Radical Gratitude [v94]

DECEMBER 2006

RADICAL GRATITUDE: Not Just For One Day Only
A few days ago I’ve got to believe that most of us sat down to a juicy turkey, a bunch of sumptuous side dishes, and two or three pieces of different deserts. I’m hoping that we all were grateful for all of this ‘bounty’, as well as the many more things in our lives—especially here in America.

Being grateful is easy when you get a better paying job, pass the “bar” exam (or similar certification), or get a brand new car. But what if you lose your job, or find out that your spouse has filed for a divorce? Or your best friend dies of a drug overdose or in a car accident? Or if the doctor tells you that you have cancer—on your 30th birthday!

Consider this true story that happened a few hundred years ago:

These people were living in an environment where they were ‘told’ by the government that they were only allowed to attend the church that the reigning ruler had selected. And anyone who objected to the beliefs of the ‘state’ could be arrested, questioned, and thrown into prison.

If they refused to give up their personal beliefs, they could be tortured in an effort to make them agree with the state church. If they still refused to give up their convictions after torture, they could be executed.

Well, even though many of them were imprisoned, tortured and put to death, they wanted to worship in a very simple manner without all the ‘rituals’ and ‘symbols’ that the State Church had. The state dictated that they could not do what they wanted, so this group attempted to leave the country.

But the authorities discovered their ‘plot’ and they were arrested, and many were jailed. Even though, many did successfully leave the country in the ensuing few years.

Then after a decade in the other country that they were only allowed to take the low-paying jobs like cloth-making and other labor-intensive occupations, they decided to journey across one of the large oceans to make a new life for themselves. There were 102 passengers onboard—32 being youth.

When the weather was good, the sailors probably allowed the passengers to go up on deck. In stormy weather they probably spent their time being seasick, and trying to keep from being bruised and battered against the beams and walls of the ship, a common injury of passengers during a storm.

The journey would take over two months at sea—arriving in the middle of winter. After disembarking, they had a prayer service and began building hasty shelters. Unprepared for a harsh winter, they lost 42 of the 102 people that sailed over.

Yet, persevering in prayer and assisted by helpful ‘natives’, they reaped a bountiful harvest the following summer. The remaining people decided to celebrate with a feast—including almost 100 Indians who had helped them survive their first year. It is believed that they would not have made it through the year without the help of the natives. The feast lasted three days.

Do you know who these people were?… have a guess?….

Well, it was the Pilgrims thanking God and their Indian friends—and the “feast” became America’s first “Thanksgiving Festival.”

Well, I’ve got to believe that there isn’t anyone reading this that went through all of what the Pilgrims went through in the past few months before they sat down at their Thanksgiving table a few days ago. But even after all the Pilgrims went through, they were still thankful!

The Pilgrims’ daily existence was a life-or-death battle to overcome constant hunger, sickness, and exposure to the elements. Crudely assembled houses made of mud daub were their only shelter from the icy New England weather. Because they were not yet knowledgeable about their new environment’s agriculture, planting gardens in the hostile conditions proved virtually fruitless. Every meal was portioned out meticulously. The death toll, a constant reminder of their fragility, rose steadily. At one point only 5 men were well enough to care for the sick.

Despite their tribulations, the Pilgrims thanked God every day, petitioning Him for rehabilitation. One morning, during an ordinary Sunday worship service, God sent tangible evidence that He had heard their prayers. Their church service was interrupted by an unexpected guest, an Algonquin Indian chief, who assessed their hopeless situation and returned with a helper named Squanto. The Pilgrims, who have warred with Indians before and lived with a continuous fear of being attacked by them, were astonished by their new friends’ eagerness to provide much needed assistance.

Squanto, a Pateuxet Indian who spoke perfect English, taught the Pilgrims how to hunt game, trap beavers, and plant Indian corn, a staple that would eventually save their lives.

When the harvest yielded more than the Pilgrims could eat, Governor William Bradford, their elected leader, declared a day of public thanksgiving. He invited the chief of a friendly neighboring Indian tribe to join in their tribute of Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims were excited to celebrate with their honored guest but were completely shocked when he arrived with 90+ other Indians.

Although God had provided abundantly, their food supply would not accommodate a group of this size, and they had no idea how to feed their visitors. Despite their quandary, all worries were soon dismissed. To their amazement and ever-increasing thankfulness, the Indians had bought with them five dressed deer and a 12 fat wild turkeys. Over time they taught the women how to make pudding, maple syrup, and an Indian delicacy—roasted popcorn.

But the Pilgrims’ trials were far from finished; their plentiful autumn was followed by a particularly treacherous winter. Unfortunately, the weather proved to be the least of their ailments. In November a ship called The Fortune dropped anchor in their harbor. Aboard the ship were 35 more colonists who had brought with them no provisions—no food, no extra clothing, no equipment for survival. Additionally, the oppression of the physical environment had become almost unbearable after a 12 week drought dried up their crops and withered their spirits. The newcomers arrival had drained already inadequate food rations and there was no obvious resource for sustenance. At their lowest point, history records that during that first winter, the Pilgrim’s daily ration of food plummeted to five kernels of parched corn per day—for many, many days in a row! In utter desperation they fell to their knees and prayed for 8 hours without ceasing.

Again, God heard their supplications: 14 days of rain followed. A second Day of Thanksgiving was declared. The neighboring Indian chief was again their honored guest; He brought with him 120 braves. The pilgrims feasted on game and turkey as they had during the previous celebration, only this time one dish was different. The first course, served on an empty plate in front of each person, consisted of five kernels of corn, a gentle reminder of God’s faithful provision for them.

The Pilgrims humble response to their affliction is evidenced by their many writing which express deeply thankful hearts. I think we all can learn countless lessons about ‘sincere’ thankfulness from their example.

Since expressing gratitude at such times the Pilgrims were experiencing seems rather unnatural, circumstances can cause us to doubt the truth of that verse. Well, maybe to understand where the Pilgrims were ‘coming from’, we need to examine what thankfulness really is.

There are two types of gratitude: one secondary, and one primary. The secondary kind is thankfulness for blessings received—like some of the things the youth mentioned—and those things that come to mind when we’re around the Thanksgiving table: life, health, home, family, freedom, friends, and food. It’s a mindset of active appreciation for all good gifts, large and small.

Eighteenth century preacher Jonathan Edwards called this “natural gratitude.” It’s a great thing—but it doesn’t come easily when life is hard. Such conditional thankfulness can’t buoy us in difficult times. Edwards said that if we love God ‘only’ because of what He gives us, our affection begins at the wrong ‘end’.

The other kind of appreciation is what Edwards called “gracious gratitude”—thankfulness not for ‘what’ God gives, but ‘who’ He is. It’s all about exulting His goodness, love power, and grace, regardless of ‘favors’ received. This sort of gratefulness is genuine evidence of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life—and IT GROWS in the midst of trials and pain!

In the Bible, one can find many verses related to the issue of thanksgiving—nearly from cover to cover. You find individuals offering up sacrifices out of gratitude in the book of Genesis. You find the Israelites singing a song of thanksgiving as they were delivered from Pharaoh’s army after the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 15). Later, the Mosaic Law set aside three times each year when the Israelites were to gather together. All three of these times [Unleavened Bread (also called the Feast of the Passover) (Exodus 12:15-20), Harvest or Pentecost (Leviticus 23:15-21), and the Feast of Ingathering or Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-36)] involved remembering God’s provision and grace. Harvest and Tabernacles took place specifically in relation to God’s provision in the harvest of various fruit trees and crops. The book of Psalms is packed full of songs of thanksgiving, both for God’s grace to the Israelite people as a whole through His mighty deeds, as well as for His individual graces to each of us.

For me, most amazingly, we also ‘see’ this in the otherwise inexplicable conviction of Job when he said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” (13:15). Job was full of gratitude not because of what he had (or didn’t have), but because of WHO he knew!

Last month I talked about what God “desires”—and I mentioned that I had just finished a ‘study’ entitled, “God Is Closer than You Think.” It is focused on developing a closer relationship with God—one of “partnership” with Him. ‘Aligning’ ourselves with Him, and noting the opportunities for God to work ‘through’ us and how to be a blessing to others.—experiencing real joy when we have a heart with an “As You Wish” attitude.

The “God Is Closer” study cited that our spiritual ‘power’ depends on a moment-by-moment bond with the Lord—most simply, we build that bond by thanking Him (like Ephesians 5:20 says, “in all things”). We practice the presence of God by showing gratitude for His incredible, gracious character—and ‘entice’ others to ask why we have the hope we do as we are serving them.

In the Bible again, Matthew 10:8 and 2 Corinthians 9:7 tell us that we should thank God by giving generously and cheerfully from our heart. If we are truly grateful, we will want to share what we have—and since we can’t e-mail or ‘text’ God, the only ‘way’ we can actually give to Him is by being generous to each other and doing the ‘work’ of His kingdom.

We all tend to be great askers and great receivers—we enthusiastically repeat verses that encourage us to make requests of God (Matthew 7:7-11; and 21-22). ‘Believers’ memorize passages assuring themselves that God will supply all of their needs and “freely give us all things” (Philippians 4:19; Romans 8:32).

If this is true, as I believe it is, shouldn’t we also learn to be excited about thanking our loving, sovereign Lord, who redeems us, forgives us, provides eternal life, and every single days ‘pours’ blessing upon us?—EVEN IF the circumstances aren’t what we would like at the time?

The Plymouth colony lost nearly half of its population their first year. Can you imagine losing just half of your immediate family and still being thankful to God for the good things He does for you? [Read Job chapter 1 in the Bible]

Are you genuinely grateful to your Creator for all the good things you have, in spite of any ‘difficult circumstances’ you may be or have experienced?

Thanksgiving should be a CONTINUOUS ATTITUDE of the heart rather than simply one day of the year. So, express your appreciation to God—in your own way. The upcoming Christmas season is a great time for your family to get involved in helping to meet the needs of others in your community—showing them the light and love of Christ. Here are some ideas for reaching out and helping others during the upcoming Christmas season:

– Donate your time helping out at a food kitchen or a food bank.

– Visit someone who lives at a nursing home or who lives alone and is confined at home because of poor health.

– Invite some neighbors who don’t have plans to join your family for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.

– Buy some (or all) of the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner groceries for a needy family in your community.

– Have your family go through their winter clothes and coats, pick out those that are old or are no longer wanted or needed – and give them to homeless people in your area – or take them to a local shelter.

– Make some bag lunches and distribute them to homeless people in your area.

–  Make more desserts than you need for your holiday meals. Give extras to neighbors or to a needy family in your area.

– Find an elderly person in your area that could use some help at the grocery store. Better yet, invite them to your home for a special holiday meal.

– Find a family in your area that could use some help to take care of fall yard clean-up, basic repair or weatherization around their home. Buy the needed materials and get to work!

– Invite a neighbor’s family over for a simple, fun family game night.

I mentioned a bit ago that the Pilgrims placed five kernels of corn on their plates as a “gentle reminder” of God’s provision in their lives. The following is a poem, entitled “Five Kernels,” that describes what each kernel meant to them:

– The first kernel reminds us of the autumn beauty around us

– The second kernel reminds us of our love for each other

– The third kernel reminds us of God’s love and care for us

– The fourth kernel reminds us of our friends, especially our Native American brothers

– The fifth kernel reminds us that we are a free people

We, like the Pilgrims, have a choice: in life there will always be those things that we can complain about (the Pilgrims had lost many loved ones), but there will also be much to be thankful for. As our society becomes increasingly ‘secular’, I am afraid that the actual “giving of thanks to God” during our annual Thanksgiving Holiday is being overlooked—leaving only the feasting. So, I pray that God may find all of us grateful every day for all of HIS GIFTS, spiritual and material. “God is good, and every good gift comes from Him” (James 1:17). And for those who ‘know’ Christ, God also “works everything together for good, even events we would not necessarily consider good” (Romans 8:28-30).

If you have not yet done so, let me encourage you to confess your transgressions before a Holy God, ask Jesus into your ‘heart’, and allow the Spirit to start a good work in you. I pray that God would find YOU to be one of His GRATEFUL CHILDREN—living with Him forever!

[Excerpts: David Barton; Foundation for Economic Education; Peter Marshall; Jim Liebelt]

(If you would like to investigate how you can have an “attitude of gratitude,” visit this link:
http://www.4vis.com/sfm/sfm_pres/sp_q11_d4_1of10.html )

[ CORRECTION: Last month I said that Blaise Pascal said, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known by Jesus Christ.” Well, that’s the ‘essence’ of what he said, and although I have seen this attributed to him by very ‘reputable’ authors, this is what he ‘actually’ said:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.” (Penguin edition of his book “Pensees” -148/428) – Thanks to Bob Shelley for pointing this out to me].

Blessings….
Mark

LIFE’S DEEP THOUGHTS (v94) for DECEMBER 2006

Thanks to:
Joel Bussell
Fred Rusher

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ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING
John is the kind of guy you love to hate. He is always in a good mood and always has something positive to say. When someone would ask him how he was doing, he would reply, “If I were any better, I would be twins!”

He was a natural motivator.

If an employee was having a bad day, John was there telling the employee how to look on the positive side of the situation.

Seeing this style really made me curious, so one day I went up and asked him, “I don’t get it!

You can’t be a positive person all of the time. How do you do it?”

He replied, “Each morning I wake up and say to myself, you have two choices today. You can choose to be in a good mood or .. you can choose to be in a bad mood.

I choose to be in a good mood.”

Each time something bad happens, I can choose to be a victim or…I can choose to learn from it. I choose to learn from it.

Every time someone comes to me complaining, I can choose to accept their complaining or… I can point out the positive side of life. I choose the positive side of life.

“Yeah, right, it’s not that easy,” I protested.

“Yes, it is,” he said. “Life is all about choices. When you cut away all the junk, every situation is a choice. You choose how you react to situations. You choose how people affect your mood.

You choose to be in a good mood or bad mood. The bottom line: It’s your choice how you live your life.”

I reflected on what he said. Soon hereafter, I left the Tower Industry to start my own business. We lost touch, but I often thought about him when I made a choice about life instead of reacting to it.

Several years later, I heard that he was involved in a serious accident, falling some 60 feet from a communications tower.

After 18 hours of surgery and weeks of intensive care, he was released from the hospital with rods placed in his back.

I saw him about six months after the accident.

When I asked him how he was, he replied, “If I were any better, I’d be twins…Wanna see my scars?”

I declined to see his wounds, but I did ask him what had gone through his mind as the accident took place.

“The first thing that went through my mind was the well-being of my soon-to-be born daughter,” he replied. “Then, as I lay on the ground, I remembered that I had two choices: I could choose to live or…I could choose to die. I chose to live.”

“Weren’t you scared? Did you lose consciousness?” I asked.

He continued…”The paramedics were great. They kept telling me I was going to be fine. But when they wheeled me into the ER and I saw the expressions on the faces of the doctors and nurses, I got really scared. In their eyes, I read ‘he’s a dead man’. I knew I needed to take action.”

“What did you do?” I asked.

“Well, there was a big burly nurse shouting questions at me,” said John. “She asked if I was allergic to anything. ‘Yes, I replied.’ The doctors and nurses stopped working as they waited for my reply. I took a deep breath and yelled, ‘Gravity’.”

Over their laughter, I told them, “I am choosing to live. Operate on me as if I am alive, not dead.”

He lived, thanks to the skill of his doctors, but also because of his amazing attitude… I learned from him that every day we have the choice to live fully.

Attitude, after all, is everything.

After all today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.
[Received from Joel Bussell]

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PURITAN PRAYER
O Source of all good,
What shall I render to thee for the gift of gifts,
thine own dear Son, begotten, not created,
my Redeemer, proxy, surety, substitute,
his self-emptying incomprehensible,
his infinity of love beyond the heart’s grasp.

Herein is wonder of wonders:
he came below to raise me above,
was born like me that I might become like him.

Herein is love;
when I cannot rise to him he draws near on wings of grace,
to raise me to himself.

Herein is power;
when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart he united them in indissoluble unity,
the uncreated and the created.

Herein is wisdom;
when I was undone, with not will to return to him,
and no intellect to devise recovery,
he came, God-incarnate, to save me to the uttermost,
as man to die my death,
to shed satisfying blood on my behalf,
to work out a perfect righteousness for me.

O God, take me in spirit to the watchful of shepherds,
and enlarge my mind;
let me hear good tidings of great joy,
and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore,
my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose,
my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father;
place me with ox, ass, camel, goat,
to look with them upon my Redeemer’s face
and in him account myself delivered from sin;
let me with Simeon clasp the new-born child to my heart,
embrace him with undying faith,
exulting that he is mine and I am his.
In him thou has given me so much
that heaven can give no more.
[From the published collection of Puritan prayers and devotions called “The Valley of Vision”]

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While swimming in the ocean, a strong riptide current caught a boy off guard and he began to flounder. A man swimming nearby risked his own life to save the boy. The man brought the boy to shore and the boy shouted, “Thank you for saving my life!” The man replied, “That’s okay, son. Just make sure that your life was worth saving.”

This story reminds me that when we experience salvation in Christ, we are not saved just so that we receive the gift of experiencing heaven one day, but we are saved to make a difference for Jesus here and now! Our new life in Christ is not just “fire insurance,” but rather a gift we are given today – each and everyday – to be lived as our “thank you” for what God has done in our lives. Salvation is not only a future hope, but a present reality that should make a difference in how we live.

It has been well said that we are “saved to serve!” The Scriptures challenge us to make the most of every opportunity God gives us – following in the footsteps of our Master, Jesus, who was the ultimate example of living a life of service—freely giving His life away—so others could know of God’s love.

Today, don’t waste a moment of God’s gift of salvation! In gratitude, give yourself away to others so they might also know of God’s love!
[Author unknown]

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WHO PACK YOUR PARACHUTE?
A story has been circulating across the Internet about Charles Plum, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, who was a jet fighter pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. He was captured and spent six years in a Communist prison. He survived that ordeal and now lectures about lessons learned from that experience.

One day, when Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table came up and said, “You’re Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!” “How in the world did you know that?” asked Plumb.

“I packed your parachute,” the man replied. Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude. The man pumped his hand and said, “I guess it worked!” Plumb assured him, “It sure did – if your ‘chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Plumb couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about that man. Plumb says, “I kept wondering what he might have looked like in a Navy uniform—a Dixie cup hat, a bib in the back, and bell bottom trousers. I wondered how many times I might have passed him on the Kitty Hawk. I wondered how many times I might have seen him and not even said good morning, how are you or anything because, you see, I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor.”

Plumb thought of the many hours the sailor had spent on a long wooden table in the bowels of the ship carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he didn’t know. Now, Plumb asks his audience, “Who’s packing your parachute?”

This is a great reminder of the truth that, individually, every Christ-follower is an important member of the body of Christ. Each one of us plays a vital role and without each individual’s contributions, we are all weakened. Someone, recently, has no doubt “packed your parachute” with a word of encouragement, a spiritual insight, a positive role-modeling of the Christian life, or simply by giving you a hand with a task. Today, why not send an e-mail or make a phone call, thanking that person for “packing your parachute.”
[Author unknown]

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“A.C.T.S.” PRAYER
When it comes to prayer, God has given us an open door to pray in any and all ways possible. When I was 17 years old, I learned a great model for praying that I still find helpful today.  It revolutionized my life and still guides me as I come into deeper relationship with God through prayer.  It’s called A.C.T.S. and I hope you too, will find it helpful in your own prayer life.

Adoration —All prayer should include worship.  Begin with the phrase, “I love (or adore) You, God, because You are …” The goal is to focus on an attribute of God. “Praise Him for who He is, not what He does,” I remind myself.  We can always find words of adoration in the Psalms.

Confession —We need to remember that we are broken and need healing.  Take time in prayer to say, “Lord, please forgive me for … ” or “I’m sorry I …” Be as specific as possible. Think back over the day to a time when you did wrong or were disobedient.   Confession keeps us humble before God.

Thanksgiving —Teach yourself this important aspect of prayer: thanking God.  You can thank God for the good things that have happened during the day or for special people in your life.

Supplication —This is what we most often do during prayer—we ask God for “things.” Divide this category into two parts: praying for others and praying for yourself.
[Robin Dugall]

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DEEP THOUGHTS:

If you live in my heart, you live rent free.
[Irish Proverb-Received from Fred Rusher]

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Hope you enjoyed some of these insights—share them with your friends and colleagues—so we can have a larger ‘pool’ to receive from, and more to share with!

Also, remember to include your name as the “source,” if some of this wisdom is of your doing—I would like to give credit where credit is due!

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18].

Mark

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Disclaimer: All the above jokes & inspirations are obtained from various sources and copyright are used when known. Other than our name and headers, we do not own the copyright to any of the materials sent to this list. We just want to spread the ministry of God’s love and cheerfulness throughout the world.

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