30 Days of Gratitude

I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD. Psalms 116:17 

#DailyBibleReading #BibleReadingPlan

In the Old Testament, the Israelites made “thanksgiving” offerings to God, praising and thanking Him (Leviticus 7). Throughout Psalms and the New Testament, there are many verses and examples of people thanking God. We are instructed to give thanks and praise God.

With Thanksgiving looming around the corner and repeated biblical encouragement to be thankful, how can I cultivate a heart of Thanksgiving? How can I teach my children to be grateful?

30 Days of Gratitude

  1. Write a prompt thank you note upon receiving a gift or act of kindness.
  2. Smile and thank people I come in contact with – from someone opening a door for me to a waiter to my child or my husband.
  3. Thank God daily for His greatness and the gifts He has given me.
  4. Keep a gratitude journal.
  5. Put a stickie note in my daughters’ backpack or lunch, thanking them for something specific they’ve done.
  6. Send my parent or grandparent a card, thanking them for loving me and something unique they’ve done that I appreciate.
  7. Leave a huge tip.
  8. Sing praise songs to Jesus.
  9. If I see someone in uniform, thank him or her for their service. If it is in a coffee shop, pick up the tab.
  10. Call someone out on Facebook in a positive way, thanking them/praising them for something they’ve done.
  11. Call an elected official or send a note to thank them for something they’ve done . . . even if they are of a different political party.
  12. Compliment an employee to their superior.
  13. Send my child’s teachers a nice note or email, thanking them for teaching my daughter.
  14. Write my husband a love letter, listing at least 10 detailed things about him that I’m grateful for.
  15. Verbally thank a co-worker for something they’ve done or something I appreciate about them (not by email or text).
  16. Don’t complain for one full day. Don’t even think complaints. Shut them down as soon as they start and concentrate on the positive.
  17. Congratulate someone on an accomplishment.
  18. Volunteer at least one day out of 30 . . . visit a nursing home, serve a meal at a homeless shelter, pass out food at a food pantry, etc.
  19. In a group setting, praise my husband for something specific.
  20. Bring a snack to my church office with a thank you note for the pastors and staff.
  21. Offer to take a friend out and tell them how much I appreciate their friendship. Pay for lunch or coffee.
  22. Send a cute/funny GIF by text to thank someone.
  23. Spend time before church praying and preparing my heart . . . and then during church concentrate completely on God while singing His praises.
  24. Make an anonymous contribution or give a gift to someone in need, without them knowing who it is from.
  25. Practice saying “no thank you” in front of my children and encourage them to do the same. Show gratitude even when declining something.
  26. Thank God for everything . . . that means even the hard things. Even the things I don’t like. Even the hurts I’ve experienced. Thank Him for those experiences, recognize He is in control and all things will work together for good.
  27. Have my husband and children do a Love Languages quiz and then pick several concrete things to do to show them love in their language.
  28. Watch my tone – use gentle words and a kind tone when talking to my family.
  29. Give my husband a small gift to thank him for loving me.
  30. Set a good example for my kids – say “thank you” regularly and encourage them to thank others. Talk to them about the importance of saying thanks and gently point out opportunities to say thanks.

Then I will praise God’s name with singing, and I will honor him with thanksgiving. For this will please the LORD more than sacrificing cattle, more than presenting a bull with its horns and hooves. Psalms 69:30-31

Let us come to him with thanksgiving. Let us sing psalms of praise to him. Psalms 95:2

Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. Colossians 4:2

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. Colossians 3:16-17

 

 

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The Condition of My Heart

When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” The crowds asked, “What should we do?” John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” Luke 3:7-11

#DailyBibleReading  #BibleReadingPlan

  • Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins
  • Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire
  • Give to the poor . . . help those in need

Saying that I’m a Christian doesn’t make me a Christian.

Getting baptized doesn’t make me a Christian.

Repenting of my sins, turning to God, and putting my faith in Jesus makes me a Christian. And if I’ve truly turned from my sins and am following God, my behavior will show it. I’ll love others. I’ll care for the poor and needy. Just like Jesus did.

My actions aren’t the measuring stick that God will use to let me into heaven.

But my actions are a litmus test so I can see the true condition of my heart.

 

 

Am I sinning on Facebook?

They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone. Titus 3:2

My siblings and I quarreled frequently over petty things like a brother having his leg touching “my seat” in the car; a little sister touching my stuff; a sibling “looking” at me (seriously, how is that an offense? My girls get mad about the same thing!).

I’ve noticed in my #DailyBibleReading a command to “avoid quarreling” today as well as a few days ago, so I’m giving this seemingly simple – even childish – concept a bit more thought and study.

  • The original Greek for that verse is: ‘To Be “Amachos” (peaceable) and “Epieikēs” (gracious).’
  • Other verses translated “Quarreling” from the Greek word  “Eris” (altercation, strife, contentious disposition).
  • Strife: “Angry or bitter disagreement over fundamental issues, conflict” (Dictionary.com)

The Bible is full of strife. There was strife between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot’s livestock. The Israelites fought among themselves. There was quarreling in the early church.

Today is no different. Read the Facebook comments on any post on a hot topic. Over the last two days, my Facebook feed has been full of posts about NFL players kneeling at games, Donald Trump, etc. Reading through the posts and comments is pretty depressing, no matter what side you are on. Hate and anger dominate so much of discussion  . . . regardless of the topic.

I’ve made comments or occasionally posted to stir up discussion or make a point . . .  but does it ever lead to peace? In the Bible, “strife” is listed along with sins like murder and sexual promiscuity.

Paul is pretty clear that strife/quarreling are not godly: “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19-21 (italics/bold added for emphasis)

Christians are to be known by their love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control. We should avoid altercation and strife. This is a real struggle – how do I stand up for my beliefs and/or influence public discourse without causing strife? How do I fight injustice without causing quarrels? By even writing this blog post am I adding to the strife in the world?

As a Christian, how am I called to respond? I don’t have all the answers, but I do have at least one. I am called to Love.

What is the loving response?

  • To the NFL player kneeling during the anthem? Love Him
  • To Donald Trump cursing at the players? Love Him
  • To the people on Facebook bashing Donald Trump? Love Them
  • To the people on Facebook protesting the NFL? Love Them

My battle isn’t against flesh and blood and my calling isn’t to judge or to solve all the world’s problems. My two greatest commands are to Love God and Love Others. And my Facebook activity should reflect that.

 

 

 

 

The Underdogs

In today’s #DailyBibleReading, my Reading Plan emphasized God’s love for the underdog:

But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols. Jeremiah 7:5-6 (italics added for emphasis)

Blessed are those who are generous because they feed the poor.  Proverbs 22:9

A person who gets ahead by oppressing the poor or by showering gifts on the rich will end in poverty.  Proverbs 22:16

Don’t rob the poor just because you can, or exploit the needy in court. For the LORD is their defender. He will ruin anyone who ruins them. Proverbs 22:22-23

If God’s heart is with the underdogs – the orphans, widows, foreigners, and the poor – I need to do a self-check. Where is my heart in terms of those who are suffering or marginalized?  What concrete actions do I need to take to love them like God does?

Peace in the Midst of Chaos

How do we find peace in this chaotic world?

There is chaos all around us. Anytime I turn on the TV or look at my phone it is swirling around me – from the KKK in Charlottesville, to nuclear threats, to political unrest, to celebrity suicide. And then there is the chaos of everyday life.  From getting kids ready for back to school and keeping up with my to-do list.

But my God is a God of peace. And if I focus on Him, all the chaos falls away.

Isaiah 45-18 NLT

Chaos is nothing new. War, racial tension, family disagreements, and unrest have been here since sin entered the world. God didn’t create us to live in chaos. Our eyes aren’t meant to focus on the worries of the world.

Our eyes should be focused on Jesus.

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. 1 Peter 5:7,10

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Isaiah 26:3

Those who love your instructions have great peace and do not stumble. Psalms 119:165

Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. Psalms 34:14 

How do we find peace in this chaotic world?

  1. Seek Jesus: Read the Bible every day. #DailyBibleReading
  2. Do a Self-Inventory: “Am I doing good in the world?” Do something good. Every day. Show kindness to a stranger. Do something loving for a family member. Pray for an enemy.
  3. Pray: Keep a prayer journal. Take your worries and hurts to Jesus.
  4. Praise God: Thank Him and praise Him.

Turn off your phone. Open your Bible.

Peace - turn off phone

 

Musings on the Kingdom of Heaven

#DailyBibleReading #BibleReadingPlan

“But what do you think about this?

A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway.

Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.

“Which of the two obeyed his father?”

They replied, “The first.”

Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins.” Matthew 21:28-32 

I am a poster child for “fly over” America. I live in the middle of the United States in a nice, middle-class house. I have a husband, two kids, and a dog. I drive my kids to sports and school.  I am a typical “soccer mom” (minus the soccer and the peppy smile and cute blonde pony-tail . . . I’m the mom hanging out in her car with no make-up and lots of gray hair, trying to finish an overdue library book while drinking lukewarm coffee).

I am rarely pushed out of my comfort zone. I’ve traveled internationally and seen poverty, but it doesn’t touch my day-to-day life. I go to church with a lot of other hard-working, suburban, mid-westerners.

Yes, there are hipsters and hippies and refugees in our midst, but the count is small.

Sure, there are probably a lot of us living paycheck to paycheck, but not too many who are skipping meals due to lack of money.

This is my little piece of the world.

Not to say there isn’t pain and drama and sin in my church – there is – plenty of it. Just like every church in the world, the seats are full of people silently suffering from depression and anxiety. Whether in their past or present life – there is the struggle of addiction to porn, drugs, alcohol and gambling. There is divorce. There are past childhood wounds. There is future baggage being created. There is gossip and anger. There is hurt. There are struggles.

There are also the same faces that are seen every Sunday – the church leaders, the greeters, the childcare volunteers.

And then there are the invisible Christians. There are those who walk in and walk out of church, unnoticed. There are those who never even walk in the doors, because they are ashamed of the baggage they carry. There are brothers and sisters in Christ who go to church in prison as they serve a life-sentence. There are those who never show up on Sunday morning because they are in a nursing home or hospital.

In my mind, I see the “Kingdom of Heaven” being my church on a bigger scale, just without the ongoing sin and pain.

And it some ways it will be. But in other ways it will be much different.

In heaven, the invisible Christians will finally be seen. And they won’t be last. They will be first. The death row inmate who gave his life to Christ in the final hours will be leading the choir. The former thief will be at a place of honor. The invisible Christians – the poor and the hurting – will be those with the best seats at the table.

There will be people from every nationality and ethnicity, worshiping together. The prostitute with the preacher. The murderer with the cop. The man who struggled with same-sex attraction and the man who struggled with judging others. The republican and the democrat. The liberal and the conservative. The socialist, the libertarian, and the communist. The rich and the poor. The elderly and the infant.

Maybe it is time that I open my eyes and see others the way Jesus sees them. Love them the way Jesus loves them. Show compassion like Jesus showed. For all I know the homeless man I pass on the way to church might have a seat reserved for him in heaven, at the right hand of Jesus. The woman who keeps her head down at the grocery store and looks like her life is a mess . . . might be first in the Kingdom of Heaven.

About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Then he said,“I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew 18:1-4 

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” Matthew 5:3

“God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” Matthew 5:10 

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” Matthew 7:13-14 

“I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” Then Jesus said to his disciples,“I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them intently and said,“Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” Matthew 19:23-26 

Matthew 20: Showing up Late for Work

Today’s #BibleReadingPlan had me read Matthew 20:1-19. Recently my pastor taught on this passage, which showed me this parable in a light I’d never seen before. You can listen to the sermon here on Journey Church’s website.  Pastor Phil Human does a great job illustrating what this parable means . . . but I’ll take a shot at summarizing as well.

  • God is the boss of heaven. He is a kind boss. He is merciful. He is generous. He is loving.
  • Someone can turn to God in the twilight of their life – and God will welcome them into heaven just the same as someone who served Him their whole life.
  • Our focus shouldn’t be on what others are doing, how much money they are making or rewards they are getting . . . our focus should be on the tasks God has given us and our relationship with Him.
  • I need to humble myself and be grateful for the gifts God has given me.

The Parable:

6 a.m.: A landowner went into town to hire people to work in his vineyard. He found a group of laborers and agreed to pay them a set amount for working the full day. (For example, $80)

9 a.m.: Same landowner is back in town and sees some people standing around doing nothing. He offered them a job to work in the vineyard for the rest of the day. They didn’t negotiate a pay rate, but he said he’d pay them whatever was right at the end of the day.

Noon: Same as 9 a.m.

3 p.m.: Same as 9 a.m.

5 p.m.: Same as 9 a.m.

7 p.m.: Everyone comes in from work and stands in line to get their pay. They line up from how long they worked. At the front of the line are the guys who only worked for a few hours. I imagine they aren’t even tired after only working a few hours. The landowner hands them each $80.

When the guys who had been working all day see this they start to do the math and get excited, thinking if the landowner paid these guys $80 for working 2 hours they are probably going to get $520 for working 13 hours!

But as they go down the line, the landowner hands everyone $80.

The guys at the end of the line were extremely upset with the landowner and didn’t think he was being fair.

But in reality, he was paying them exactly what he had agreed to pay them. They weren’t getting ripped off. They were being paid the going rate for the work they did. But, the landowner was being kind to the others and the 6 a.m. workers were jealous.

As Pastor Phil said in his sermon, most of us hear this parable and get a little indignant just like the 6 a.m. worker.

But now switch things around a bit . . . let’s get real. I’m not a 6 a.m. worker. I may have been a “Christian” from a young age, but I wasn’t actively running the race until a few years ago. And when it is hot, I take a lot of water breaks. I give into temptation. I get easily distracted from the tasks God has given me.

Am I really a 6 a.m. worker? Not by a long-shot.  Not even a 9 a.m. or noon worker. I’d probably say I’m a 3 p.m. worker . . . but if I’m honest I’m actually a 5 p.m. worker. I spend the majority of my day hanging out in town. And I give God the left-overs of my energy and time.

God asks me to spend time with him. To love him with all my heart and soul. To love my enemies. To love my neighbors. To care for the widows and the orphans. To be patient, kind, merciful and humble. 99% of the time (or more) I am none of these and do none of them.

But God, in his kindness, is going to give me the same reward of admission into heaven as He gave our mentors from the Bible – Peter, Paul, Mary, Stephen. By God’s grace, I will enter heaven just like martyrs, missionaries, apostles and saints.

Instead of getting indignant about the 5 p.m. workers getting $80 . . .  I need to look in the mirror and see myself for what I am: A 5 p.m. worker.

I should be on my knees thanking God for his kindness and mercy because I am being given a gift far more generous and wonderful than I could ever earn or will ever deserve.