Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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Five Minute Friday :: Rise

The Samaritan, newly cleansed of leprosy, threw himself at Jesus’ feet with gratitude. Jesus had healed 10 lepers, yet only one returned to thank Him (Luke 17). The Lord looked compassionately at the Samaritan clinging to His ankles and said, “Rise and go. Your faith has made you well.” Although 10 men had been cleansed, this thankful one received eternally more than physical healing.

Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah faced a “great horde” of enemies coming against them. As Jehosphaphat prayed with his face to the ground, God promised His presence and a sure victory. The priests of Judah and Jehoshaphat rose early in the morning to meet the enemy on the front lines, not with physical weapons for battle, but with their praises: “Give thanks to the Lord, for His steadfast love endures forever.” (2 Chronicles 20). As they praised the Lord, their enemies were routed and destroyed.

As His Last Supper drew to a close, Jesus rose to face the way of the Cross. Before departing for Gethsemane, He led His disciples in a hymn (Mark 14:26). Jesus prepared for His greatest battle by emptying Himself of His own will and filling His spirit with praise and thanksgiving.

In these Scriptures, I learn that a heart of thanksgiving and praise rises above circumstances and chooses to trust. In recent days, I have struggled deeply with tragedy, unexpected news, and haunting reports of terror in our world. In the middle of the night, being especially faint of heart, I wrestled with the question – how do we live in this world?  And a gentle but penetrating question came instantly: Have you thanked Me today? And I had to admit that no, I didn’t say “thank you” to God when I laid my head on my pillow for another day of grace and breath and provision.

Jesus gently reminded me that thanksgiving is the oxygen for joy’s flame, the surest weapon for spiritual battle, and the path to peace. Every day I have a choice to focus upon what if or what isWhat if = fear of the unknown. What is = faith in the known. The two equations can’t coexist harmoniously in my soul.  Rather than plummeting into the anxiety of what if, thanksgiving causes my soul to rise with confidence in what is: my Father’s unsinkable promises, provision, and peace.

Gratitude is not only a response to God in good times — it’s ultimately the very will of God in hard times. Gratitude isn’t only a celebration when good things happen. It’s a declaration that God is good no matter what happens. Ann Voskamp

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” Philippians 4: 6 – 8.

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” Isaiah 30:18

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“Five Minute Friday” is a weekly opportunity for writers to write on the same topic and share on Kate’s blog {here}. Stop by Kate’s place @ katemotaung.com to see what other bloggers are writing about the word “rise.”


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Take Your Journey: Words of Blessing for Graduates

Dear Graduate,

In Deuteronomy 1:7, the Lord said to Moses, “Turn and take your journey …” It was time for the children of Israel to possess the land that God had promised their forefathers. Like them, you stand at the brink of newness where your days are marked with change and potential.

As I think of you, I remember words of blessing and wisdom that friends, counselors, and mentors have shared with me. I haven’t always heeded them as I would like, but I remember that the origin of the word “graduate” is from the Latin gradus, meaning “a step.” Each day you and I have fresh opportunities to step forward, learn, and take our journey. May these words help us to remember why we walk in Christ:

May you live with eternity in your heart, knowing Jesus and following Him wholeheartedly. When you ask Jesus to enter your heart, you begin an everlasting relationship with Him, and I pray that you will take this lifetime to enjoy and love Him with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.  Commit your ways to Him, and He will guide your steps. Every blessing in Christ is yours, and all your days on earth aren’t enough to fully grasp how rich you are. But take His Word, like a treasure map, and press on toward the prize of the upward call in Christ.

May you be a Grace-Receiver. You’ve spent most of your life as an achiever, and we celebrate your accomplishments. But when it comes to life in Christ, you cannot earn more of His love and grace. He has already lavished His affection upon you, giving His precious and holy Son so that you can draw near. No matter your status or title (or lack thereof), you are fully significant and treasured in God’s sight. There are no degrees of His love toward you. So when the world asks you to prove yourself, remember your place in God’s heart.

As a beloved child of God and a receiver, you are also a Releaser.  You have a sacred responsibility to help others realize their belovedness. As Romans 5 says, God pours His love into our hearts, not only to satisfy us but to spill from us. Live with awareness that the things you own can eventually own you, if you let them. In this fresh place in your life, determine now to devote your gifts, resources, and time to His Kingdom where your investments will never spoil, fade, or perish. I pray that you live with upturned palms, releasing your plans and your possessions and watching what God does with your loaves and fishes.

May you reflect the generous character of Him who gave His Son as you discover the joy of giving bountifully. God created you with something to offer, and may you – with your encouraging word, smile, prayer, open door, or gesture of forgiveness – release His goodness into your world.

May you see yourself and others as Image-Bearers. In the wise words of Sally Clarkson, “Deciding to like yourself is a choice to validate God’s design.” Yours is a high calling to add beauty, in your unique way, to this world. Turn down the volume on your inner critic and move courageously into that which makes you experience God’s smile. And may your eyes see the people in your path as fellow souls and may your voice speak for the inherent value of every person at all stages in life’s spectrum.

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Embrace weakness as a teacher. Remember that God isn’t waiting on you to be perfect; He is waiting on you to say Yes. May you realize that your inadequacies are invitations for God to work as only He can, showing His great strength and revealing His glory.

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Live fully in the blessings and responsibilities of community. For as in one body we have many members, and not all members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. May your relationships be at a soul-level where you are mutual speakers and receivers of truth, courage, and grace. This requires you to communicate beyond letters and images on a device.

Be attentive to the generations before and behind you; in them lie precious opportunities for learning and legacy.

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May you rejoice with those who rejoice; and in times of weeping, may yours be the comfort of “common fortitude.” Let your knees bend beside others before a grace-filled table. Oftentimes this requires humility and forgiveness on your part.

Your place in the Body of Christ is a gift, but it is not without challenges. After all, community is where you learn to love others as Christ loves. As you seek to live authentically in community – with fellow, messy people – God will do His deepest transformative work in you.

Understand the difference between image and identity. Our culture simultaneously encourages “image-is-everything” and “be-true-to-yourself.”  But these mindsets can’t co-exist harmoniously. As we increasingly invest our efforts in image management, we are displacing our true identities. According to the dictionary, something is authentic if its origin is supported by undisputed evidence. That’s you, child of God; Scripture declares that your origin – your living and moving and being – is found in Him. We live, however, in a society where values and standards are relative, undisputed evidence is disregarded, and anything is fair game for dispute, especially our Creator and the Truth that He embodies. And so, our culture has no choice but to proliferate a watered-down version of authenticity as “being true” not to one’s origin but to one’s self.

Graduate, may you grasp this distinction and choose to be true to your origin, your Creator. He will ask you to follow His revolutionary ways where the last is first and the least is the greatest. May your reputation be less about your image and more about your influence for Christ. You are not defined by your selfie.

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Don’t be afraid of stillness. Align your life with God’s pace rather than taking on the cultural badge of busy-ness. Solitude opens your ear to God’s voice, and it is a gentleness not to be feared. Setting margins is hard work – and counter-cultural – but you will be blessed beyond measure by the time you prioritize for prayer, listening, and paying attention to what God is doing in and around you. May your outward life grow from His peaceful presence within.

It may be tempting for you to spread yourself in service, but may you understand that “saying yes to everyone is not the same as saying yes to God” (Lysa TerKeurst). As a recovering people-pleaser, I often wondered how Jesus could walk away when crowds of needful people sought Him. But I’m learning that God was His pacesetter, and Jesus exemplified the significance of time alone with the Father, taking rest, and determining to do nothing except His Father’s will. God offers us more than full schedules; He offers us life to the full, and I pray you will discern the difference.

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Prixel Creative @ Lightstock

Doing less when we’re in God’s will is far more efficient than doing the most we can on our own (Holley Gerth).

Pay attention to your “shoulds” (as in “I should do this or I should do that”). Not all “shoulds” are bad; if you’re a college graduate, you obviously told yourself many times that you should get up and go to class and you should study for your exams. But some shoulds are legalistic and demanding and woven into our lives so subtly that we don’t notice that the threads are suffocating ourselves and our relationships (I should have it all together or You should make me happy).

As I make more of God’s acceptance, I am less inclined to boss myself and my people around. And I’m finding that this perspective doesn’t lead to passivity; in fact, it enlarges my freedom and capacity to act, love, and serve – out of grace, not guilt. And I learn that laughing at myself is not a bad thing; perhaps I should do it more often.

Don’t get too comfy. If you can accomplish your goals with your resources, your plans are too small. God can do anything big with anyone willing.

Take any opportunity to go beyond the boundaries of your neighborhood, zip code, state, and country. Ask Jesus to give you His eyes for the world. Pursue a life that is large in love and solidarity for your worldwide brothers and sisters. Each day, ask God to show you how He wants you to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. Oftentimes this request will lead you beyond your own capacity and comforts, but as God plots your course for His glory, get ready for more grace and fulfillment than you ever imagined.

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Live open-handed in the ordinary. May you understand the necessity and value of faithfulness in life’s mundane moments. Whether you are going to a job day in and day out, or meeting one more deadline, or maintaining the car, or working through piles of laundry, see these opportunities as your places to worship and serve God.

Don’t compartmentalize your life into secular and sacred. All Christ-followers are called to full-time service, wherever our mission fields lie. Remember that Jesus called ordinary men and women in the midst of their ordinary lives, and the Gospel spread throughout the world without televisions, telephones, or social media. You have this one life to tell God’s story, so be salt and light wherever you are.

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Choose gratitude. May the Holy Spirit open your hands and lift your arms in praise, even when – especially when – life is hard. “Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it” (A. W. Tozer). Instead of complaining or fretting, settle yourself in the One who loves you to the extent of giving Himself in your stead; allow trust in His character and His goodness to permeate your soul.

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May you have days when the sunshine warms you and God delights you with love and laughter. Celebrate His gifts everyday. May our Lord open your soul-ears to hear the song He sings over you. May you always remember the wonder of being called out of darkness into His marvelous light. Gratefully breathe every breath for the glory of God.

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“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn His face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:23 – 26).

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say. 2 Thessalonians 2: 16 – 17

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For women who mother my daughter

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My daughter has many mothers in her life. Some of these women have children and some don’t, and their collective influence on our family can’t be understated. I think of home as our little nest, placed among intertwined branches of extended family, friends, church family, and neighbors. The past 3 years have taught me, my husband, and my daughter how much we need these branches to support and uphold us.

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My girl is part of a generation which needs a community committed to modeling what it means to live relationally and authentically in an increasingly broad but shallow world. As she travels a narrow path, she needs to look ahead to the footsteps of courageous women. She needs to see your dependence upon God as you follow Him in the places where He has gifted and called you.

My daughter’s heart and her vision are enlarged as she watches you living out your faith and your passions in your homes, your neighborhoods, your workplaces, and your world. As you reach beyond your comfort zones and extend a compassionate hand to those on the margins, she sees what it means to value the image of God in every person.

To this community and to Caroline’s grandmothers, aunts, cousins, school teachers, discipleship teachers, small group leaders, camp counselors, and neighbors, I say “thank you” for mothering my daughter –

– when you provided a safe place for her during those long days while I was at the cancer center or the hospital.

– when you met her at the bus stop when I was running late.

– when you bought her a pretty dress for the ballet.

– when you braved the zipline and giant swing at camp with her.

– when you took her picture and told her that she is beautiful on the inside and the outside.

– when you brought flowers to the honor society induction.

– when you sent her a card to tell her that she was missed in small group.

– when you cheered as she crossed the finish line in the race.

– when you brought special gifts at Christmas and her birthday because you understood …

– when you came to the funeral, especially to see her. I will never, ever forget that.

– as you patiently help her with math and social studies homework.

– as you take her and a friend to the park and the pottery studio and give her space and freedom to be an imaginative, creative kid.

– as you speak to her honestly about the joys and challenges of becoming a young woman.

– as you talk to God, and she understands more fully what it means to be His daughter.

– as you teach her how to sew and how to roast a chicken.

– as you listen with interest when she explains the mechanics of breaststroke and butterfly.

– as you teach her how to study the Bible.

Thank you for showing my daughter what it means to be feminine and strong, passionate and pure. Thank you for being women of joy and laughter who help her to anticipate and appreciate the sweet moments in life. Thank you for showing her the hope of a heart fixed upon Christ during the hardest moments in life.

You have cared, nurtured, encouraged, and affirmed my girl so well.

I am forever grateful that you have birthed this beauty into her life.

Whether you do or don’t have children under your roof, you have taken us into your hearts.

In doing so, you have shown me what mothering really means.

The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you …”

Happy Mother’s Day with all my gratitude and love,
Renee


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Don’t Draw the Line

It’s just been THAT kind of week, I think as I peer into the oven at a cake that won’t rise. This is the second attempt at this cake; we inadvertently left out an essential ingredient the first time around. And as I wash dishes from tonight’s dinner of chicken and crunchy rice (also known as undercooked), I think about how we left a bag of perishable groceries outside overnight and made extra trips to school because of forgotten things and called a locksmith when our dog locked us out of the car.

Gently – persistently – for what seems like the hundredth time this week, the Holy Spirit whispers, “Don’t draw the line.”

Several years ago, my daughter came home with a “Fifth Grade Blue Card.” She started each week with 10 points and received a reward if she maintained them without deductions. As she pulled her card out of her folder, I saw “Grace” instead of “Grade” in the bold heading. The stem of the letter “d” in “Grade” had faded so that it looked like a “c” instead.

As I studied the card, it struck me how slight is the difference between the words “Grade” and “Grace” in print. Just one little line, a mere downward stroke.  Conceptually, though, “grade” and “grace” are opposites. A grade is a mark of measurement; it orients us toward performance. But grace orients our hearts toward peace with God, ourselves, and others.

When I have days like these, when I’ve missed the mark by my weakness and/or my outright rebellion, the stem of the letter “d” – the turning of “grace” into “grade” – feels like a measuring stick that tells me again and again that I have failed.

Drawing the line happens when I say things to myself like –

“You’re so stupid.”

“Why do you even try?”

“You can’t change.”

Sometimes I wield that same little line like a rod of criticism against my people, either silently or aloud.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“You’ll never understand.”

“Why can’t you change?”

But this week, in the midst of the inconveniences and the numbskull things that we’ve done, the Spirit has prompted me to notice and then pray for the fading of the line, the stem that differentiates “grade” and “grace.” I come frustrated and broken and rejected, and He erases the marks that I hold against myself by reminding me that the Cross is Jesus’ exclamation mark:

You’re loved!

You’re accepted!

You’re chosen!

You’re forgiven!

You’re Mine!

I think about the One who wrote the Ten Commandments with His fingers. But as He knelt beside a woman caught in adultery (direct disobedience of one of the Commandments), Jesus skimmed those fingers across the sand. We don’t know what He wrote, but He didn’t grade, accuse, or draw the line against her. Jesus wrote her a new story, calling her to a redeemed life of purity. No, she wouldn’t become perfect but I believe His love perfectly changed her from the inside out (John 8:1 – 11).

Grace reminds me that our acceptance in Christ is never achieved, only received, and our worth lies not in what we do but only what He has done. His love is so freeing, and I feel the line fading … I mess up and fall short daily but Jesus doesn’t grade me. He graces me. A drive for achieving stems from insecurity. Am I enough? But a posture of receiving secures my identity in Christ. Jesus’ grace is enough.

And when we see ourselves as receivers, we become releasers as well. God pours out His love to not only to satisfy us but to spill from us as grace to our people.

Jesus, thank You. Your banner over us is love. You are the embodiment of Grace and Truth. There are no deductions in this life in Christ. In fact, You delight in us! (Zephaniah 3:17) In You …

We’re loved!

We’re accepted!

We’re chosen!

We’re forgiven!

We’re Yours!

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Romans 8:1 ~ There is no therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

I John 3:1 ~ See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

“We all get to choose where we set up the stage of our lives — before the Crowds, the Court, the Congregation, the Critics (inner or otherwise)-– or the Cross of Christ. All except One will assess your performance. Only One will accept you before your performance … Only in Jesus is there 100% acceptance before even 1% performance.” :: Ann Voskamp

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“If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. If you look at God you’ll be at rest.” ~ Corrie ten Boom

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Prayer is the place where God never tires of telling us that life’s not about earning anyone’s love, but believing that we already are His beloved. ~ Jennifer Dukes Lee

Jesus wants us to trade our purses of “perfection” for a much lighter load instead. He offers us security in place of striving. Full hearts instead of full schedules. Receiving instead of trying to buy our way to acceptance. ~ Holley Gerth


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A Season to Receive {When Christmas Doesn’t Feel Merry}

For the second consecutive year, I pass by the Christmas tree in the hospital lobby, and the sight of ribbons, ornaments, and lights punches me in the gut.

It’s not fair.

Where is God in this?

Why?

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You’ve had the same experience, perhaps? While we wish that illness and mourning and worry would take a hiatus during the holidays, we understand that doctors and funeral home directors and debt collectors are fully in business in December.

Sometimes the expected festivity of Christmas smacks hard against our circumstances. Perhaps this year it’s true for you that while others are immersed in parties, cookies, and presents, you feel buried under uncertainty, loss, or disappointment. They are holly-jolly, and you are heart-broken. My friend, I understand.

But after many times of pacing past the Christmas tree in the hospital lobby, the scowl on my face softens as I begin to marvel that such decorations are prominently on display in this public place. How long will it be, I wonder, before someone complains and the tree disappears for the sake of “correctness”?

Yet you and I can see it all around us: despite a societal discomfort with Jesus Christ, our souls really do ache for a Comforter.

And, whether we profess the reason for the season or not, we put up the trees and bring out the red & green and honor long-held traditions in private and public ways. Some might say that people celebrate Christmas because, in the bleak midwinter, we will do anything to be festive. But I see it as a stirring of faith.

At Christmas, more than any time of year, I see in the human spirit a longing for returning. We want the Christmas tree to look as it always has and we bake the same cookies and we bring out the same clothes (even if they are re-purposed for the ugly-sweater-party) and we sing the familiar carols and we traverse the neighborhood streets, expecting that the displays will look as they have in years past.

Can you see it – in these acts of returning – the longing for home?

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The Word tells us that God has set eternity in our hearts, and Home is not as much a place as it is a personal experience with His presence in our souls. It is a returning to the reason we were created. To the reason for Christmas.

And so, I stand in the glow of the hospital Christmas tree and I understand that it is fitting and right. The Light beckons us, and anyone who has felt a bleakness in the soul understands the yearning for hope to pierce the darkness. Here, in your most un-merry of places, is a yearning for the Messiah. Here is where He meets you.

God Is With Us. (Matthew 1:23)

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Eventually, the only material thing that lingers after December 25 is the fruitcake. As decorations are stored for another year, it’s natural, I think, to evaluate – was it a good Christmas? Did your house sparkle and did you score with the presents you gave and did the meals satisfy and did the family get along? And it’s pretty natural, I think, to feel some degree of let-down because we act as if Christmas joy is achieved rather than received.

One blessing of a broken-heart at Christmas, I’ve found, is that it hushes the demands of the season, if we will let it. We can see Christmas apart from the materialism and receive the manger-King who came to die. We can see afresh that Christmas’ true meaning doesn’t replace suffering but redeems it. The grace-gift, wrapped in the way of the Cross, is what Christmas is all about.

God is For Us. (Romans 8:31)

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And so, may we choose the comfort of receiving over the chaos of achieving. Instead of trying to do it all, may He be our all. May we choose to lay aside the happiness expectations and receive a holy experience in their place.

I learned this lesson last year while shopping for a black dress and waterproof mascara as Have a Holly-Jolly Christmas played in the background. At first I was resentful and bitter. But suddenly – not of my own thought, I know – I realized that I was likely not the only person in the store with a broken heart. Somehow I remembered that, whether my fellow shoppers were merry or mournful, they were pilgrims like me, on a journey with a longing for home.

As I unexpectedly had patience for the overwhelmed cashier and the lady in front of me who wrote a check,  I realized that my heart was heavy but not hardened after all. The Holy Spirit helped me to choose a response contradictory with my feelings and my circumstances. And I learned once again that joy isn’t limited to a season or a feeling of heightened revelry.

Through highs and lows, joy is found in a posture of hallowed receiving.

God is In Us. (John 14:16-17)

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If you are hurting, friend, my prayer for you is that you will lay aside all the expectations of a happy Christmas and receive the season in its holy meaning.

Receive the hushed experience of the One who still gently enters into messy, needful places.

Receive the love of the One who chose to lay aside His advantages to give us the Advent of peace.

Receive the simplicity that the Grace-Gift offers.

Receive the filling of self-emptied worship.

Receive the fellow pilgrim who needs hope.

Receive the Light as it penetrates the dark.

Receive the Carpenter of your eternal Home.

Receive the Promise-Kept and the promise that His goodness and glory will prevail.

Receive the relief that your Christmas is not going to look like everyone else’s Christmas, and that’s okay.

 Receive a Christmas of receiving.

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Nativity images used under license granted by Lightstock.

 

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Linking with Holley Gerth and encouragers who energize the spirit @ Coffee for Your Heart.

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Linking with Lyli at Thought-Provoking Thursday and Crystal at Thriving Thursday. Please check out these communities of inspiring writers.

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Thanksgiving every day {even on the hard days}

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Our circumstances may sometimes be hard, our experiences painful, and we may see nothing in them to make us glad. But faith teaches us that God is always good and always kind, whatever the present events may be. We may be thankful, therefore, even when we cannot be glad. Our hearts may be grateful, knowing that good will come to us even out of pain and loss. He who has learned the Thanksgiving lesson well has found the secret of a beautiful life.

Thanksgiving has attained its rightful place in us, only when it is part of all our days and dominates all our experiences.

~ From “The Thanksgiving Lesson” by J.R. Miller, 1912

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The deeper we grow in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the poorer we become – the more we realize that everything in life is a gift. The tenor of our lives becomes one of humble and joyful thanksgiving. Awareness of our poverty and ineptitude causes us to rejoice in the gift of being called out of darkness into wondrous light and translated into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son.

Brennan Manning – The Ragamuffin Gospel

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In the poor man who knocks at my door, in my ailing mother, in the young man who seeks my advice, the Lord Himself is present: therefore let us wash His feet. Let us give thanks and walk into Advent knowing that time is manufactured for eternity, the breath of humanity for the glory of God, our love of neighbor for the sake of the eternal Godhead Itself.

C.S. Lewis – The Collected Letters Volume II

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The soul that gives thanks can find comfort in everything; the soul that complains can find comfort in nothing.

Hannah Whitall Smith, God of All Comfort

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In Psalm 33:21 we read, “Our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name.” Trust is the ground for our thanksgiving. Even when there was no cattle in the stall, no figs on the tree, Habakkuk said, “Yet will I rejoice in God my Savior.”

Now humanly speaking, it makes no sense to rejoice when things are going badly. But Christians are not always “humanly speaking,” are they? We’re speaking divinely. We are using the words of God on which to found our faith. We stand on a rock that never moves. The world passes away, the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God shall stand forever. So trust is the ground for our thanksgiving, no matter what happens.

Elisabeth Elliot – Trusting is the Ground For Thanksgiving

Gratitude goes beyond the “mine” and “thine” and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of life, a gift to be celebrated with joy.

Henri Nouwen

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Saving Thanksgiving

A few weeks ago, I wrote about 2 small words: what and if. When put together, these little words can steal peace in a big way.

Like you, I wrestle with the hard things of loss and brokenness.  I hurt when relationships are messy; I struggle when hopes fall apart; and I cry out when my weaknesses persist.  Even still, I find comfort in trusting that God sympathizes with my difficult questions because He knows my fragile heart and finite understanding.

What if I make the wrong decision?

What if there’s not enough at the end of the month?

Often I find that ‘what-if’ works in tandem with its counterpart ‘if-only.’

While what-if robs my peace, if-only has a greedy eye on my contentment.

If only we could afford everything on the Christmas list.

If only I didn’t have to deal with this difficult person.

If only I could overcome this habit that drags me down.

Something about this time of year evokes in me a sentimental desire to have everything just right (and Pinterest doesn’t help). My mind is prone to wander toward the what-ifs and if-onlys (What if I burn the casserole again? If only Daddy was here…). 

But here – this place with its unmet longings and dried-out turkey – is where I learn thankfulness in circumstances, not necessarily for circumstances.

The spirit of true thanksgiving chooses to focus on what is given:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will triumph in Yahweh; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation! Yahweh my Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like those of a deer and enables me to walk on mountain heights! (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

Habakkuk, the prophet, doesn’t say “if only the fig tree would budWhat if the fields remain barren? If only there were fruit on the vines and sheep in the pen.”  His gratitude rises from his experience of “what-is” – the salvation and strength of his Lord.

When I live with a “what-if” and “if-only” frame of mind, gratitude comes if I think things are right. But true thankfulness is a “what-IS” perspective.

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Gratitude claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy. ~ Henri J. M. Nouwen

When I hold fast to “what-is” – the things I know to be true of God and who He is – the what-ifs and if-onlys lose power to irritate, worry, or depress me.

What if I make the wrong decision?

  • I will instruct you and show you the way to go; with My eye on you, I will give counsel (Psalm 32:8).

What if there’s not enough at the end of the month?

  • My God shall supply all your needs through His riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

If only I could overcome this habit that drags me down…

  • In all these things we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us (Romans 8:37).

In the midst of uncertainty, knowing more of Jesus transforms the what-ifs into faith, for I find that He is my true security.

And in the midst of disappointment, knowing more of Jesus transforms the if-onlys into contentment, for I find that He is my true satisfaction.

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Dear friends, as we enter the holidays, may you receive grace to protect your soul from the weariness of what-if and if-only. May your heart find rest in “what-is” realities, knowing that God is With Us. May you truly rejoice in the God of salvation. And may your Thanksgiving be rich in gratitude for the eternal givens.

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“Our circumstances may sometimes be hard, our experiences painful, and we may see nothing in them to make us glad. But faith teaches us that God is always good and always kind, whatever the present events may be. We may be thankful, therefore, even when we cannot be glad. Our hearts may be grateful, knowing that good will come to us even out of pain and loss.

“Every day of our years should be a thanksgiving day. He who has learned the Thanksgiving lesson well has found the secret of a beautiful life.

“Christian thanksgiving is the life of Christ in the heart, transforming the disposition and the whole character. Thanksgiving must be wrought into the life as a habit—before it can become a fixed and permanent quality. An occasional burst of praise, in the midst of years of complaining, is not what is required.

“Songs on rare, sunshiny days; and no songs when skies are cloudy—will not make a life of gratitude. The heart must learn to sing always. This lesson is learned only when it becomes a habit which nothing can weaken. We must persist in being thankful.

“When we can see no reason for praise—we must believe in the divine love and goodness, and sing in the darkness. Thanksgiving has attained its rightful place in us, only when it is part of all our days and dominates all our experiences.”

~ From “The Thanksgiving Lesson” by J.R. Miller, 1912

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Now humanly speaking, it makes no sense to rejoice when things are going badly. But Christians are not always “humanly speaking,” are they? We’re speaking divinely. We are using the words of God on which to found our faith. We stand on a rock that never moves. The world passes away, the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God shall stand forever. So trust is the ground for our thanksgiving, no matter what happens. ~ Elisabeth Elliot – Trusting is the Ground For Thanksgiving

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We won’t stop confessing He is good and we won’t stop thanking Him for grace and we won’t stop holding out our hands — and taking His hand. We won’t stop believing that “God is good” is not some trite quip for the good days but a radical defiant cry for the terrible days.

That “God is good” is not a stale one-liner when all’s happy but a saving lifeline when all’s hard…. Thanksgiving in all things accepts the deep mystery of God through everything. ~ Ann Voskamp, When the Holidays Just Seem Hard