Choosing to Become Thankful

thankful

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story. (Psalm 107:1-2)

Thankfulness begins with our attention on the right sort of object. The object presented to us in Psalm 107 is God Himself. We read that God is Yahweh – the Savior, that God is good, that God is steadfastly loving and faithful.

When we turn our attention appropriately to God, things change. Perhaps our outward circumstances do not change, but we gain perspective on where we stand. And that shift in perspective brings a change in the way that we engage with our circumstances.

The message of the Bible is that Jesus Christ has not only shown us what God is like but has invited us into real relationship with God – where all the riches found in God are ours. That’s why Paul says in Ephesians 1:3, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” If this isn’t a reason to be thankful, I don’t know what is.

You see, thankfulness begins when our attention is on the right sort of object. However, we often become overwhelmed and our attention turns to the things that frustrate or pain us. We could make a list of them sometimes: losing loved ones, job challenges or loss, broken relationships, financial troubles, the difficulties in our neighborhood or the world around us, and much more. At certain times we could start to recount and pile up all the things that have gone wrong. We start to recite them and cling to those terrible things as if they are the sweetest candy. We suck on them and feed on them to our own destruction. We practice the presence of our problems instead of practicing the presence of the Lord.

Now, there is an old song that says:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

The encouragement of the verses in that song are really good advice. We should count our blessings.  It is far easier to notice what is wrong – what is foul – what is lacking – than it is to count our blessings.

George Buttrick, a powerful preacher in early 20th century New York, spoke to this very topic. He tells this story:

A lecturer to a group of businessmen [who] displayed a sheet of white paper in which was one dark blot. He asked what they saw. All answered, a blot.’ The test was unfair; it invited the wrong answer. Nevertheless, there is an ingratitude in human nature by which we notice the…disfigurement and forget the widespread mercy. We need to deliberately call to mind the joys of our journey. Perhaps we should try to write down the blessings of one day. We might begin: we could never end: there are not pens or paper enough in all the world. The attempt would remind us of our ‘vast treasure of content.’[1]

As Buttrick said, we need to “deliberately” call to mind the goodness of God. We need to count our blessings. Like the psalmist, we need to remember God’s good help and deliverance when we cry out to Him. Most of all, we need to remember the salvation offered to us in Jesus Christ. When we count our blessings, and put our attention on the abundant goodness of God, something begins to change as we choose to become thankful.

Ann Voskamp, in her beautiful memoir, One Thousand Gifts, writes: “the first sin of all humanity [is] the sin of ingratitude.”[2]

May we be those who respond differently. May we look to God – His character, His power, His abundance – and be thankful.

 


[1] Quoted in James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 67-68.

[2] Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 15.

Serving God in Hard Places (Hard Places)

Hard Places Series GFX_16x9 Title

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, we concluded our annual MissionsFest. As we celebrate God’s faithfulness to us as a church for forty years, we heard from two of our long-term, international ministry partners on the theme of “Hard Places.”

This second weekend, Rev. Canon Francis Omondi from Kenya spoke to us about the nature of life in the kingdom, beginning from the Sinai Covenant and the Exodus through the exile to Jesus and toward Revelation.

You can watch Francis’s message below, as well as find out more of what is happening in the next week and a half with MissionsFest here.

A Prayer for Global Mission

world.jpg

God of truth and love,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Hear our prayer for those who do not know You.

We ask that they may come to a saving knowledge of the truth
and that Your Name may be praised among all peoples of the world.

Sustain, inspire and enlighten Your servants who bring them the Gospel.

Bring fresh vigor to wavering faith;
sustain our faith when it is still fragile.
Continually renew missionary zeal in ourselves and in the Church;
raise up new missionaries who will follow You to the ends of the world.

Make us witnesses to Your goodness;
full of love, strength and faith –
for Your glory
and the salvation of the entire world.

By Kendall Harmon

The Weekend Wanderer: 19 October 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed“Ethiopia’s Evangelical Prime Minister Wins Nobel Peace Prize” – In the midst of our political debates, Christians often wonder what their role should be within the public square. H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic work Christ and Culture (1951) outlines a fivefold typology: Christ Against Culture, the Christ of Culture, Christ Above Culture, Christ and Culture in Paradox, and Christ the Transformer of Culture. While you can argue your position, it seems hard to argue against the witness of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia, an evangelical Christian, being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts at making peace with Eritrea.

 

Walter Kim“National Association of Evangelicals names new president, diverse leadership” – Speaking of evangelicals, the National Association of Evangelicals announced on Thursday that Walter Kim will succeed Leith Anderson as President of the NAE. This announcement marks a change toward greater leadership diversity for the NAE, as they simultaneously announced John Jenkins to the office of chair of the NAE board and Jo Anne Lyon to the office of vice chair.

 

92413“The Most Diverse Movement in History – As a pastor of a multiethnic church, I think about what diversity means quite a bit. I wrestle with Christianity’s checkered past and present on certain aspects of what we call diversity, and I hold onto the hope of the dream of God in Revelation 7:9-10. Every once in awhile someone comes along to breathe some fresh wind into my sails on these issues. Rebecca McClaughlin did just that in this essay, which points toward the powerful multiethnic history and reality of Christ’s church.

 

lead_720_405“Why You Never See Your Friends Anymore” – In her strange, but arresting, book, How to Do Nothing, Jenny Odell relates the strangely refreshing experience of having dinner with one of her neighbors: ‘Because I hadn’t been in a neighbor’s home since I was a teenager, it was unexpectedly surreal to be inside the house that forms a permanent part of the view from our apartment….For my part, the experience made me realize how similar the life situations of most of my friends are, and how little time I spend in the amazing bizarro world of kids.” Odell’s experience is increasingly rare. In part, that is because of the way that work and our sense of time are being transformed in our current culture. As Judith Schulevitz, author of The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Timeargues in The Atlantic, we may want to do something about it. As those who believe people are made in God’s image, work is worship, and sabbath is theologically and practically significant, we may want to do something about it as well.

 

GerardManleyHopkins“The Poet in the Pulpit: On the Brilliant, Homely Homilies of Gerard Manley Hopkins” – Let me confess it: I am a preacher who loves poetry. Both my undergraduate studies in literature and my love for music gives me great joy in hearing the beauty of poetry read aloud. There is a tradition within Christian pastoral ministry of poet-preachers that includes such well-regarded figures as George Herbert and John Donne, as well as one of my favorite poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins. A recent book of Hopkins’ extant homilies, only 32 total, gives us some insight into Hopkins as a preacher. From the sound of it, both his poetry and his preaching may not have been well appreciated in his lifetime.

 

Music: Cross Worship, featuring Osby Berry, “So Will I (100 Billion X) / Do It Again”

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Standing with Christians in Northeast Syria

aeffdf22-47e8-49ea-84ff-b845942f57f2.png

As we watch the tensions unfurl in northeast Syria, we need to stand with Christians in that area.

While we can debate the wisdom of foreign policy decisions within our current administration and the shame of turning away from the Kurds who were the tip of the spear in our military endeavors against ISIS, we cannot ignore that turning a blind eye to this situation is forsaking our brothers and sisters in Christ.

If you are confused by the current events in northeast Syria, take three minutes to watch this basic overview from the BBC.

Farah Najjar reports (“Civilians displaced in Turkey’s Syria offensive fear for future”):

There are nearly five million people in the northeast region, including hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Syrians who fled government-led offensives in other parts of the war-torn country, according to local officials.

The population consists of Arabs, Kurds, Turkmens, as well as Syriac Christians – many of whom have been quick to offer a helping hand to those fleeing the border areas.

Bassam Ishak, a Christian leader and President of the Syriac National Council of Syria, was recently interviewed by NPR about the situation (“Christian Leaders Say Turkish Invasion Of Syria Raises Risk Of ‘Genocide'”). He indicated that forty to fifty thousand Christians live in the area under attack. Continuing, he said:

“The attacks are widespread….They are targeting residential areas in Qamishli, where people of all religious backgrounds live. We think this is a message to the Kurds and Christians there to leave, so Turkey can move refugees there. We think it’s a form of ethnic cleansing.”

A friend on the ground who works with Kurdish refugees in a neighboring country told me this week that they are preparing for another 500,000 refugees to flood into their area.

Another friend who pastors in a neighboring country told me that the continuing exodus of Christians from the Middle East is related to instability caused by war, economic difficulties that particularly affect minority Christians, and targeted persecution. This is not a new situation, but something that I have called attention to for years.

May God keep us prayerful for our brothers and sisters, for prayer is always powerful and necessary. May God make us generous toward our brothers and sisters, for there are tangible needs that they will face.  But may God also raise us up as advocates for our brothers and sisters, that we might call those with power to uphold the cause of the weak and the oppressed.

Seeking My Brothers (Hard Places)

Hard Places Series GFX_16x9 Title

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, we began our annual MissionsFest. As we celebrate God’s faithfulness to us as a church for forty years, we are hearing from two of our long-term, international ministry partners on the theme of “Hard Places.”

This first weekend, Rev. Yousef Hashweh from Amman, Jordan, spoke to us from the life of Jesus and the story of Joseph about seeking after others in a message entitled “Seeking My Brothers.” I originally posted this on Monday but am reposting it after some technical difficulties were resolved.

You can watch Yousef’s message below, as well as find out more of what is happening in the next week and a half with MissionsFest here.