Broken-hearted Thankfulness

I know, I know. You’re busy. You have a house to clean, children to entertain, food to buy and prep and cook. You have presents to purchase (for the holiday that’s not even here yet) and Black Friday deals to procure. As Thanksgiving arrives, you will undoubtedly have, both figuratively and literally, a lot on your plate (you see what I did there?!). But setting aside all the hurry and worry for just a second won’t kill you. So go ahead, take just a second to read something that, perhaps, might just help you enjoy your Thanksgiving a tiny bit more.

Before we get into the meat of the discussion (look at all these genius food-related metaphors!), take a second to read the section below. Thanks!

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Thankful: (adj) feeling or expressing gratitude; appreciative.

Hebrews 13:15, “Through Him, therefore, let us constantly and at all times offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, which is the fruit of lips that thankfully acknowledge and confess and glorify His name.”

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Despite one of these being taken from a secular dictionary and the other coming straight from the Bible, they have much in common. Let’s start with the verse in Hebrew. Many of us aren’t hearing for the first time this concept of being thankful to God at all times and in all circumstances. If you’re like me, you’ve read verses like this before, and after realizing it’s another verse telling you to do something you know you’re currently not doing very well, you sort of mumble “Sorry, God, I’ll do better,” and move on to the next verse. Don’t get me wrong, I think the type of attitude and mindset described in this verse is the key to living the kind of life that God intends for us. However, I don’t think the first part is the most important within this verse. I want us to really stop and look at the intentional reference to this mindset as “a sacrifice of praise.” A sacrifice. By definition, a sacrifice is something you choose to do, something that costs you something to carry out, but it’s something you do anyway because you believe it to be the right thing. Y’all, we cannot sit around waiting until our mood allows us to praise God, waiting until we feel like praising God. We must adopt a mindset that, no matter what we have going on, we are going to glorify the name of Jesus.

Notice the idea that thankfulness (like joy…see previous blog post!) is not a “when you feel like it” thing according to the dictionary definition either. Yes, there are many, many times in our lives when we feel deeply, deeply grateful, but there are many others when we don’t. Being thankful, according to Webster, might be a feeling you feel, but it might also be a decision you make to express gratitude.

I don’t know what you’re going through, I don’t know what you’ve been through, and I don’t know what you’ve lost this year. I do know, however, that the examples set for us in the Bible show people at their weakest, facing their greatest adversity, and coming through it successfully–blessed abundantly!–because they chose to praise God through each miserable step. Even when the devil is trying his best to help me remember every single upset in my life, I want to keep this song in my heart: I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart. I will enter His courts with praise. I will say this is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice for He has made me glad. I want to value my relationship with my Heavenly Father enough that I purposefully use my time to simply be in His presence. To say thank you. To worship Him. I want to be so undone by His generosity that I have nothing but my love and my overwhelming, broken-hearted thankfulness to offer Him.

God is teaching me that for His children to live with Him in their hearts and minds all day each day isn’t convenient. It’s not natural for us, and it’s not easy. It’s hard, it’s frustrating, it’s even uneventful sometimes. And because I’m a sinner by nature, it’s sacrificial. John 4:24 says that “God is a Spirit (a spiritual Being) and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth (reality).” Guys, just being thankful when it’s easy, just praising God for His innate goodness on Sunday mornings, that’s not enough. That’s nowhere near making a sacrifice of praise. It should be the first item on our “To Do” lists EVERY SINGLE DAY, not just when a holiday forces us to do it: “Give to the Lord the glory due to His name; worship the Lord…” (Psalm 29:2).

In my Bible reading this morning, the children of God were called “blessed.” Because I use an Amplified version of the Bible, it gave me deeper insight into what this term meant when applied to Christians. Blessed people = people who are happy, to be envied, spiritually prosperous, with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions. With all my heart, I want this description to apply to me. Spiritually prosperous? Yes, please! Possessing life-joy? Absolutely! (I love that term, by the way…life-joy) Being joyful and satisfied regardless of what my outward condition is simply because I have a God who loves me enough to favor me and who rescued me from my sinful nature out of the goodness of His own heart? One million times yes! We serve an AMAZINGLY good God, y’all. He’s FOR us. He LOVES you. No matter what your heart feels like during this Thanksgiving holiday and the Christmas season to follow, be thankful. Choose to offer that wonderful God you serve your sacrifice of praise. You can never out-give God. Whatever it costs you to choose to set aside your sorrows and your worries and your upsets to white-knuckle your praise to God, DO IT. You will be repaid so very, very richly.

(Before the closing prayer, I’d like to take a minute and let you guys know how beyond-words thankful I am for you. I feel like I’d so often like to offer you an apology for the quality that you get here, but you don’t seem to mind. I will never be able to express my gratitude for your time and your feedback. Thank you for reading, thank you for sharing, thank you for sticking around. God is teaching me SOOO MUCH through you, and I’m forever grateful to Him and you. Big hugs to you all, and may everyone have a blessed Thanksgiving.)

Dear Lord, thank you so much. Thank you for every single thing in my life that you so continually provide. Father, I love you, and I ask that you help me to a more worshipful and grateful attitude regardless of my outward condition. In Psalm 25:12 it states that the person who worships You “shall dwell at ease,” and Father, this is what I want for my life. Please teach me to lay aside myself so that I can choose to offer You the sacrifice of praise that You so greatly deserve. Lord, I am incredibly thankful to be Your child. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

 

For the Love of God

Vile. Disgusting. Evil. Anti-Christian. These are just some of the words Nathan and I have used this past week while discussing the horrific events and mindsets on display in Charlottesville, Virginia. It is unconscionable that in this day and age people still have so much hatred toward another person simply because of the color of his/her skin. It is truly shocking. The part that messes me up the most, though, is that there’s an incredibly likely chance that at least one of those torch-wielding venom-spewers is a church-goer who calls himself/herself a Christian. Utterly mind-blowing. Let’s not spend time beating around the bush: hatred is in DIRECT OPPOSITION to all that is godly and all that involves Jesus. How do I know? Because I spent some time this past week researching what the Bible says to us, as people made in the image of Jesus, about our responsibility toward and capacity for sharing the love of God with others. And it doesn’t require that we be waving a Nazi flag at a rally to be in need of a reminder about our job as Christians, especially during trying times such as these.

First of all, it’s important to acknowledge that there are so very many scriptures throughout the Bible, especially in the New Testament, that discuss the love of God and the ways in which we are expected to share that love that I could never fit them all into this post. I found verse after verse describing how GREAT and unfailing the love of our Father is, and how it supersedes anything we could ever do or say, no matter how awful we allow ourselves to become. One thing we’d be remiss to overlook is God’s purposeful repetition of this topic. Why so many repeated instructions to His children about loving each other? Because, by nature, we are haters. We point fingers, we judge, we tear down, we shun, we hate. But for those who are TRUE Christians, who believe in our hearts that Jesus is the Son of God, who was crucified, only to be resurrected three days later, the following scriptures should be our daily manual for how to live our lives, no matter our circumstances or the beliefs and attitudes of those around us.

“If I [can] speak in the tongues of men and [even] angels, but have not love (that reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion such as is inspired by God’s love for and in us), I am only a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. If I have [sufficient] faith so that I can remove mountains, but have not love (God’s love in me) I am nothing (a useless nobody). Even if I dole out all that I have [to the poor in providing] food…but have not love (God’s love in me), I gain nothing. Love endures long and is patient and kind; love never is envious nor boils over with jealousy, is not boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily. It is not conceited; it is not rude and does not act unbecomingly. Love (God’s love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it. It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail. Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person…it endures everything without weakening…And so faith, hope, love abide…but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13: 1-7, 13).

“For the love of Christ controls and urges and impels us…And He died for all…” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15).

“This is My commandment: that you love one another [just] as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

If anyone says, I love God, and hates (detests, abominates) his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, Whom he has not seen. He who loves God shall love his brother also” (1 John 4:20, 21).

Y’all, I could list out the scriptures for you for at least another page or so. The bottom line is this: “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and anything that’s not exemplary of love is not exemplary of God. If you and I declare to be Christians, if we parade through life conveniently tossing about that title, then we must understand something: we are telling others that our hearts are full of Jesus. Jesus was and is love. Pure and simple. If what we put out there isn’t love–ACTIVELY loving our neighbors, no matter what they look like or sound like–we aren’t Christians. We don’t deserve and haven’t earned that title. In the above verses, God does not mince words. It’s clear that He feels very strongly about those of us using His name while displaying oppositional behavior. Take time to notice what He says: Are you so outwardly religious/spiritual that you can speak in tongue, yet you don’t have the love of God within you? God calls you a noisy gong or clanging symbol, two things that irritate others, grate on others’ nerves, and cause people to turn quickly from you. Nothing you say is of value; you simply make noise. Are you full of faith but without the love of God within you? God calls you a useless nobody. Despite all that faith, because you’re missing the crucial element of God (hint: it’s LOVE!) you cannot be used to further His kingdom. Do you give your money and possessions to the poor, but you do so without the love of God within you? You will gain nothing…no blessings, no heavenly rewards. Your deeds are without merit. And lastly, do you claim to love God while simultaneously speaking (or feeling) hatred toward someone else (for any reason)? God Himself calls you a liar. God Himself has deemed your declared love for Him a complete and total lie. While you hopefully don’t need it, let me sum this up for you: NO MATTER WHAT YOU CLAIM OR DO OR GIVE IN THE NAME OF GOD, IF YOU ARE WITHOUT HIS LOVE IN YOUR HEART, YOU CANNOT BE BLESSED BY OR USED BY GOD.

And maybe the scariest part of the whole thing is that our children are watching. They’re watching and they’re waiting for our reactions and our guidance. Silence is acceptance in many ways, so let your kids hear you tell them that while you can’t control everybody, your household serves the Lord. Your household embodies His love and believes in its purpose to share that love and not Satan’s hate. Choose to make your Christian stance on the hatred being displayed around our country very clear to your children. But you know what? They didn’t just start watching. They’ve been watching us. They watch us closely every single day: at restaurants, inside grocery stores, at the movies, etc. They’re listening to how we talk about others, especially those people who are different, in any way, than we are. Parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, let’s all agree today to stop giving the kids in our lives “Biblical lip-service.” Let’s put those scriptures we so love to quote and share on social media into actual action. Let’s show our sweet babies what Jesus really looks like.

And before closing, I want to be clear: this is not a political post. This is a post (I hope) to remind us of our responsibilities as REAL Christians in the world today. It’s a post to remind us of what it means to serve a God who also goes by the name of Healer and Father, and, most importantly, Love. Look back at those scriptures. Our Father has made abundantly clear what He expects of His children, especially with regard to how we treat all our “siblings.” Those frequently communicated expectations aren’t just for times when it’s not too much trouble to show love, or when we’re dealing with the people most like us. The truth is this: we are all alike. We were all created by the same God who made us ALL in His image. We are all sinners in desperate need of the free-for-everyone saving power of Jesus Christ. Racism, sexism, ageism–all the negative -isms– have ZERO room in a heart that’s supposedly inhabited by Jesus. Our hearts should be so filled with the Holy Spirit that there’s simply no room for anything else. So, friends, for the literal love of God, let’s start doing a better job of exemplifying Jesus in this hate-infested world. Let’s use this divisive time to better ourselves and our families. The Bible tells us that God can use all things to our good, so let Him. It might be uncomfortable; it might even hurt a little. But I encourage you to pray the following prayer with me so that God can mature our walks with Him in a way that glorifies Him daily, showing others just how loving He truly is and what it really means to be honored with that title of Christian.

Dear Lord, thank you so much for sending your Son to this world in order to save me from the hate and sin that threaten my very life. Father, I know that I am a sinner, and I know that without Your help and guidance I will never rid my life of prejudice and hate. I ask, Lord, that you please gently show me these ugly areas so that I can work with You–through prayer and reading my Bible–to eradicate them from my spirit. I love you, Lord, and I want others to feel Your love for them through me. Help me to be the best example of what it means to be a Christian. Thank you for hearing me and for the honor of calling myself Your child. I want to treat all of Your children exactly as You would. In Jesus’s name, Amen.