Gifts

Thankful, Grateful, Blessed

Thankful, grateful and blessed.  I do my best to be and act like all three. What’s the difference? Probably really not much at all. Some have suggested that being grateful is about appreciating what one has, as opposed to what one wants. Being thankful or thanking someone often implies you are acknowledging your thanks for something that someone has given you. Blessed acknowledges the Divine favor you have received from Almighty God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

So, at this busy time of the year I offer a short meditation on these with some of my favorite Bible verses. As we face traffic, travel, difficult family members or loneliness and grief, cling to these three foundational principles of true joy and contentment.

thankful

adjective

feeling or expressing gratitude; appreciative.

 

Ephesians 5:19-21

Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

 

Colossians 2:6-7

Spiritual Fullness in Christ

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

 

Hebrews 12:28

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,

 

grateful

adjective

warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received; thankful:

 

Psalm 100

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs. 

Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

 

Psalm 147:7

Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
    his understanding has no limit.
The Lord sustains the humble
    but casts the wicked to the ground.

Sing to the Lord with grateful praise;
    make music to our God on the harp.

 

blessed

adjective

divinely or supremely favored; fortunate

blissfully happy or contented.

bringing happiness and thankfulness:

 

Matthew 5:3-11

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

 

Psalm 118:26-27

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
    From the house of the Lord we bless you.
The Lord is God,
    and he has made his light shine on us.

 

Ephesians 1:3

Praise for Spiritual Blessings in Christ

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

 

There is always something to feel thankful, grateful or blessed about! I am thankful for all the encouraging comments I get on these devotionals. I am grateful to be a part of a kind, loving, faithful church community. And I am blessed to be able to serve. I know God has his hand of favor over us all!

Blessings to you and your families at Thanksgiving,

Jen

 


Let Us Be Thankful

Let Us Be ThankfullDon’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! ~Hebrews 13:2

As Thanksgiving approaches, I think it's appropriate to consider our many blessings. We truly live in one of the richest countries in the world, and although we still have many who are food insecure and living paycheck to paycheck or are dependent on social services, even our poorest are better off and more cared for than most people in the world today.

Most Americans are in the top 10% of worldwide wealth.  According to CNBC, “To be among the top 10 percent worldwide, you don’t even need six figures: A net worth of $93,170 will do it.

And even if you have just $4,210 to your name, you’re still richer than half of the world’s residents.” (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/01/how-much-money-you-need-to-be-part-of-the-1-percent-worldwide.html)

Here is what world poverty looks like, in numbers:

  • Over 1 billion people live on $2.50 per day or less, including 280 million people in extreme poverty who live on less than $1.25 per day.
  • More than 75 percent of the world’s poor populations live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihood.
  • In developing countries, the poor spend 60-80 percent of their income on food. Americans spend less than 10 percent.
  • Over 800 million people worldwide do not have enough food to eat and more than 3 million children die from malnutrition each year.
  • Nearly 1 billion people live without electricity.
  • 40 million children worldwide live without adequate shelter.
  • More than 750 million people lack adequate access to clean water.
  • 270 million children have no access to health services.
  • Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read or write.
  • 1.7 billion people do not have a bank account or access to basic financial services.

(https://finca.org/campaign/world-poverty/)

The most basic needs that we take for granted: security, literacy, electricity, clean water, availability of medicine and health services, access to banking, and adequate food, are major issues for most of the world’s people.  While we argue over how to pay for and adequately deliver these necessities to our population, many countries simply don’t provide them.

And yet, as essential as these basic physical needs are, their need for Jesus is even greater. Food and water will save their body, but only Jesus can save their soul. And we are abundantly blessed to be able to address all their needs. Missionaries, aid organizations like UMCOR, Samaritan’s Purse, Compassion International, World Vision, Bread for the World and many others take Jesus’ hands and feet and saving message of Grace all over the world to every tribe and every nation. The needs are great, and the cost is greater still.

Even in our great country, so abundantly blessed with wealth and ‘stuff,’ we face a spiritual desert. For many Americans, especially young adults, faith is not a concern.

Americans' membership in houses of worship continued to decline last year, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup's eight-decade trend. In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999.

U.S. church membership was 73% when Gallup first measured it in 1937 and remained near 70% for the next six decades, before beginning a steady decline around the turn of the 21st century.

The decline in church membership is primarily a function of the increasing number of Americans who express no religious preference. Over the past two decades, the percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religion has grown from 8% in 1998-2000 to 13% in 2008-2010 and 21% over the past three years.

Church membership is strongly correlated with age, as 66% of traditionalists -- U.S. adults born before 1946 -- belong to a church, compared with 58% of baby boomers, 50% of those in Generation X and 36% of millennials. The limited data Gallup has on church membership among the portion of Generation Z that has reached adulthood are so far showing church membership rates similar to those for millennials.

(https://news.gallup.com/poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-time.aspx)

So, as we give grateful, unending thanks to our Creator and Almighty Father for the many blessings in our lives, let us also consider how to share those blessings with those who have such great needs. How can we serve God by serving others? How can we bring life-saving food, medicine and infrastructure to poverty-stricken areas? How can we bring the soul-saving message of Jesus’ work on the cross to generations without faith? We have what they need, let us open our hands and hearts to share generously.

She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy.

~Proverbs 31:20

Blessings,

Jen


Hope is an Anchor

Hope is An Anchor

Last month we had the good fortune to visit New England. As we passed through the southern coast of Maine, we just happened to pass by York Harbor Beach, and it was so stunning we had to go back and check it out. It turned out to be a cliff-side park with picture perfect views of the rocky Maine coast. To my surprise, it also featured this monument with a line from one of my favorite hymns, ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save.’

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Of course, it was Maine, inhabited for centuries by sea-faring folks in search of cod, lobsters, whales and more. And we had just been visiting a lighthouse so common along the rough, rocky shoreline. So, I suppose it makes perfect sense that ‘peril on the sea’ would be a common concern.

For so much of human history the oceans and seas were mysterious, dangerous and uncontrollable.  It was probably rather common for those who ventured out to be ‘lost at sea.’ So, it’s not surprising that in the Bible the sea tends to represent something wild and uncontrollable (by everyone but God, that is).

James 1:5-6

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

Ephesians 4:14-15

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

Both of these verses use the sea metaphor. Doubting our faith, lacking wisdom and spiritual maturity can leave us vulnerable to being ‘tossed by the waves and wind.’ What is the remedy? Our faith in God’s promise that whoever believes in Jesus shall not perish but have eternal life! That hope is an anchor!

Hebrews 6:19-20

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf.

We're all in peril on the seas of life sometimes. We all get rocked by strong winds and blown off course now and then. But our faith in God’s promise and vow that belief in Jesus Christ as our Savior will bring us safely into a Heavenly Harbor one day, is a strong and trustworthy anchor. The fiercest storms on the surface of the ocean don’t affect the deep ocean floor where our anchor is secured.

Hold on tight to that precious anchor, our ‘blessed assurance.’ We don’t know when the storms will roll in. And when they do, we’ll be tempted to call out to Jesus like his disciples did, asking ‘don’t you care if we drown?’ He may not calm the storms in your life, but He can calm the storm in you. Find peace in the assurance of your salvation. Find peace in God’s promise never to leave or forsake you. Find peace knowing that no one can snatch you out of God’s hand (John 10:28-30).

And on this Veteran’s Day, I am reminded that ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save’ is also the U.S. Navy Hymn.  Let us pray the prayer of the final verse for every member of our military:

O Trinity of love and pow'r,
Your children shield in danger's hour;
From rock and tempest, fire, and foe,
Protect them where-so-e'er they go;
Thus, evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

Oceans of Blessings,

Jen 




Count Your Blessings:1,2,3...

Count Your BlessingsPraise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

-Psalm 103:2-5

In the pastor’s message about waiting on God he used the acronym WAIT to remind us what do while we’re in God’s ‘waiting room.’ The ‘W’ stood for ‘write down the lessons I’m learning.’ Purchasing a journal was suggested. I’m a big fan of ‘writing it down.’ The river of life is always flowing, and it is very easy to forget how you shot thru the last set of rapids when more whitewater is coming up quickly. But taking a moment when the water is tranquil to write down lessons or reflections can yield big benefits later.

I am especially fond of having a Gratitude Journal, or at least taking time once a week or so in the regular journal to consider prayers that have been answered, blessings that have been bestowed, breakthroughs in relationships, jobs or wisdom and to thank God for them. For me, as wonderful as the answers to prayers have been (oh, and they have), even more precious was seeing the WAYS in which the prayers were answered - always surprising, always unexpected, always completely out of my hands.  Over the years this has helped me to really get a feel for when God is at work in my life.

As a new believer, I was mired in the muck of negative thinking. My brain had been wired to see what I lacked and overlook all that I had. As I struggled through some difficult times, I decided to literally ‘count my blessings.’ Every Thanksgiving Eve service we sing that great, cheerful hymn, ‘Count Your Blessings:’

“Count your blessings, name them one by one;

Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.”

So that’s what I did. I started listing out all that I was grateful for in my life, big and small, from being alive to indoor plumbing. By the fourth page I started to grasp that my discontent was all in my head. Despite my troubles, I had so much to be thankful for! The recipe for contentment that always seemed to escape me became pretty clear: 1. Count your blessings, 2. Don’t compare yourself, your life, your anything with others (you are on your own, unique path), 3. It’s not about you anyway, so think about yourself less, and others more. Like all of God’s principles, they are simply stated and much more challenging to live out!

Developing an ‘attitude of gratitude’ changed my whole life. It made me a better mother, wife, daughter, friend, co-worker and just…a better person.  It’s one of the qualities that cause people to inquire which often leads to the ‘Jesus discussion.’

I still struggle with resentment and frustration sometimes, but then I remember that the world owes me nothing and I owe Jesus everything. He asks me to love and forgive and be humble, and He is Lord of my life, so I will do my best to love and to forgive and to be humble. Since I have given Him my whole life, I try to be very grateful for every good thing, remembering that Jesus warned us that in this world we WILL have trouble.

One of the things I’m especially thankful for is that we have a national day of Thanksgiving. Our culture has tried to turn it into a day of gluttony and materialism, but I am also grateful for all the faithful Christians who have and continue to teach their children and grandchildren the true meaning of the day: a day of gratitude to Almighty God for His hand of protection over our lives, over our nation and over our history. Every step of the way God has been with His people, leading us, preparing us, encouraging us to do His good will throughout the world. His miraculous providence was with our Pilgrim brothers and sisters, and it is with us still – even through COVID, culture wars, political discord, climate changes and economic concerns. God is in control – and that is a blessing we all can count!

Grateful Blessings,

Jen


Treat and You Will Be Treated

Treat and Be TreatedYou will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. -2 Corinthians 9:11

Reciprocity. The Pastor recently gave an excellent sermon on this foundational principle. God rewards those who do His will, and the manner of his reward is to bless people in the ways they have blessed others. Give and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Sow righteousness and reap a harvest of blessings.

Of course, God is no heavenly ATM machine who rewards people who do good only so they can be rewarded. If your motive is earthly accolades or greedy accumulation, then you will get your reward in praise and stuff, but not in heavenly blessings.

Serving the Lord is kind of like Halloween Trick or Treating, I think. One year, full of greed for candy, and quest for adventure, my neighbors and I decided to go all out. We came up with creative ideas for Halloween costumes and enlisted parental aid in making our imagined outfits a reality. With my mother and father’s assistance and direction, we crafted 3 costumes based on the Muppets. Kermit was made from a cardboard structure overlaid with green felt and half a plastic baseball for eyes. Fozzy the Bear had a chicken wire structure overlaid with brown fake fur, topped with a porkpie hat and neck scarf. Miss Piggy was the most ambitious, with a cardboard structure overlaid with papier-mâché and hand painted in pink. They looked great!  However, they also covered our entire heads and had only small holes for seeing. No matter, it was gonna be awesome.

We drew a map of the neighborhood and discussed and debated the most efficient route for maximum candy. We decided to head waaaay up the main road, several blocks from home and use pillowcases so we could really have a huge haul.

The long-awaited night came! We felt no need to head out early while the sun was still up. Time was not an issue. Up we trudged, block after block passing our friends collecting only in our neighborhood. Yes, the giant heads were kind of hot. Okay, my glasses were totally fogged up. But what enthusiasm we had!

When we finally began knocking on doors, people were amazed and delighted by our costumes. Our pillowcase bags began to fill up. With the foggy eyeglasses and limited vision, I began tripping over roots and landscaping. No problem. Our bags began to get really heavy, and we were still blocks away from home. No worries. Miss Piggy twisted her ankle in the fancy shoes she wore. We pressed on. Fozzy the Bear began to sweat so much his fur was getting soggy. But on we went.

Eventually we realized that we had to return home, only halfway through our route, to empty our sacks and get back out there.  By the time we returned home, weary, sweaty and bruised, we sadly realized it was much too close to bedtime to head back out. Nevertheless, we DID have nearly a pillowcase of candy each!

The next day in school, we learned a sad truth. While we were far away collecting Peanut Chews, Milk Duds, Jawbreakers and gumballs, right on the other side of the street the new family that had moved in was handing out full sized chocolate bars and extra treats for kids from the street.

We missed it. We missed seeing our neighbors. We missed seeing our friends and walking around with them. We missed coming home and seeing more friends come to our door in their costumes. In our quest for more we got more of what turned out to be not so important and missed out on what we realized was really important to us. And we got sore muscles, chills, and bruises to boot.

When we serve God, we need to be sure that our goals and planning are from Him and for Him and not for our own purposes or praise. Even when our goals are good, and our planning is sound, if it is not in God’s timing or will, the odds of us ending up unfulfilled are high. We need to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit so that when we receive our ‘marching orders’ we’re ready to get moving.

When we cheerfully serve, cheerfully give and cheerfully follow after God, with no motive other than to please Him, He will be faithful to provide us with strength, success and support. And these He will provide in amounts and in ways that we could never have imagined. Great is His faithfulness!

Wishing you lots of Halloween treats,

Jen