Friday, November 12, 2010

30 days of gratitude --

I was reading some gratitude challenges on another web site. On that site, one day's challenge was to write a short message of thanks for the "negative" things in your life.

I wonder if the ability to be thankful for the "negative" things in your life might not be the most mature stage of gratitude. I am not sure what the author of this series on gratitude means by the word negative. I assume that he or she means something that is or was difficult, a cause of grief or hardship, a limitation of some kind, an emotional or physical wound, or something of the like.

When I meditate on things for which I am grateful, I find it easiest to begin with those things that are obviously positive. I might even move on to a few negative things from the past, if I can look back and see that those things definitely worked for good.

What about the things -- past or present -- that are both negative and beyond my current level of understanding? How quick am I to be thankful for them? Or, at least, how quick am I to be thankful that God is working for good in those things, even if the things themselves might not be good.

The most faithful people I know are able to go through bewildering and seemingly negative things with a thankful attitude. In their suffering, they find things around them for which to be grateful. If they are ill, they are thankful for people who stand by them in their pain, for deeper intimacy with God learned during sleepless nights, and for medical advancements which make them more comfortable. If they lose their home to a weather catastrophe, they are grateful for the people who take them in and for the people who work hard to restore their original dwelling place. People who think in this way have their moments of struggle, but, all in all, they possess great peace.

I, on the other hand, let my gratitude unravel this week when pummeled by several smaller trials. These were "negative" things for which I should have been most grateful! They were actually an answer to prayer. I had prayed to see some things in my character that need to change, and the trials revealed them to me. So, while I viewed them in the moment as negatives, they were actually positives that can bless my life and, through changes in me, the lives of my family members.

Isn't that an extraordinary thing? Things which we view as negative may actually be positive tools that God uses in our lives to bless us. I'm so grateful.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

"The Grace of God" Andy Stanley -- Enjoyable, but I would add some caveats for the seeker of God

It's Book Sneeze Time Again! This time I'm reviewing 'The Grace of God" by Andy Stanley.

It's hard not to write a compelling book on grace, because the grace of God is such an infinitely beautiful, life-changing, and gratitude-inspiring subject in itself. Andy Stanley's look at grace is both well-written and engaging. He shows us God's grace through recounting the lives of many of the men and women in the Bible. All were changed forever when God extended grace to them. He chose Bible characters with various backgrounds, and their backgrounds correspond to the different backgrounds and types of emotional baggage that men and women of today might experience. Thus, we readers find ourselves relating to one or more characters and, thus, can grasp that God extends grace to us today -- no matter who we have been and what we have done.

Retelling Bible stories as if you were telling a story to a friend, rather than quoting them from scriptures, is in vogue in the preaching world right now, and Andy employs this method in recounting the lives of the Biblical men and women. One advantage is that this allows those of us who have read and heard these stories over and over again to read the stories with a fresh perspective. It also allows Stanley to make some speculations about what the characters might have been thinking or feeling. Plus, it gives him room to add historical background that enhances or fleshes out our understanding of the events. I do think that adds some impact to "The Grace of God". I enjoyed the author's re-tellings and learned some things about Biblical history, which I plan to research further.

However, I think the reader should be aware that Stanley is telling the stories from his point of view and is interjecting some of his own suppositions. These suppositions make some good food for thought, but can't be taken in the same light as scripture. A reader would do well to read the same stories he cites straight from the Bible and draw his or her own conclusions. Even someone who has heard these stories from childhood would do well to follow along in scripture, just as the Bereans turned to the scriptures to check to see if what Paul said was true. If the reader accepts that Stanley is retelling the stories in his own words and is making some well-educated guesses about the motivations of the persons in the stories, he or she will find much to ponder. I suggest reading the book once through first, just to be moved by the stories of God's grace and, then, going back to study for accuracy.

Also, there is a point at which Stanley includes a prayer for people who have not yet connected with God's grace in order to become Christians. Since there isn't an example of a conversion by such a prayer in the Bible or of a conversion that wasn't nurtured by a teacher of the gospel and/or by the church, this section falls sadly short of helping someone with so momentous a thing as salvation. It also leaves out the message of how God's grace so lovingly and so beautifully reaches down to us in the waters of baptism, which is something about which I'd have like to have seen Stanley include a few paragraphs.

If read with discrimination, Stanley's book makes a great addition to a library of books about grace.

I was given a copy of this book by the Book Sneeze program. My views are my own.


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation
Washington, DC—October 3, 1863
The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well as the iron and coal as of our precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this 3d day of October, A.D. 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

Abraham Lincoln -- A man who saw the light in the darkness

Did you realize that Thanksgiving was officially created as a holiday during the Civil War!? That's probably something that everyone knows, but somehow it escaped my attention. During what was our nation's darkest hour, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that the last Thursday in November be celebrated as Thanksgiving day. (The timing was changed after his lifetime to include more shopping time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.)

I think that's significant. Don't you? In 1863, my fore parents, like most of the country, were still suffering. My great-grandfather was still either a prisoner of war in a northern prison or had just been released in a prisoner of war exchange. My great-grandmother was trying to hold the family and huge farm together in the battle-torn, spy filled, full of commandeering bands from both armies environs of middle Tennessee Tennessee. There was much sickness and suffering about. Tennessee was one of the worst hit places, but it was not the only place in which suffering was still abounding. Mothers on both sides of the Civil War were still receiving messages stating that husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons were either captured, wounded, dead, or missing. Sherman was planning his famous march to the sea, which would leave so much destruction in its path.

Abraham Lincoln delivered his proclamation at Gettysburg, which represents where the war's brutality had been carried into northern land. (This is after his famous Gettysburg speech)

In the midst of all that darkness, the amazing Lincoln wrote a proclamation of such brevity and power of word, reminding us that the God of heaven has blessed us abundantly even though we were engaging in the national folly of Civil War. He was keeping foreign nations from taking advantage of our internal weakness in order to invade us. (What if they had invaded us! Hadn't thought of that! We'd have been easy pickings.) Lincoln goes on to list the many other ways God continued to bless us in our time of quarreling, war, and -- dare I say it --our time of sin. His words humble us, convict us, and remind us that even in our most horrific hour, God's tender mercy was with us. He showed us how to have eyes to look for God's mercy even in the darkest of times. There is always, always a reason to be grateful.

I wonder, did my fore-parents, though they were in the CSA, somehow hear these words and take heart? Were the many people in the union inspired by Lincoln's words? Somehow, his address seems more powerful to me than speeches given by politicians given today. They are more the words of a statesman who appeals to eternal, bankable truths to inspire his people to courage rather than someone who makes short-term promises to try to hype people into believing some sort of position.

Well said, President Lincoln. Well said.

The actual words of his address are in the next post.


Friday, November 05, 2010

Gratitude -- DAy 3

From a Fall Walk

I was out all day long yesterday, so I was happy to spend this morning indoors. I knew it would be somewhat chilly outside. So, when I dressed to take the dog for our usual mile, I pulled on a thick, warm turtleneck top.

Oops! I discovered when I stepped outside that it's not chilly. It's downright cold. It's only 45 or 49 degrees F, depending on whose weather report you believe! I should have worn a coat. Oh well, the wintry weather kept the dog and myself moving right along.

Taking a walk on a fall day with a beloved dog is an adventure in gratitude. Here are some things that struck me.

Happiness is

catching the exuberance of a dog who loves to chase scuttling leaves
pulling leaves off a cute, cuddly, apricot-cream dog
enjoying a neighbor's artful display of hay bales arranged with colorful ceramic pots of mums
enjoying all of the flowers that are still in bloom, especially the fall ones
noticing the few trees that are already beginning to look bare and are spreading their artful branches against the low clouds
watching the sun break through the soft, low clouds
noticing how soft all the colors look under the soft, low hanging clouds
feeling my blood stir in the cold air
being grateful to have a warm place to come home to on such a cold day.


Thursday, November 04, 2010

Day 2 -- Thirty Days of Gratitude in Home

You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink. ~G.K. Chesterton
Today, I began a list of 1,000 things for which I am grateful. I hope to complete it by December 1st. Take the 1,000 by December 1st challenge with me, if you like.

Have you ever thought about the fact that ingratitude is one of the sins that Paul warns will make these last days terrible? 2 Timothy 3. That's sobering to me, as I can easily focus on problems rather than blessings. Yet, ingratitude springs from ugly soil -- selfishness and pride -- and yields such piercing thorns -- faithlessness, futile thinking, complaining, lack of positive influence, and the like. Romans 1:18-25, 2 Timothy 3:1-5

As I repent of ingratitude, I remember that God has shown me immeasurable mercy. His mercy is my teacher. I have too often been sinful. I have too often been ungrateful. I have too often been ungrateful to God, while, at the same time, have been crushed that some person has failed to show appreciation to me.

Yet, Jesus teaches us "Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them
without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked." Luke 6:36

I am eternally grateful that this is how God loves me!


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Thirty Days of Being Thankful...

While I'm continuing to organize my home, I'm setting aside blogging about thirty days of organization in favor of thirty days of gratitude. It's November, and I just can't resist using this month to focus on thankfulness.

My personal goal for the month is to overflow with gratitude in thought, word, and action. That will take attentiveness on my part, as well as discipline.

God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say "thank you?" ~William A. Ward