grateful

Thankful for Gratitude

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By Linda Rex

Thanksgiving Day did not go as I had planned. I worked really hard on Wednesday preparing food for a large number of people who had signed up to have Thanksgiving Day dinner with me at the church. My outreach partner Pat worked equally hard to have everything ready for our guests. One of the guests, Sarena, had struggled to prepare some items to bring, burning herself in the process of making it. Thursday noon finally arrived, though, and we were prepared. It was going to be a great feast!

And we waited. A few people came. We talked, laughed, and finally, about an hour after the announced time and with less than half our expected guests, we decided to start eating. The food turned out okay, I thought. And the company was pleasant. The music made us want to dance. There were a few bumps and bruises, but for the most part, it was a great meal. But we regretted we could not share it with more people.

I thought about this yesterday and today, and it brought to mind the story Jesus told of the banquet invitations which were sent out but not responded to, and how they even gathered people from the streets nearby to fill the seats. Those who came and sat at the table were the ones who were able to participate in the joy of the celebration, not the ones who didn’t show up.

But how often in life have I been the one who didn’t show up? What about the time my child was to receive a special award in a ceremony at school and I had to be at work? And the time when my friend celebrated a special occasion and I completely forgot about it?

And I have to admit that there have been times in my life where I believed that God should have showed up and didn’t. I may have expected him to “show up”, and I may have wanted him to do something specific to demonstrate to me than indeed he was present, but God didn’t seem to think that that was something he needed to do at the time or that was in my best interests—and that was hard to take.

But we can focus so hard on what wasn’t or isn’t that we miss what was and is. Perhaps not as many people showed up as said that they would, but those who did had a good time, and enjoyed a festive meal with us. Yes, it may have been disappointing to have done all that work and not have things turn out as expected, but on the other hand, it was a joyful celebration of God’s many blessings. We had a good time, for the most part, ate some excellent food, I thought, and had some real good meaningful conversations as well as humor and laughter.

Like I said—it’s easy to focus on what didn’t happen, who wasn’t there, and not on the reality that God was present, and that relationships were encouraged and strengthened, and that people experienced friendship, fellowship, and caring. The ability to stand back and find gratitude in such situations comes as a gift from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us a heart of gratitude—Jesus’ thankful heart. That we can move beyond our regrets to gratitude for the pleasant gathering and good food, is God’s gift to us through Jesus in the Spirit.

I hope you all had a very lovely Thanksgiving Day, and were able to enjoy time with friends and family, renewing relationships and giving thanks to God for all his abundant blessings. As we come to the end of this calendar year and tomorrow celebrate Christ the King Sunday, may we give thanks to our Abba for giving us his Son and his Spirit, and for raising Christ victoriously from the grave to reign forever over all he has made. We are so very blessed to share in that victorious reign in Christ by the Spirit. May he rule in our hearts today and forever, filling us forever with his heart of gratitude.

Dear Abba, thanks. Thanks for each and every thing. Thanks for all the dear friends and family we have in our lives to love us and to celebrate with us. Thanks for the abundance and benefits you provided. Apart from you, we have nothing—so we praise you now and forever, through Jesus and in the Spirit. Amen.

“Therefore Pilate said to Him, ‘So You are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’” NASB

The Rise and Fall of Terror

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by Linda Rex

I stopped to get gas Tuesday at a gas station near I-24. I sometimes stop here on my way home from Nashville, and have never had any trouble with their service or their gas (which has happened at other gas stations).

On Tuesday the pumps all had a very large sign covering two of the selection buttons which told us as buyers the station was out of everything but the low octane gas. I felt myself to be pretty blessed I could still buy gas because I had heard horror stories of how people had to travel to several gas stations before finding any gas to buy.

As I was standing there pumping gas to top off my tank so I could be sure to have enough gas for the rest of the week, I remembered another time I lived through a gas crisis out in southern California. If I remember correctly, they had gas rationing back then—we had to take turns at the pumps. There seemed to be a lot more concern in those days than there was this week about there not being any fuel. But, I suppose, having a governor declare an emergency due to an oil spill must be some indication of the severity of what recently happened.

Right now I’m extremely grateful, maybe selfishly so. I’m grateful there wasn’t enough of a disaster to prevent people here from buying gas because I really need to get moved this weekend. And without gas to put in the tank, there is no point in renting a truck to move things with. The last thing I need is to be afraid of not being able to do something I’ve got to get done.

I’ve noticed several occurrences recently in my life and the lives of those around me, which could have resulted in some very horrible experiences for those of us who were involved. I won’t go into detail, but the truth is, when you are ministering to broken people, you get to deal with broken stuff, and not all of it is safe and pretty. But in the end, it seems as though these particular situations resolved themselves without a lot of destruction and suffering, for which I am extremely grateful.

Not everyone has been so blessed. Yet I would hazard to guess that many of us have gone through life without ever personally experiencing what people in places like Mozambique or Syria are experiencing right now. Many of us do, however, experience our own little and big disasters in our lives—losing a job, having a health crisis, or having a loved one die, leave or reject us. We constantly face uncertainty and danger in our lives.

I was reading a story on the Web the other day which talked about the most dangerous cities in the world. Who would have thought that St. Louis would be among those mentioned? I guess I’m not really surprised. After all, the people who live in St. Louis are just like the rest of us—broken people who are trying real hard to meet their needs at the expense of those around them and in opposition to the true reality of their humanity and who they were created to be and how they were created to live. We are all in the same boat of humanity and it feels like the boat is headed toward an iceberg or has already hit it and is starting to sink.

I’ve been receiving mail encouraging me to vote for the candidate who will “make America great again.” I’m not real inspired by such advertisements. They actually just create disrespect in me for such candidates, for I believe there is nothing any one of the candidates can do to truly restore America to greatness because America is broken at her core. No matter how godly or good intentioned a candidate may be, he or she cannot change people or control people’s minds and hearts, and force them to live in loving cooperation and peace. They can only coerce, manipulate and attempt to control people in their efforts to create a “great” nation.

I’m sure there have been, and are, leaders well gifted in the art of propaganda and the use of fear and anger and shame in manipulating the masses. But all they do is create more broken people who create more brokenness. Whatever greatness is created in these ways is not the greatness of our true humanity, but rather a sharing in the brokenness of the evil one whose only purpose is to kill, steal and destroy. Its ultimate result is death, suffering and devastation.

Right now the evil one seems to be seeking to create in the hearts of human beings a deep fear. He is working to terrorize us so we are afraid of what might happen, we are afraid of one another, and we are afraid to do anything about what is happening for fear something worse might happen. Those who are stepping into the gap or are by necessity experiencing the worst of it, are paying a heavy price including losing their homes, their human dignities and even their lives.

We need to cling to the reality of God’s love for us which supersedes all of these efforts to terrorize us, to control and manipulate us. We need to experience the truth of the reality of God’s love for us which is immeasurable and boundless, and has existed since before time began. We need to receive from Christ the faith to believe we are held, held so tightly in Abba’s loving arms, the evil one cannot snatch us away or harm us without God’s express permission. We need to live without fear.

God gives us his Son to enable us to do this. And he pours out his Spirit into our hearts so we can be assured of and believe God’s love is boundless, endless and unending. We can pause for a moment throughout each and every day to give thanks to God for his love, for the big and little things he does for us and in us. And we can thank him for watching over us, guarding and keeping us safe in the midst of a dark and dangerous world.

Yes, we’re going to have trials and difficulties. We need to own our part in those problems and surrender to Christ our human inadequacies as well as our fears so he can do what only he can do—transform, heal and bind together human hearts and lives into a loving spiritual community. Jesus holds in himself the faith we need to trust God in the midst of a scary, constantly changing world, knowing no matter what happens, God’s “got it”. He’s holding on to us and to all things, and will bring everything to its blessed, intended end, raising us up as his adopted children to dwell in the midst of his love and life for all eternity. May that day come soon.

Dear Abba, thank you for holding us in your two hands of love and grace, your Son and your Spirit. May your love be perfected in our lives and in our world so we may daily experience great peace rather than fear or terror in the midst of this scary, ever-changing world. In your Son Jesus’ name we trust and pray. Amen.

“We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:16–19 NASB

Hanging on to Stuff

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Fall in Arkansas
Fall in Arkansas

by Linda Rex

One of the most difficult tasks that come with a loved one dying can be going through their belongings and dealing with the things they leave behind. This can be extremely difficult, especially when so many memories arise with each item we handle.

It’s amazing how much a person or a family can collect over the years! Sometimes it’s just the things of daily living, or the important papers or documents. But then again, it may be stuff—things that were useful at one time, but no longer have any use or value.

The memories and feelings that are attached with such items can have more pull on us than we realize. We may hang on to these things because of the fear if we let go of them we will lose everything we associate with those items. Sometimes the loss of something dear when we were young causes us to hang on to similar things when we are older, even though we really don’t have any use for these items.

I remember one time many years ago when I was still married, my husband was doing tree cutting as a way to help with our income since he was out of work. We were called by a man who lived in a quiet cul-de-sac in our small town, so we went to cut his tree. While my husband was up in the tree and I was spotting and praying he wouldn’t fall, the man whose tree he was cutting and his neighbor struck up a conversation. Since they were standing right next to me, I really couldn’t ignore what they were saying.

They got to talking about what they owned and what each other had. Early on it became a contest as to who had the most and best of whatever it was they had. The irony was that nearly everything they named, my husband and I couldn’t afford to own. I guess I could have been insulted, but instead I felt sorry for them. They felt having the best and most of these things was what was necessary to their self-worth and self-esteem, and what was necessary for their happiness.

This came to mind the other night when at our small group we were talking about a famous man who hid all his money in the mantel in his house. By the time it was found after his death, it was moth-eaten and useless. To me that is a good example of the transience of human wealth and property. In our affluent society, so often we don’t know the difference between what we want and what we need.

And sadly, as I have learned over the years, all such things are useless in the face of death and dying. When a person dies, they leave all these things behind. And then who gets them? The answer to that question has divided and destroyed many a family and relationship.

And I think that is what is crucial in this whole discussion. When it comes to the things we own, or the things we hang on to, how do they impact our relationships and the people we love? How do they impact our community and our neighbor?

Many wealthy people are wise enough not to give their children everything they want or to give them large sums of money when they are young. They realize how destructive affluence can be to a person’s character and well-being. When a person understands that money is a tool that can be used for good and that with wealth and abundance comes responsibility and duty to one’s fellow man, then wealth is not such a dangerous thing to have.

But that is a different discussion. Here we are considering the reality that someday the person who is wealthy will have to pass that wealth on to someone else. Everything we own in this life cannot be carried with us into the next. We cannot fill a pyramid with food, luxuries and people to bring with us into the life to come. It doesn’t work that way.

Through all this sorting, I’m being reminded again to narrow down my belongings and my activities to what is really essential and useful for this moment. This is the spiritual discipline of simplicity. Some things are just not important in the grand scheme of things, while others are worthy of our focused attention and devotion. May God grant us the grace to discern the difference and to choose only what is most important. And may he enable us to let go of all the rest.

Lord, we thank you for the abundance with which we live day by day. Thank you for providing us with so many wonderful things, but most especially for the people you bring into our lives—our neighbors, our friends, and our families. You shower your love on us daily. Grant us the grace to see it and always be grateful and generous with what you give us. Through Jesus and by your Spirit, we pray. Amen.

“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—A time to give birth and a time to die; …” Ecclesiastes 3:1–2 NASB

“And He told them a parable, saying, ‘The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’ “ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” Luke 12:16–21 NASB

The Grace of Gratitude

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Fall mums
Fall mums

by Linda Rex

Sitting around the table enjoying our Thanksgiving gathering, we sought to answer the question, what are you thankful for? At that particular moment, it was easy to say family, food, and our gift of grace from God. There was food on the table and laughter in our voices.

But there have been times in my life when there was anxiety about putting food on the table and there was very little laughter in our voices or in our hearts. To have these things is to have a blessing or grace from God, and to have an opportunity to express our gratitude to him for his goodness and love. To not have these things is a temptation to question the goodness and love of God.

But God’s goodness and love are not based on what we have or don’t have. God’s love is infinite and is based in who he is. God’s goodness is his nature, which never changes, though our circumstances and situations may change.

We may find, like the nation of Israel, that our human nature is to question God’s goodness and love when things are not going well and we don’t have what we need or want. And when we do have what we need or want, we may forget who it is that gave it to us. We may live believing we worked it all out all by ourselves, that there is no divine Providence gifting us with life and blessings.

Somehow, we need to learn and practice the spiritual discipline of gratitude. In the midst of suffering or grief, we need to learn to choose to be grateful. Giving thanks in everything does not mean denying the suffering we are experiencing, but rather acknowledging that everything we have is utterly dependent upon God’s goodness and love towards us.

One of the spiritual disciplines I have seen others practice, and I practice it myself at times, is keeping a gratitude journal. Using a journal with blank pages, I commit to writing down a certain number of things I am grateful for each day. At the beginning, in order to get myself to do this discipline, I had to force myself to write down a certain number of items each day. I was in a dark place in my life at that time and had a hard time seeing God’s goodness like I should have. But the longer I’ve done this, the easier it has become to write down several items at once, and the more grateful and positive I have felt about everything in my life.

At the top of each page I write, “Things I am Grateful to God for…” That is my reminder of what I am trying to write down—a record of the awesome things God has done and is doing in my life and in the lives of those around me. I number each item in order to keep track of my progress. Currently I’m at number 662. I’ve done this journal off and on for quite a while and hope to continue it as time goes by.

There are many other practical ways to practice the spiritual discipline of gratitude. Thanksgiving Day highlighted our need to express gratitude to God for all he has done, will do in us, with us and for us. I am grateful for each of you who are seeking to grow up in Christ. It is an inspiration to me and I thank you for allowing me to share in your life through our online ministry as well as my pastoral ministry. May it all be for God’s glory.

Lord, our hearts today are full of gratitude and praise for all you have done, all you are doing and all you will do in years ahead in each of our lives. May we all express fully Christ’s attitude of gratitude and praise in our family, church, and community. Through Jesus our Lord and in your Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.

“When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you.“ Deuteronomy 8:10