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.

A Letter from Prison (Philippians, pt 6)

This is my final post in a series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

As he concludes his letter to the Philippians, Paul offers some final ‘secrets’ to living well for God.

The first is to “rejoice in the Lord always” (4:4). This echoes Paul’s theme of thankfulness from chapter one, that there is a grateful joy we can have in life. The secret behind such rejoicing is to turn our anxiety in to prayer, presenting God with our requests and living in His peace (4:6-7).

The second ‘secret’ to living well is to fill our minds with the right sort of things. Paul knows the power that inner thoughts have to shape the life of a person. Because of this, he encourages the Philippian believers to think on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy” (4:8).  What we think about impacts our lives through our attitude, words, and desires. Thoughts have power.

A third ‘secret’ Paul mentions from his own life is contentment. He writes: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want” (4:12). Obviously, we know from Paul’s life that he has been in a variety of situations. Even now, he is writing from prison. In it all, however, Paul is content. The secret to Paul’s contentment is knowing God’s strength living in him: “I can do all this through Him who gives me  strength” (4:13). Paul points these words toward the Philippians’ situation later: “my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus” (4:19).

As he begins, Paul concludes by rejoicing in God’s good gifts, thinking on excellent things that God does, and content because of all God provides.

How are you doing at living into these spiritual ‘secrets’ Paul outlines at the end of his letter to the Philippians?

[If you want to explore Philippians further, consider viewing the 2018 preaching series, “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances,” beginning with the message, “The Joy of Faith.”]

Let Your Light Shine

I came across the quotation while studying for a message from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount on God’s people living as light. As a pastor, I found these words convicting and encouraging. I hope you are blessed by them as well.

The church leader should be equipped with all the virtues. He should be poor, so that he can chastise greed with a free voice. He should always be someone who sighs at inordinate pleasure, whether in himself or in others. He is ready to confront those who do not hesitate before they sin and those who do not feel sorry for having sinned after they sin. So let him sigh and lament. Let him show thereby that this world is difficult and dangerous for the faithful. He should be somebody who hungers and thirsts for justice, so that he might have the strength confidently to arouse by God’s Word those who are lazy in good works. He knows how to use the whip of rebuke, but more by his example than by his voice. He should be gentle. He rules the church more by mercy than by punishment. He desires more to be loved than feared. He should be merciful to others but severe with himself. He sets on the scales a heavy weight of justice for himself but for others a light weight He should be pure of heart. He does not entangle himself in earthly affairs, but more so he does not even think of them.

Anonymous, Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 10 in Matthew 1-13, ed. Manlio Simonetti, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture 1A (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 95.

A Crash Course in Knowing Christ (Ephesians 1:15-23)

Ephesians

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I continued our new series walking through the New Testament book of Ephesians, entitled “Ephesians: A Crash Course in Basic Christianity.” This weekend, I continued with the second half of chapter 1, which offers us a “Crash Course in Knowing Christ.” This is really a prayer of Paul that unfolds for us how prayer in gratitude, intercession, and worship helps us know Christ more fully in our lives.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

Read More »

A Prayer of Christina Rosetti for Pentecost

Christina_Rossetti.jpg

O God the Holy Ghost
Who art light unto thine elect
Evermore enlighten us.
Thou who art fire of love
Evermore enkindle us.
Thou who art Lord and Giver of Life,
Evermore live in us.
Thou who bestowest sevenfold grace,
Evermore replenish us.
As the wind is thy symbol,
So forward our goings.
As the dove, so launch us heavenwards.
As water, so purify our spirits.
As a cloud, so abate our temptations.
As dew, so revive our languor.
As fire, so purge our dross

By Christina Rosetti, 19th century poet.

The Weekend Wanderer: 8 June 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.

Platt TrumpTrump stops by evangelical church to pray for victims of Virginia Beach massacre – President Trump made a surprise visit to McLean Bible Church last weekend, where David Platt , author of Radical and Counter Culture, serves as pastor. Of course, this created a Twitter firestorm about whether Platt should or should not have prayed for Trump, whether it should have been on the main platform or in a back office, and many other things. You can read Platt’s written response in The Washington Post, “‘My aim was in no way to endorse the president’: Pastor explains why he prayed for Trump.” I also appreciated the comments by John Fea, a Christian historian who is not a Trump supporter, agreeing with Ed Stetzer on the difficult predicament Platt found himself in as a pastor in that moment. Also, here is Ruth Graham at Slate talking about Platt’s “assiduously non-partisan” ministry, while also wrestling with Platt inviting Trump on platform.

 

 

Desmond-Percy-FD-Suicide“Prophets for Our Age of Suicide”Jessica Hooten Wilson reviews John F. Desmond’s recent book, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Walker Percy, and the Age of Suicide. “Every age needs prophets—whether or not they heed their cautions—because prophets stand out of and often against the current. They can reveal to those caught in its tide that we ought to chart another direction towards a more fitting destination. For Dostoevsky and Percy, their audience required them to create extreme characters and situations to see the unfortunate end we were all heading towards.”

 

11 reasons smartphone“11 reasons to stop looking at your smartphone” – Believe it or not, this article is from Mashable, a resource site for tech, digital culture and entertainment content. I have a love-hate relationship with my smartphone and have been taking the summer to turn my smartphone into a dumbphone. More on that later, but you should definitely read this list of reasons to stop looking at your smartphone, which run from relational to physical to mental and more.

 

Trump“What a Clash Between Conservatives Reveals” – Alan Jacobs on a recent conservative clash of cultures, specifically between David French and Sohrab Ahmari. “It’s important to note that Ahmari sees the differences between him and French as rooted, ultimately, in their different Christian traditions: Catholicism for Ahmari—who recently published a memoir of his conversion—and evangelical Protestantism. But whether this is indeed the heart of the matter, the dispute so far hasn’t fallen out that way. Some Catholics are with French, some Protestants with Ahmari. And in any case, I’m more interested in the ways this dispute illuminates questions that all Christians involved in public life need to reckon with than in choosing sides. How Christians choose to reckon with these questions will have consequences for all Americans, whether religious or not.”

 

Frederick Douglass.jpeg“Frederick Douglass Is Not Dead!” – Allis Radosh reflecting on three new books about Frederick Douglass and the contest to define his legacy. “The effort to pigeonhole Douglass is nothing new. A giant in the 19th century, Douglass’s stature was receding in the 20th. It was black writers like Booker T. Washington, who wrote his biography in 1906, and Benjamin Quarles, who published one in 1948, who kept his story alive. This changed when the Left claimed Douglass as a hero, concentrating on his antebellum abolitionist activities. American Communists of the 1930s and 1940s argued that Douglass was their predecessor, while historian Eric Foner claimed that his uncle Philip S. Foner rescued him from “undeserved obscurity” when in the 1950s he edited four volumes of his speeches and writings. More recently, he has been claimed by Republicans, libertarians, and conservatives. When a statue of Douglass was unveiled at the U.S. Capitol in 2013, GOP attendees proudly wore buttons that read ‘Frederick Douglass was a Republican.’  All of these claims on Douglass have some grounding in reality. But if Frederick Douglass can be all things to all people, it is paradoxically because his life was so complex—and his full legacy so impossible to circumscribe.”

 

BGC“Billy Graham Archives Begin Move from Wheaton to Charlotte” – Maybe this is just of interest to a few people, like me, who have a connection to Wheaton College or the Billy Graham Center. However, it does seem like big news that the Billy Graham Center on Wheaton’s campus is no longer host to the Billy Graham Archives, which are on their way to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) in Charlotte, North Carolina, Graham’s hometown.

 

spaghetti westerns“Quentin Tarantino on how spaghetti westerns shaped modern cinema” – Well, this one isn’t really about faith and art, but as a great lover of the works of Sergio Leone, I couldn’t help but share this piece by Quentin Tarantino. “When Elvis Mitchell [the critic, scholar and broadcaster] shows a film to his young students — this movie from the 1950s, this movie from the 1960s, this movie from the 1940s — it’s only when he shows them a Sergio Leone, if they haven’t seen it before, that they pick up. That’s when they start recognising the elements. That’s when they’re not just ‘I’m looking at an older movie now.’ It’s the use of music, the use of the set piece, the ironic sense of humour. They appreciate the surrealism, the craziness, and they appreciate the cutting to music. So it is the true beginning of what filmmaking had evolved to by the 1990s. You don’t go past Leone, you start with Leone.”

 

Envy - Kleon“An enemy of envy” – Here’s Austin Kleon reflecting on Jerry Saltz’s words, “You’ve got to make an enemy of envy.” “I agree with him: it will eat you alive if you keep it inside. I think one thing you can do is spit it out, cut it out, or get it out by whatever means available — write it down or draw it out on paper — and take a hard look at it so it might actually teach you something.” This is good advice for artists, but for all of us. After all, there might be a reason that envy is one of the seven deadly sins.

 

Music: Ali Farka Touré and Ry Cooder, “Ai Du,” from Talking Timbuktu.

[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.]