforward. Nothing too hard to understand there. And yet profound. That’s the kind of kid-book I like.

Of course there’s the very important truth that children are the future. They are! Which is why I don’t understand adults who don’t take time to build values into their children.

God told the people of Israel as they came out of slavery, to remind their children about God and what He’d done for them. They were to talk about God’s Law day in and day out. They were to display it visibly. They were to hold celebrations for what God provided, what He accomplished for His people. In other words, the children were to receive instruction from the adults about more than how to tie their shoes or how to make their bed.

Our culture has lost the importance of instructing children about morals, ethics, standards. At one point some noted psychologists taught that newborn were essentially blank slates and we could imprint whatever society wanted. Children are certainly NOT blank slates as the baby study at Yale showed. At the same time, they are not equipped with the experience, wisdom, and knowledge to make up their own minds about morality!

Interestingly, a series of commercials have popped up here in California urging parents to talk, read, sing to their children. It’s good advice, a needed correction. Because too many postmodern, and now post-truth, parents care more for what they want than they do for raising their children. Just recently I learned of a mom who essentially neglected her little one while she self-medicated with the drug of her choice. And her child? Delayed in speech, for starters. Who knows what else, given that so much of human development takes place in the first five years.

But we must not stop short with talk, read, sing. Content matters. At least to people it does. On the other hand, I can pretty much say anything to an animal—“You mangy, no good, ugly excuse for a dog. You act more like a cat”—as long as I say it with a winsome, engaging voice.

Children aren’t like that. They might not know what the words mean until years later, but if they receive negative values such as pride and selfishness and greed and division and hate and bigotry and abuse and dishonor and rudeness and such, long enough, their little hearts will bend with their sin nature. If they are neglected and left to devise their own values, they’ll bend to their sin nature.

Instead, children need to receive moral education along with the knowledge they receive that enables them to get through life.

But of course, that’s really on the adults in their world. Kids don’t usually cry because they aren’t receiving moral instruction. They don’t even understand that they need it. Unless the adults in their world harm them, children grow up filled with all kinds of laughter and curiosity and desire and expectation. They’re just waiting to be nourished.

When I see kids thriving like that, what a blessing. What a joy. It’s then I’m especially mindful of how thankful I am for children

Published in: on November 15, 2018 at 5:40 pm  Comments (2)  
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Gratitude, Day 10—The Shepherd And Guardian Of My Soul


I suppose since I’ve already said I’m thankful for salvation and for God’s kindness, it’s probably apparent that I’m thankful for God Himself. But today I’m specifically thankful for these two aspects of who God is—my Shepherd and the Guardian of my soul. I learn about these characteristics of God from 1 Peter 2:

For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

Years ago I read A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller. It gave me a much deeper understanding of that metaphor. The shepherd isn’t just hanging out watching the sheep graze all day. The sheep really do stray, and the shepherd really does hunt them down, steer them away from danger, rescue them from the holes they get in, check them closely for critters that get into their wool, protect them from snakebite, from predators that would carry them off and eat them alive.

The Shepherd of my soul looks out for me spiritually in much the same way.

He also stands guard, the way a watchman does from a city wall. He is ready to sound the alert because he is ever vigilant.

Consequently, I can get a good night’s sleep. I don’t have to worry or anxiously look about, wondering if the next cultural trend will irreparably harm me or my faith. I don’t have to wring my hands at the latest election results or what the new atheists are saying or the progressives who pose as believers, but are not.

Because I have a Guardian of my soul who will not let the evil tear down my faith.

It’s really peaceful to put my trust in the Shepherd and Guardian of my soul. I’m still concerned about the way the world is going, the way western culture is moving into a post-truth way of thinking. I pray for revival. But one way I know I have a Shepherd and Guardian of my soul is that just today I heard another radio sermon in which the pastor talked about praying for revival. He is not the first! Other believers, other pastors, are praying, too.

So yes, I pray. And I do all in my power to be an obedient sheep, following my Shepherd, not one of the other stupid creatures who jump at any loud sound and go running off to hide. I once was straying, but not any more. Now I want to get as close to the shepherd as I can get. I’m that thankful for Him.

Published in: on November 14, 2018 at 6:05 pm  Comments (2)  
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Gratitude, Day 8—For The Written Word


At some point last week I thought one of my gratitude posts should be about reading. I mean, I love to read. It opens up the world, the past, God’s revelation. It’s perhaps the most awesome human experience ever. But I’m too late. My friend and fellow blogger InsanityBytes already grabbed that topic: “Grateful for Reading.”

Unlike IB, I can remember a time when I couldn’t read. My brother and sister could. So once, int the car one of my parents spelled out something, and I knew that only I was supposed to not receive this piece of information. That hurt! At other times, on Sunday mornings when we pulled out the best part of the morning paper—the funnies, also called the Comics—my brother would grab one section and my sister would grab the other. I remember that one day I pleaded with them to please let me have a section first, because after all, it took me much less time to look at the pictures than it did for them to read the whole thing. Well, that request got nowhere, so then I pleaded with them not to read, either. Yeah, that plan didn’t meet with success, either.

I have another distinct memory of not reading, too, but better are the ones of finally learning, finally being able to read. And then discovering the library and all the books available for free. Reading introduced me to new friends and old places. But reading was the key to education. Without reading I would have missed out on so much—math word problems, history, instructions on literally every assignment, science. We even had P.E. tests over the rules of the particular sports we played. At every turn, reading was a component in education.

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

And now I’m a writer. So the idea of words on a page has expanded from me only being a recipient of information to being one who generates ideas for others to digest. Of course, I was doing that long before I became a writer. I mean, how many papers did I write in college? But one thing I learned back then, even when I would bemoan a professor assigning a ten-page paper or giving us an essay test: I always felt I learned more when I wrote out my thoughts. I remember them better, but I also understand them better. The writing somehow helps me to organize my thoughts better than any other way of interacting with material.

Of course, as a novelist who writes fantasy, I have a special place in my heart for creating worlds and characters that show what I think in a way that is perhaps more meaningful than simply coming out and stating the bald facts.

I may have learned that way of communicating from the Bible, because it’s a book filled with stories that illustrate. Yes, there are statements of truth, places the writers, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, simply declared what God wanted us all to know. But even more, there are people and places and events that show.

But that actually explains another reason I’m grateful for written communication. One of the best parts of Christianity is the written revelation, the unchangeable word of God, the word that is fixed in heaven, that endures forever. What God revealed four thousand years ago, for instance, is still true today. We have it in black and white. We don’t have to wonder what God might decide to do today as opposed to what He did yesterday.

I had a principal once who changed like that. School rules were not codified. They were in his head, and he could change his mind whenever he wanted. So you never wanted to ask him for money to purchase necessary equipment if he was in a bad mood. You never wanted to do something questionable because today it might be OK, but tomorrow you’d be busted for it.

God is not like that. He gave us His word so that we can know His thoughts. So when He said, Don’t commit murder as part of the Ten Commandments, that was a Law He adhered to in the book of James in the New Testament. He didn’t wave it or qualify it or reverse it. His word is dependable.

So I love written communication. It opens up the world, history, culture, an understanding of people. It allows me to express my thoughts and ideas and even to understand what I’m thinking more completely, and it enables me to enjoy God’s revelation. In His word He’s told us about His person, His plan, His purpose. I feel privileged to be invited in to know His thoughts in this way.

For sure, I’m so very grateful for written communication—both sides of it!

Top Photo by Tamás Mészáros from Pexels

Published in: on November 12, 2018 at 5:10 pm  Comments (1)  
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Gratitude, Day 7—For Veterans


I’m not a military person. And believe it or not—this is rare these days—I was raised as a pacifist. I had an uncle, for example who did not go into the service during World War II but chose to do an alternative service.

But as I’ve studied Scripture, I’ve concluded that pacifism applied to military service isn’t really something God teaches. I’m sure others disagree. Nevertheless, I’m at a point in my life that I realize how great the sacrifices are which our military personnel make. And their spouses and children, parents and extended family. So whether someone believes in the importance of a strong military or not, I think it’s right to honor those who have given their time and ability to the service of their nation.

These veterans need more than just a “thanks for your service.” It’s an easy line to give to a veteran, but it’s pretty shallow. I don’t have a better one.

What is better is friendship. I don’t know much about reaching out to someone who has lived with trauma, and is finally coming home, but it seems those who adjust the best have someone they trust and cam talk to. Someone who will be sure they don’t spend their birthday alone, that sort of thing. But more importantly, someone who will love them enough to listen, who will pray with them, who will open up the Bible and help them to gain God’s perspective. Because any veterans who have been in combat, and even those who haven’t, have seen an ugly side of life.

They need God’s perspective on what they’ve lived through.

The bottom line is this: where would the rest of us be without those who have served in the armed forces?

So as Veterans Day approaches here in the US, I want to thank God for given us brave people willing to sacrifice for all the rest of us, willing to defend our nation, our belief in democracy and free speech and freedom of religion. These are values that have shaped our country and spread to other places in the world. But they are not universal, and they do need to be defended.

That our service personnel are willing to put their lives on the line, to step up and do the work to defend what we all enjoy, means more than I can ever express. We are blessed to have brave Marines and infantry, seamen and airmen, the Coast Guard and all those special ops individuals. It really is amazing to think that so many people are willing to set aside a desire for fame or wealth or comfort or ease to step in and stand in the gap for the rest of us.

I am so very grateful for the veterans who have served our country.

Published in: on November 9, 2018 at 4:53 pm  Comments (4)  
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Gratitude, Day 6—Thanking God


Sunset on Fields near City

God is great
God is good
And we thank Him
For our food.

Amen!

I grew up “saying grace,” before meals. To this day I don’t know how that euphemism came about, and in our house, I’m not sure we used the term. I understood our prayer before each meal to be us offering thanks for the food.

By and large, however, it was a formality, though we didn’t use a formalized prayer. Despite the fact that there were lean years in my family, I was too little to realize how tight money was and how iffy our next meal could be. By the time I was in school, our “financially tight years” were behind us.

Consequently, not having known want, I didn’t have the overwhelming sense of gratitude that comes from receiving something you needed but had no means to acquire.

In other words, I mostly took my meals for granted. Not to the point of wasting food, certainly. My parents, especially my mother, saw to that. How could I, being so fortunate, throw away food that the poor children in China would be so happy to have. Didn’t I realize that they were starving and I was abundantly blessed?

Well, actually, I didn’t realize the abundance I enjoyed. Until I was seventeen. That year my family moved to Tanzania, East Africa, to a small town named Korogwe where there was a teacher-training college and a good road to Tanga. My dad, being a professor of education, took a position at the college, and I learned, among many other things, what abundance I had.

In Tanzania I saw most people walk barefoot or ride bicycles. Only the rich had cars. We had a car.

In Tanzania I saw men walk around with tee shirts so holey they barely had enough material to stay on their backs. I asked why people would bother to wear shirts like that which certainly had little function. Because, I was told, it was better to have a shirt, no matter how many holes or how big the holes, than to have no shirt at all. I didn’t own a single item of clothing with holes and I had many changes of clothes.

In Tanzania I saw children throw rocks and use sticks to knock unripe mangoes from a tree. They would rather have the unripened fruit than no fruit at all. I had the choice of whatever fruits and vegetables were in the market, all of which we could afford to buy.

In Tanzania ugali, made from cassava root, was the staple for most people’s diet. They pounded it into a flour and made a kind of thick mush they rolled into balls and dipped into broth. I enjoyed three meals a day, including a main meal of meat and vegetables, often with fresh, home-made rolls.

In Tanzania I saw sick children with runny noses a parent never wiped or distended bellies, some carrying bundles of sticks on their heads as they walked in the red dust of the African roadway. I had received a multitude of shots to keep away such diseases as typhoid and yellow fever, and I received a booster to protect me from the various forms of dysentery that plagued the African people.

In Tanzania I saw Masai children covered with flies, especially around their noses, eyes, and mouths, and they made no effort to brush off the insects, so used to their presence they had become. I slept under a mosquito netting and enjoyed a home with screens on the windows and on the doors. And still we had cans of bug spray and fly swatters.

There was more. That good road to Tanga, the second largest town in Tanzania at the time, which passed through Korogwe, made it possible to go to stores from time to time where we could buy some of the foods we would have considered staples in the US.

In Korogwe we enjoyed an abundant supply of water, no small feature in itself, but the water also made growing fruits and vegetables possible year round whereas in southern Tanzania, the dry season was very dry. People might find the only vegetable in their markets for months was cabbage.

I could go on. But the point isn’t to make a case for how poor Tanzania was or how much better Korogwe was than other parts of the country. The fact is, I could repeat a similar list for Guatemala where I spent three years or for Mexico where I spent a summer or for Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, even England and Japan where I’ve spent some short amount of time.

I could repeat the list for places here in the US, too.

But up until I was seventeen and spent that year in Tanzania, I didn’t realize I enjoyed abundance. I wore hand-me-down clothes and never owned a bike, though I wanted one desperately. My family drove used cars and bought furniture at Goodwill. We weren’t rich, but we had an abundance.

I think true thankfulness might not be possible until you realize what abundance you have. How many of us are thankful for our health . . . until we get sick? Or for our friends until they move away. Or for our jobs until we lose them.

Simple FieldNot having and then having, or having and then not having provides the contrast that wakes us up to abundance. Seeing others not have when we have can do the same thing. Or it can create a defensive, hording mentality—I never want to be without, like those people—in the same way that seeing others have when we do not, can create envy and greed.

All this to say, in our abundance, however great or small that may be, we have the opportunity to thank God for what He has given. Think about what Habakkuk said:

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. (3:17-18, emphasis added)

Even in want, there’s cause to exult in God. He remains the source of salvation, and that is God’s lavish provision for sinners who did not deserve His grace and mercy.

Thanks, and praise, and rejoicing are always the right response to God.

It certainly makes sense. If He is great, and He is, and if He is good, and He is, then why wouldn’t I give Him thanks?

This post originally appeared here in July, 2014.

Gratitude, Day 5—Salvation


Well, duh, some Christians might say. I might say that too. I mean, salvation is not new to me. I’ve lived with it for most of my life. I’ve gone through the gamut: I’ve been unsure I was saved, so I prayed for salvation again, and again, and again; then I came to the place where I decided to take God at His word; until I questioned His goodness, heard His answer, and trusted in His wisdom, just trusted; to the point that now, things I don’t understand don’t disturb me . . . much. I’ve just recently started a note section for my daily Bible reading asking the question, Who Is A Christian?

All that to say, salvation is familiar and it would be easy for me to take it for granted. I’ve lived with it for so long—the ups and the downs, the doubts and the assurances.

But in the end, I realize, salvation is everything. Yes, it’s a gift from God. A free gift, based on His grace.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

But it’s also a gift I must receive. There are any number of pictures of receiving the gift of salvation. Jesus referred to Himself as living water, for instance, and said to the woman at the well,

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” (John 4:19)

Ask, give, receive. It’s all part of what Peter calls being born again:

for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:23)

Jesus also painted that new birth picture when He met with Nicodemus:

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

Of course, another image Jesus used was that of a Father accepting His wayward son who returns and repents.

Throughout the New Testament there’s the association of Christ’s sacrifice with that of the pure and spotless lamb used in temple sacrifices. But Christ is portrayed as the sacrifice “once and for all.”

In thinking about why I’m thankful for salvation, these things come to mind:

I’m thankful salvation is free. It’s amazing to think that something so valuable is not something I have to pay for, that God actually chose to pay on my behalf.

I’m also thankful that it’s accessible by everyone. No one has to clean up before coming to God through His Son Jesus. He’ll take care of the sanctifying part, just as He has taken care of the justifying part.

Justifying simply means that I’ve been set right with God, so I actually have peace with Him. I’m thankful for that peace. I’m no longer God’s enemy. I’m not at war with Him. I recognize Him as the sovereign ruler He is.

The sanctifying part is me learning to get off the throne of my life and letting God be God. I don’t always want to.

Another thing I’m thankful for concerning salvation is the glorification that we who are saved will enjoy in the future. We’ll get better bodies—ones that won’t age or get sick; we’ll take our place in God’s kingdom as people who serve Him purely. I don’t know what all that will look like. Some speculate that we’ll have jobs in the New Earth that suit us. So I could possibly be a writer in the future, too.

The greatest thing about this glorification aspect of salvation is the hope it gives. So we Christians, when someone we love dies, we grieve, but we do so with hope. We will not be separated from each other forever. We will have a great reunion, first with God our Savior, and then with one another.

Pretty much salvation changes everything. That’s why Scripture talks about us being renewed, about us living in newness of life. Old things are passed away. All things are new. Definitely something I am thankful for.

Published in: on November 7, 2018 at 5:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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