Giving Thanks For Today’s Victories

As we think about Thanksgiving less than 2 weeks away I was reflecting on a Thanksgiving devotional I’m receiving and it reminded me that sometimes we give thanks even when the battle isn’t over yet. Take a look at a passage from Genesis about Miriam and Moses and the Israelites from right after the Red Sea crossing.

“Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord: “I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; He has hurled both horse and rider into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song; He has given me victory. This is my God, and I will praise Him— my father’s God, and I will exalt Him!”” Exodus 15: 1-2

For Moses, Miriam and the Israelites their journey was just beginning. They just left Egypt after the 10 plagues (and being slaves for many years), and got away from Pharaoh’s army who drowned thanks to God in the Red Sea, both of which are excellent reasons to celebrate. But what many weren’t thinking about in that moment was exactly what would come next: where do they go? What do they do? Now that they’re free, what next? This was just the beginning of their journey, and yes, they had reason to celebrate, but there’s so much more to go.

The thing about victories is that very rarely do they happen in one fell swoop and that’s it. In most cases victories are earned step by step, for example you lose weight by not buying the cookies at the store this month, cutting down on the ice cream next month, and buying more fruits and vegetables each month. There’s no rule book that says victories have to be earned all at once, in fact, it’s better to earn them a little at a time, and to celebrate them as you go along. Yes, you should celebrate when you lose a lot of weight, but you should also celebrate when you lose those first 10 pounds and keep them off.  If you’ve been struggling with your relationship, yes, you should celebrate when you really resolve years of issues with your partner, but you should also celebrate when you get through a week without yelling at each other.

Giving thanks isn’t just something we do on Thanksgiving or when we reach the Promised Land, it should be something we do each and every day. Giving thanks and celebrating the little victories help the challenges we each face become a little more manageable. They make it a little easier to get up each day, knowing that yesterday had at least one redeeming quality to it (whatever thing you found to be thankful about that day, even if it was just that the bread wasn’t moldy and you could make lunch for the kids).

So what step in your journey are you thankful for today?

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Thankful for Christmas

I have to admit that I’ve been thinking about Christmas and am eagerly looking forward to Thanksgiving and the coming deluge of all things Christmas. And while I know it’s a little early what I’m thankful for today is Christmas, of both the religious and secular persuasions.

Christmas for Christians is the hope that many generations longed for, and the hope that reminds us each year that this life is not the end. Christmas, and the birth of Jesus, are a reminder each year that God hasn’t forgotten us, hasn’t given up on us and believes our lives have value. And just like baby Jesus came here with a purpose, each of us have a purpose too. We may not be born knowing that purpose like Jesus was, but we have a purpose all the same. In a world that has so many problems and challenges, to be reminded of the hope of Christmas each year, and be given the opportunity to celebrate life and birth each year is something I’m thankful for.

Christmas from a secular perspective is one of good will to all man kind. Whether you know him as Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, Sinterklaas, Father Christmas, Santa or something else, he’s the the man who visits every house around the world and leaves presents for good boys and girls. It doesn’t matter to him whether you’re rich or poor or the color of your skin or what culture you belong to, just that you’re good. He is a reminder of how important it is to care for others, for everyone else that we share this world with. His actions are a reminder to each of us to share and care just like he does. Yes, the idea is to leave cookies and milk (and maybe some reindeer treats) for him, and that’s our way of letting him know he’s appreciated.

Just like Christmas is about giving to each other and forgiveness is a two way street, so is being thankful. Yes, you can be thankful for somewhat indistinct things like being alive, but more often than not we’re thankful for people, things and actions, all of which involve someone else, whether it’s a person or God. Your giving thanks means that someone else is recognized, and everyone wants to be recognized for the good things they do and ways they help others or make a positive impact on the world. This week I would encourage you to do a little early Christmas gift giving and give someone the gift of your thanks.

It Feels Good to be Thankful

As I mentioned on Wednesday, Fridays this month we’ll be talking about the topic of being thankful. Have you ever thought about why it feels so good when we’re thankful? One reason I think is because we’re surrounded on all sides by the news, challenges, struggles and issues, and these things just seem to compile day after day. When we’re able to be thankful it’s a reprieve from the not-so-happy things we face in our lives and in our world, it’s like the moment the sun breaks through after days of clouds and rain.

So what if we were to work on being thankful more often? What if we started appreciating life more and started helping others more rather than complaining about things and feeling trapped by circumstances? I think our lives would be better and so would the lives of others, even if for no other reason than having a positive attitude, feeling good about ourselves or knowing that we’re not forgotten or ignored.

So how can you give more thanks in your life? There are some people who make it a daily activity to write in a journal the things they’re thankful for each day. Some people use thankful concepts in their mantras. Others work on being more aware of their surroundings and give thanks for things they see and experience in their day. But one of the simplest things I think anyone can do is remember to say “thank you” to others, and for those who are thanked to say “you’re welcome” or “thank you” rather than “no problem” or “yup.” Don’t brush off their thanks, accept it and let them know that you appreciate being recognized. And if you’re feeling the weight of the world when you lay down at night, instead of going over and over those issues, think about at least one thing you’re truly thankful for from the past 24 hours.

What are you thankful for today?

Thinking Through Success

As you may know we’ve entered a new month, and with that month comes a new topic for us to discuss in some of the posts here (and in my newsletters and on social media). I do make a plan at the beginning of the year for my overall strategy and some specifics, but I don’t review them or reference them really until we get to that point. So in thinking that November includes Thanksgiving, I was thinking that maybe this year I went with a ‘thankful’ theme for the month because I haven’t in the past couple of years, and I was feeling excited to think thankful thoughts and talk thankful topics. So I was a little surprised and a little unsure when I discovered that this month I planned to primarily talk about success.

So as I’ve been sitting with the revealed/reviewed topic for the past few days in preparation for this month and in thinking about this blog post, it got me thinking about what success is, and how it works and what it means to each of us. Sometimes, success is about being honest with ourselves and others. Yes, success can be attained through less-than-honest means but if you really want enduring success, there needs to be a core or foundation of honesty involved. Sometimes success means knowing what you don’t know and admitting it so that you can learn what you don’t know or get the help you need to get to the next step in your success journey.

But today I want to start off with something simple. I encourage to take a minute and really sit with the following question: do you want to be successful? Yes, you should have an instant response (like yes or no), but there may be another response, a more complicated one, a more detailed one, a scarier one, a more empowering one, or even a controversial one that follows.  I encourage you to sit and let that second response come before you move on, because that answer could reveal more about your desire for success or what success means to you or how you could achieve success, and will help you get even more honest with yourself about the place of success in your life.

If I stayed with my initial feeling about being disappointed with the topic of success and tried to push through the month with it as the topic anyway, my posts might not be that great and I might not be that invested in it as a topic. Also, if I went with my other thought of talking about just being thankful, the month might not end up where I hope it will, or want it to. But because I was honest with myself about how I felt and worked through those feelings and went back and reviewed the initial plan and purpose behind it, I’m feeling much better about it, and even looking forward to working through the topic of success this month with you. And on the other hand, because I sat with my feelings of disappointment about not focusing on being thankful, I realized that it was important to make extra room in the schedule for it, so it will be the Friday post topic for the month.

What will you discover when you take time to really think through what’s important to you?

Looking Beyond the Ruins

My heart hurts with the people of Vegas as they struggle to navigate the aftermath of the shooting. As much as we may try to do the right thing and encourage others to do the right thing as well, there will continue to be people who are evil and don’t have good in their hearts. With the tragedy in mind, I thought we’d take a look at the words of Isaiah 51:3:

“The Lord will comfort Israel again and have pity on her ruins. Her desert will blossom like Eden, her barren wilderness like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found there. Songs of thanksgiving will fill the air.”

No where in the Bible does God or any of the writers make light of the challenges that we face on earth. Look at Job; no matter what way you look at his situation, he experienced some really tough stuff, Elisha and Elijah were both treated to some natural and supernatural situations and disasters, Abraham didn’t doubt that God could destroy a city, and Saul/Paul accepted being shipwrecked and bitten by a snake, and those are just a few examples of the people in the Bible. Today it’s no different, whether we’re looking at attacks, genocides, money issues, economic troubles, bad leaders or natural disasters, you can’t honestly expect that you’ll “escape” this life without incident. But the good news is that God promises that even with the bad days, good days will follow.

I don’t think God sits up in heaven and shakes His finger at us and says “that’s what you deserve!!”, I think He feels our pain and knows that we’re struggling. Jesus certainly, after spending days in the desert, knows what it’s like to feel desolate and deserted by life, as many of us have seen with neighborhoods completely dark and cold after this hurricane.

What Isaiah says towards the end is what captures my attention: he says that the joy will be found in the barren, now reborn, wilderness. Where there wasn’t much promise, now there is. Where there wasn’t anything worth living for, now there is. What only brought sadness and anger, now brings joy and gladness.

The choice that Israel had to make, and we have to make today, is the choice of how we react to the wilderness. Are we going to react with frustration and anger that we’re in ruins? Are we going to go beyond the reality and see the potential in the future and reach for it with hope and thanksgiving? It’s not about ignoring the bad, or bypassing it. In truth it’s important to see the ruins and come to terms with the tragedy. Not only does that give you perspective for the future, it’s also healthy to grieve for what you’ve lost. But just like the story of Jesus doesn’t end at the sealed tomb, our stories can’t end with us grieving for what we’ve lost. We have to choose to be grateful for what and who we have in our lives.

This week I hope you’ll join me in looking for ways to turn wildernesses into gardens and bringing life back into an area, and a country, that used to be vibrant and full of hope. What are you thankful for?

Christmas Carol Classics: Joy to the World

“Joy to the World, the Lord has come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.”

On this eve of Christmas I want to take a moment to pause and consider the words and story of this famous Christmas carol.  While you listen to the carol, let’s take a look at the story behind it.

Joy to the World was written by Isaac Watts based on the second half of Psalm 98 in the Bible.  It was first published in 1719.  Watts wrote it thinking about not the first Christmas but the second coming when Jesus returns one day.  The song is still one of praise rather than contemplation because God remains faithful to us as we wait through the (long) wait for Jesus’ return.  It’s also one of the most published Christmas hymns in North America and has been recorded by countless well-known artists.

As we await the arrival of Christmas Day just a little over an hour away where I am, Joy to the World is such a great reminder to celebrate this day.  We got such a gift from the birth of Jesus, one that hasn’t been matched since, but each year we give gifts to each other in a way of remembering and commemorating that gift that He gave.  So as you wrap a few last gifts and maybe try to calm the excitement in your hours and hope you get a few hours of sleep before the kids wake you up for gifts, take time to count your blessings and then celebrate them.  Just like on Thanksgiving we make time to give thanks, Christmas is a great time to celebrate all those things we are thankful for and the ways we’ve been blessed in our lives.  What are you celebrating today?

Overflowing with Thankfulness

As we finish out this month this week, today I want to talk about the foundation of our faith: God.  We’ve been talking about being thankful this month, about finding things to be thankful for even when we’re feeling challenged, being thankful for each other, being thankful for blessings, finding things to be thankful for and having a daily thanksgiving practice. But where does being thankful really start, what can we do to make it easier to be thankful and how can we be more thankful on a more regular basis?

Colossians 2:7 says: “Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.”

Colossians 2 reminds us that not only do we build our relationship with God to grow our faith and live lives that honor Him, knowing more about God, living more in ways that honor Him, learning more about the person He has created us to be and having a deeper faith will help increase the amount of thankfulness in our hearts, minds and lives.  If we want to be more thankful we need more God in our lives.  This means being open to seeing Him work in more ways in our lives, from the little things like seeing cats chase squirrels and the miracle of life, to receiving healing and new purpose in life, to receiving checks in the mail and even getting those holiday gifts on sale.

The other thing this verse reminds us is that we can only be thankful in matters that are true.  We can’t be thankful for the lies, it’s not how we’re designed.  We can only be thankful for that which is true, real, honorable and honest; all things that are good.  It’s a good reminder for our lives as well that our lives only grow and become or stay strong when we’re rooted in that which is righteous, honorable and truthful.  So if you’ve been struggling with thankfulness in your life, maybe it’s time to take a good look at what’s in your life and what you’re building your life on and around.

What are you thankful for today?