(In Absence of) Gratitude

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks. Romans 1:21

Praying Hands

And here begins the decent into darkness and depravity. It is easy to gloss over this phrase as I read further into the chapter about exchanging the glory of the incorruptible God for a corruptible image of men or animals, exchanging the truth for lies, and committing indecent acts. This progression culminates as God gives them over to a depraved mind and they are filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, and greed while lacking understanding, mercy and love.

This terrible downward spiral results from neglecting to honor God and give Him thanks. Ingratitude is the gateway sin opening the door to darkened hearts, futile thinking and the pursuit of ungodly passions.

And of this is I am guilty: a hundred plus times every day, I miss the opportunity to honor God or give thanks.  This is my wake up that gratitude is not optional if I want to choose life and not death.

I stumble thinking I have to FEEL grateful. Some days I do, but on other days I have to purposely write down a few things to acknowledge as gifts (not entitlements) from God. For example, a hot shower, electricity, sight and a delicious cup of coffee frequently make the list, but these things are temporal. I thank God that my name is written is His book of life and He is returning to take me to be with Him forever.  I thank God that He has sealed me with His Holy Spirit and hears my prayers (even if I don’t see an answer) and that His peace is my fortress in the storms of life.

Like love, giving thanks and expressing gratitude is an action not a feeling.

I once heard someone ask, “What would happen if you wake up tomorrow with only the things you thanked God for today?” What would I have?

In Romans 7, Paul asks why he doesn’t do the things he knows he should. This is how I feel when I fail to be grateful, and yet each time I recognize my lack of gratitude it presents an opportunity to remember the gospel and allow the kindness of God to lead me to repentance. For His unfailing love and unending mercy I am grateful.  

Poiema

Poiema is my favorite Greek work.  The depth of the word was the reason I chose it for the name of this blog. Similar to our English word poem, poiema signifies workmanship, masterpiece, a poem or work of art. It is only found in 2 places in the Bible. In Romans 1:20, creation reveals the invisible attributes of God. In Ephesians 2:10, we do!

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned out for us long ago.

I had been feeling like a sloth because I wasn’t doing anything notable for God, so I decided to meditate on this verse…

God is the artist, not me.

The good works of my life will flow from who He is, not from my planning or striving.

Others will notice and be filled with gratitude and awe toward God, not me.

I am an amazing, one of a kind piece of art and so are you! As you read this blog, I hope it helps you to remember you are treasured and loved by God and that He is using you to manifest His grace and truth to a lost and hurting world. You don’t have to figure out what to do for God as I was trying to do. Long ago, He planned your works and His plans and purposes will stand for all eternity.

He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.

The heavens declare the glory of God.  And your life, dear friend, is also a declaration of the glory of God!

Life as an Introvert

I was excited to find a new book written by Holley Gerth entitled The Powerful Purpose of Introverts. It reminded me of when I was in school and I was able to sit in a desk made for left-handed writers. While I am used to adapting to what seems like an extroverted world, I feel like this book was written to describe me.

Using these labels to categorize everyone in one group or the other seems too restrictive since most people fall somewhere in the middle of the continuum. However, for the sake of clarity, I will use introvert to describe people who generally are recharged by solitude and extrovert to refer to those who are primarily energized by being with others.  Here are a few interesting things I learned. Introverts and extroverts tend to use different words to describe feelings of happiness. While someone else may be enthusiastic or excited, I may feel calm or content. This was validating to me because I don’t often feel “happy” in those extroverted ways, but when I examine my moods, I frequently feel cocooned in the Lord’s peace which is my version of happiness.

Introverts’ nervous systems are differently wired than extroverts.  Overall, they are more like to also be “highly sensitive people” which means over stimulation in the environment may overwhelm. This could result from loud noise in the background, clutter, continual binging of cell phone notifications or busyness.  However, the positive aspect of sensitivity means we are also sensitive to perceive unspoken hurts or needs. Our schedule may not be as busy, but we are present and deeply connected to those closest to us.

There is such a thing as an “introvert hangover” which explains why I want to take a nap after church. According to the book, I have overindulged in dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is released when spending time with people. As much as I enjoy seeing familiar people and hearing about what God is doing in their lives, I reach a point of overload and need time alone to de-compress.

Reading this book helped me to reframe what I perceived were the more desirable traits of extroverts to examine strengths I have inherent in the personality the Lord has created in me. I am a good listener, resilient and patient. While I may not be good at small talk and quick responses, I am a deep thinker who enjoys pondering what to write about in my next blog 😊

Nothing

When we were first dating, Mike would ask me what I was thinking about and I would say, “nothing.” He would get frustrated because he rightly suspected there was something going on as the wheels were turning in my mind. Well, today I have been thinking about “nothing,” specifically how the word appears in the Bible.

For NOTHING is impossible with God. Luke 1:37

The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes NOTHING. John 6:63

Those who remain in me and I in them will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do NOTHING. John 15:5

Be anxious for NOTHING. Philippians 4:6

If I do not have love, I am NOTHING. 1 Corinthians 13:2

For NOTHING in all of creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of ours that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:39

Since God says it better than I ever could, I will end here to leave you thinking about nothing.

Complete in Christ

Our ladies Bible study was discussing Colossians 1 where Paul states in verses 28-29 the goals of his ministry “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose, I labor striving according to His power which mightily works within me.”

I love this idea how we all work together for the common goal of presenting every man (or woman) complete in Christ. One of us may present the gospel, but another shares teaching, another wisdom, and another encouragement. We are working toward the same end – to come along side one another to help others grow to spiritual maturity. We are unified in the desire to see the gospel bear fruit.

Perhaps when you think of the gospel bearing fruit, you think of new believers and sharing with someone who does not know God’s way of salvation through Jesus. Although evangelism is a significant role of the body of Christ, consider the birth of a baby. After about nine months of gestation, a new life is born with the help of doctors and nurses who care for the infant. In a day or two, the baby leaves the hospital and except for well-baby checks, shots, sickness and emergencies, the role of the physician moves to the background. The primary responsibility of helping this child grow safely to maturity is in the hands of parents, teachers, family members and friends. This baby will need care, nurture, and supervision and support for 18 or more years.

I am writing this to anyone who has not been given the gift or calling of evangelism. By using your gift of serving, teaching, mercy, administration or encouragement, you are still bearing fruit for the gospel and enabling believers to become compete in Christ. Yours is the day in and day out child training, sleepless nights and countless prayers that don’t end with a new birth but merely begin there. You are helping to establish, strengthen and equip fellow believers to walk in a way pleasing to the Lord.  Let us not grow weary or diminish this role.

Where Have all the Esthers Gone?

Our Bible reading program was fifty of the most famous stories in the Old Testament including David battling the giant Goliath, Daniel surviving the night in a pit with lions, and Gideon and Deborah’ victories over larger and better equipped armies. We read these amazing stories and comment on their great faith, but I as I look around and into my own heart I wonder if we are failing to appropriate their faith in the greatness of God into our own lives.

For example, consider Esther. When confronted with uncertainty and possible death she replies, “If I perish, I perish.” Unlike, Esther many believers today prefer to remain in the background, avoid risk and minimize danger. Is this following the Biblical pattern? Esther knew her life was in the hands of God and her days were numbered by Him, not the whims of a worldly king. If I perish…How strongly do I believe that my days are ordered by God and recognize I can’t control the unknown or keep myself safe?  He is my stronghold.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego boldly declare  to King Nebuchadnezzar, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will delivers us out of your hand, but even if He does not, let it be known to you that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the image you have set up.” The LORD is our only source of safety and deliverance from the heat of the flames of a world attempting to melt us and re-shape us into fearful, embittered or apathetic people who hide His light under a basket.

Even if I am not an Esther now there is hope. When God first called Gideon, the Lord found him hiding in a cave. Like me, Gideon felt ill-prepared for any assignment the Lord would give him, but God reminded Gideon and us that the most important consideration is not the skill or strength we possess but that the Almighty God is with us. The Lord of Hosts (armies of heaven) leads the way before us, I need not cower in a cave but knowing this I can go forth with confidence that God holds me in his hand.

Feeling Judged

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When we go to restaurants or parks with Joshua, I feel like we are being observed and our actions and words are being judged by those around us. I am not sure if this is true or if I am oversensitive to the opinions of others. If I am being judged by others, this supposes that 1) they are actually thinking of/watching us and 2) they are thinking the ideas which I attribute to them.   While the first condition may be true, it is unlikely that they are thinking the exact thoughts I am imagining they are thinking.

When I tell people I struggle with depression, sometimes I wonder if someone is judging my faith or spiritual walk.  I don’t know. No one has actually said they feel spiritually stronger than I am because they don’t get stuck in cycles depression.

I suspect that no one likes to feel judged and that no one wants to feel assessed without understanding. Even if I sense the condemning gaze by another person, that does not mean God is condemning me.  He sees everything, and His judgment is always true. Unless another person’s opinion aligns with God’s, does it matter if they think I am not measuring up to their expectations or not doing something the way they think is right?

Only God fully knows what others are thinking and what their motivations are. Love believes the best.  God has showered me with grace upon grace. I want to extend this grace to others by not jumping to conclusions.

Galatians 1:10 Am I seeking the favor of men or of God? Am I striving to please men? If I am still striving to please men, I am not a bondservant of Jesus.

What’s Wrong with Having an Impact?

Disclaimer: The following is written by a hypocrite.  While I know I am highly valued by God, I still crave affirmation from people.

For the longest time, I prayed that I would have a greater impact for God’s kingdom. I want God to be known and glorified, so when I consider Bible studies or writing- the bigger the better, right? If more people are involved, the effect will be greater, and God will receive more glory. Numbers provide a simple but inaccurate way to measure impact. Receiving appreciation for a task is also a faulty measure of impact. When someone tells me, “Thank you!” or “You really made a difference,” I feel my actions were influential and beneficial. However, if no one appreciates that same action, does that nullify the impact? Of course not, yet I feel affirmed when people appreciate me or numbers blossom.   Have I created an idol out of “making a difference?”

What a slippery slope I have fallen down!  I put on the thinking of man and left behind the thinking of God. For example, consider the prophet Isaiah. When Isaiah answered the Lord’s call, the Lord told Isaiah even though no one would listen, he was to keep speaking. Year after year, it would appear that Isaiah did not have an impact, yet what was significant is that Isaiah heard God, obeyed and persevered in the task whether Isaiah himself was able discern any change in the people’s hearts or lives.

I think the root of my faulty thinking is the sin of comparison. Since I compare my activities to others, I believe God also compares my impact with that of his other children. I forget God’s ways are so high above my own and that God is as fully pleased with me when I am in my own house doing the things He placed before me as someone who is doing the things He called them to do which reach thousands of people.

I desperately need God to transform my thinking to stop thinking like the world and to perceive things more like He does so I am able to serve joyfully doing mundane tasks without acknowledgement, appreciation or visible impact. God is more interested in the internal than the external. While the tasks I do may not make an impact on the world, my attitude will impact my heart. Am I listening for the Lord’s voice to obey whether I perceive the task as trivial or grand? Is my heart impacted by the tiniest whisper from God? Am I as faithful for five as I would be for five hundred?

Lord, in your strength, I tear down this idol of making and impact and replace it with faith in your ability to fulfill your good and perfect plans no matter what my role.

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From Prison to Purpose

Now I want you to know that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel. Philippians 1:12

During his imprisonment, Paul sent a letter the church in Philippi urging those who were worried about him not be alarmed but instead to rejoice. Why? The gospel was advancing. Paul’s imprisonment was actually his pulpit to bring the good news of Jesus to others.

While our prisons may not be literal, as Paul’s was,  God is more than able to use any limitation we experience  (whether a circumstance, relationship, or physical condition) as His platform for others to hear truth and for us to share the hope we have in spite of the difficulties we are facing. When I consider this idea, I am tempted to think that while that may be true for Paul, no one will benefit from hearing about my unexciting life.  Admittedly, my parenting experiences with a child who has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism and my struggles with depression are minor compared to Paul’s imprisonment for the gospel, but God has given me the opportunity to honor Him in the midst of the circumstances  which He ordained for my life.

In another letter, written by Peter, believers who had been scattered by persecution were reminded to continue to declare the praises of Him who called them out of darkness into His wonderful light. In the midst of their suffering, those chosen by and belonging to God were urged to live such godly lives that others would see their good deeds and glorify God.  In any situation, we can declare God’s faithfulness and loving-kindness. No matter the extent of our limitations, our ability to pray for others is not thwarted.

Although it may be imperceptible to us, the Lord is working in our circumstances bringing opportunities for His grace and truth to reach others. Whether by prayer, or through the written word, or in person, God is leveraging your limitations for the greater progress of the gospel. If you are in a season where your activities or interactions are restricted, allow your “prison” to become His platform to bring the good news of Jesus to someone else.

Should I Accept This Promotion?

Since I enjoy finding gems in sections of the Bible rarely studied, I wanted to share my excitement of discovering a few verses in Judges 9:8-13 which offer wisdom to consider today.

Our culture is filled with striving and pursing goals. But is this new? Over three thousand years ago, a parable is recorded about four different type trees who are each asked to reign as king. The olive tree, grape vine, and fig tree all decline realizing they are fulfilling the role God intended right where they are. Yet the bramble agrees to be king. 

 I am bothered by how the world (and church?) have us clamoring to attain promotions. Progressing to a higher position is rewarded with greater affluence or influence. While the path for some may be promotion, for others perhaps there a lesson from the trees. Can we say “no” to a step up because we recognize God has us in a lower place fulfilling the purpose He has?

In Ecclesiastes Chapter 2, when King Solomon considered his extensive accomplishments, he despaired concluding these attainments were all vanity as if striving after the wind.  The wisest of men recognized late in his life that without God one will not experience enjoyment or contentment, but with God there is fulfillment in the simplicity of daily meals and tasks. 

How can it be that although Solomon in his high position with great riches describes life as grievous, while Paul who is impoverished and imprisoned is filled with joy? Paul understood what eluded Solomon. Life is not about gaining more but finding contentment where God has placed us, grateful for the perhaps overlooked gifts God has placed in our lives. Whether one serves in obscurity or in the highest position, when find our identity as a beloved child of God, it is enough. We don’t need to seek a promotion because we have found our position, securely in Him.

Be steadfast, always abounding in the work of the Lord because in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58