Thursday, November 28, 2013

Some Thanksgiving Thoughts

Yesterday I led the Bible study at SHIM's monthly prayer meeting. Because we are in the week of Thanksgiving, it seemed fitting to share some thoughts about giving thanks. What follows is some of what I shared with the SHIM family. 

Thanksgiving as a Way of Life

Last year I was very much struggling with discontentment, a lack of joy and a lack of vision. I honestly did not want to be in Uganda – I wanted to be somewhere else – almost anywhere else, doing something else. I was tired, I was lonely, I was discontent and I was ungrateful.  However, I read a book that helped to change my perspective. It is called “1000 Gifts” (written by Ann Voskamp) and it helped me to see that being thankful to God is very necessary as a Christian and is a form of worship of our Creator.

The author encouraged her readers to record the daily “gifts” given by God as she had done – counting all the way to 1000 gifts in the course of about a year. Those gifts to be counted include gifts of creation, relationships, daily provision. She encouraged me to see each blessing, no matter how small as a gift from God. And not to take it for granted, but to give thanks when it is due.

This book helped me to change my situation – not my circumstances, but my perspective of my circumstances. Rather than despising where I was and what I was doing, I came to thank God for my daily gifts. Three times this past week I have heard that we are not to view God through our circumstances, but we are to view our circumstances through God.

Life is in a constant state of change – we are changing, our environment is changing, people are changing, nations and world events are changing – absolutely nothing is static and unchanging, except our God. He never, ever, ever changes. If we are established on Him and our faith and trust are in Him as our Rock then when the winds of change blow, we are secure in Him.

This year, I have been teaching through the book of Ephesians in the girls’ Bible study at school. Recently, we have been in chapter 5 and I came across this power- packed verse - Ephesians 5:20:

 “Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Note the words “always” and “everything.”

Always – in good, bad, easy and difficult times, in sickness, in loss, in joy, in weariness, in rest, in victory, in defeat. There should never be a time that we think exempts us from giving thanks. Why? Because we are thanking our God, our Father – the giver of life, the giver of all good things. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says to “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

When our focus is on God – our Creator, our Redeemer, the One who is in control over all – then we have much for which to be thankful.

And the word “everything.” Is it really possible to be thankful to God for everything – even the things that seem really bad or hurtful or never-ending? Yes, when we believe the promise of Romans 8:28 – “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.”

“The word “gratitude” comes from the same root word as “grace.” If we have experienced the grace of God, then we ought to be grateful for what God brings to us.” (NLT Commentary)

Being thankful is not optional for us as born-again Christians, it is a command that is repeated often in Scripture. Giving thanks is not about emotions or feelings, but it is recognizing the reality of God’s goodness, love and sovereignty and choosing to put your focus on Him, rather than on your feelings or circumstances. We are even told to offer the sacrifice of praise, which means praising God even when we don’t feel it can be a sacrifice.

I want to spend some time reading Psalm 136 – a psalm of Thanksgiving to God and give some ideas of what we can be thanking God for.

Vs. 1-4 - Our God is Jehovah – the God of the covenant, and He is good and merciful. 

1. Give thanks to the Lord for He is good! 
His faithful love endures forever.   
2. Give thanks to the God of gods. 
His faithful love endures forever.
3. Give thanks to the Lord of lords. 
His faithful love endures forever.
4. Give thanks to Him who alone does mighty miracles. 
His faithful love endures forever.

God's faithful love does not end, it endures unwavering, unchanging for all eternity. Can you say that about anything else in your life? How has He shown His faithful love to you? In the past? This year?

Vs. 5-9 - Our God is Creator - He brings us into being.

5. Give thanks to Him who made the heavens so skillfully. 
His faithful love endures forever.
6. Give thanks to Him who placed the earth among the waters. 
His faithful love endures forever.
7. Give thanks to Him who made the heavenly lights - 
His faithful love endures forever.
8. The sun to rule the day, 
His faithful love endures forever.
9. And the moon and stars to rule the night. 
His faithful love endures forever.

Nothing, absolutely nothing exists without Him. He created it and He sustains all of creation. How has God given you life and sustained you? In the past? This year?

Vs. 10-12 - Our God is the Redeemer – He brings us out.

10. Give thanks to Him who killed the firstborn of Egypt. 
His faithful love endures forever.
11. He brought Israel out of Egypt. 
His faithful love endures forever.
12. He acted with a strong hand and powerful arm. 
His faithful love endures forever.

God brings us out from sin, out from death, out from bondage to slavery and idolatry. He redeems - purchasing our freedom. How has God redeemed you? In the past? This year?

Vs. 13-16 – Our God is the Shepherd – He brings us through. 

13. Give thanks to Him who parted the Red Sea. 
His faithful love endures forever.
14. He led Israel safely through,
His faithful love endures forever.
15. But He hurled Pharaoh and His army into the Red Sea.
His faithful love endures forever.
16. Give thanks to Him who led His people through the wilderness.
His faithful love endures forever.

He brought Israel out of Egypt and through the Red Sea and through the wilderness. I believe one of the greatest promises in the Bible is the promise of God’s presence – at all times. It is not that He promises to rescue us always out of danger or hardships, but He promises to pass through them with us.

Psalm 23 says The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He leads, He guides, and even in the valley of death, He is with us. If you have nothing else for which to be grateful for, you can be thankful for God’s abiding presence. What has God led you through? In the past? This year?

Vs. 17-22 – Our God is the Conqueror – He brings us in.  

17. Give thanks to Him who struck down mighty kings.
His faithful love endures forever.
18. He killed powerful kings -
His faithful love endures forever.
19. Sihon king of the Amorites,
His faithful love endures forever.
20. And Og king of Bashan.

His faithful love endures forever.
21. God gave the land of these kings as an inheritance - 
His faithful love endures forever.
22. A special possession to His servant Israel.
His faithful love endures forever.

God led Israel through the Red Sea and the wilderness and into the Promised Land, helping them to defeat and displace kings and nations. There is nothing on heaven or on earth that has not been conquered by our God. He is supreme over all. I am also reminded that God always has a plan. His plan for Israel did not stop with bringing them out of Egypt or through the wilderness, but His plan was to bring them into the Promised Land. God always has a plan, a place He is bringing us into. He who began a good work in us will be faithful to continue and complete it (Philippians 1:6 paraphrased). What has God conquered for you? What has He led you into? In the past? This year?

Vs. 23-25 – Our God is the Deliverer – He brings us back. 

23. He remembered us in our weakness.
His faithful love endures forever.
24. He saved us from our enemies.
His faithful love endures forever.
25. He gives food to every living thing.
His faithful love endures forever.
26. Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His faithful love endures forever.

Though God was so faithful to Israel, Israel was not faithful to God. Yet, time after time, God brought the wayward, rebellious people back to Himself. He does the same for us. He is so faithful when I am so very unfaithful. How has God delivered you? How has He brought you back to Himself? In the past? This year?

Giving thanks to God must be intentional – it must become a daily practice. When I began recording God’s daily blessings, I chose to do it, even when I did not feel like it. We must choose to lift our eyes off of ourselves and our circumstances and place them on our God. We must decide that rather than grumble and complain, I will thank God for His goodness in the past, present and future.

One of the signs of people who do not honor, worship and serve God is that they do not give Him thanks. Romans 1:21 says “Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship Him as God or even give Him thanks.”

Thanksgiving and living a life of gratitude is not limited to a season or to only in good times, but it must be a daily practice.

We have just studied a Psalm of Thanksgiving and I want to encourage you to write your own to God. We are coming to the end of a year and it is good to reflect and review on this year and even previous years. Take some time to do this to show your gratitude to God for all that He is, all He has done and all that He has promised to do.

"Gratitude honors God. Gratitude is the echo of grace as it reverberates through the hollows of the human heart. Gratitude is the unashamed acceptance of a free gift and the heartfelt declaration that we cherish what we cannot buy. Therefore gratitude glorifies the free grace of God and signifies the humility of a needy and receptive heart." - John Piper

Photo Credits: Wikipedia,

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"It is Finished"

I am sorry, friends, but I am going to share another song from Jimmy Needham's newest album. (See my last post here for one of my other favorites on the album.) As I traveled across the lake this afternoon, I was again listening to these songs and this one stood out to me.

Because Jesus finished and completed EVERYTHING on the cross we can truly live a life of freedom, forgiveness, celebration and gratitude. If He had not, we wouldn't have much to celebrate now would we?

It is finished, It is finished
The beauty of the double meaning phrase
He ceased from His labor and so have I
Now resting only in His grace

It is finished, It is finished
The Son of Man succeeding where I failed
The wrath of God now satisfied
In Jesus, my Emmanuel

Note: "Tetelesti" is Greek for "It is finished."

Monday, November 25, 2013

"Rock of Ages"

This upbeat version of this timeless hymn has had me smiling and moving to the beat. Jimmy Needham is one of my favorite artists as I love his unique style and thoughtful and thought-provoking lyrics. In September he released a new album of hymns (check it out here).

As I point my heart and thoughts toward Thanksgiving this week, I am indeed incredibly thankful to my "Rock of Ages" - my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Because of Him I can dance with my heart full and overflowing with joy and thanksgiving! I hope you can, too!

Monday, November 18, 2013

How Even Malaria Made Me Thankful

On Wednesday and Thursday of last week I was unusually fatigued. I chalked it up to the energy-zapping heat...or to the onset of old age. ; )

However, on Thursday night when I began to run a high fever, was achy and my heart was racing, I suspected something else...malaria.

Andy and Karina had just had it and when I told Karina my suspicion the next morning, she replied "It's the season." (I guess there are "seasons" in which malaria mosquitoes are more common?).

Friday morning I tried testing myself - three times - with the handy-dandy malaria self-tester, but determined I am either a bad patient or a bad doctor because after poking my fingers too many times to get enough blood, I came up with three tests that showed me nothing - neither that I was positive or negative for malaria. However, based on the advice of Nurse Karina, I still came off the island on Friday morning, because if I did indeed have it, no one was on the island to take care of me - her words. :)

I reached Jinja, stopped by the pharmacy to get the meds and then spent the next two days being lazy. I claimed my spot on the Peterson's comfy couch and camped out there for hours on end. A Saturday test, performed by the skilled and very-capable Pastor Bob Peterson, who formerly worked as a paramedic, revealed that yes, I did have malaria. Phew, at least these symptoms were not all in my mind. ;)

Why do I seem to be so chipper about all of this? Because even though it stinks to get sick, I was able to trace God's gracious hand throughout the whole experience.

1. He helped me complete computer exams for my two computer classes last Wednesday(when I began feeling tired) and then canceled my Thursday class, so I had a more restful day. And this weekend, I had relatively few commitments, which were easy to be changed.

2. He blessed me with wise and knowledgeable friends who knew to advise me to get off the island and then how to test and treat for malaria.

3. If you have to get sick there is no better place to recover than in the Peterson home. The love, care, concern, good food, plus Black Cherry Kool-Aid were likely the factors that hastened my healing. :)

4. I enjoyed a spiritually refreshing worship service here in Jinja with some uplifting music, an impacting sermon and some valuable conversations with fellow Christians.

5. Because of my early arrival in time (I had planned to come today - Monday, not Friday), I enjoyed a great time with a new, but dear friend, who is leaving the country on Saturday.

6. I was reminded that I serve a God who heals. I cannot even imagine a world in which we would be perpetually with our sicknesses...once we had them, we never knew health again. What a terrible world it would be! But we serve the Great Physician!

7. I have gained greater sympathy and empathy for those who are sick and my heart has been turned even more toward those who suffer with chronic illnesses and pain.

In light of my last post about God's sovereignty, "Is God Surprised?," I have to chuckle. Was God surprised by my sickness? Nope. And He still showed His gracious love and goodness throughout the process...for which I am supremely grateful.

I read this week: "In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning." (Viktor E. Frankl) God always has a purpose for each aspect and season of life.

Why? Because He is good, He is gracious, He is sovereign. He is why I can be thankful even when having malaria. :)

Friday, November 8, 2013

Is God Surprised?

Itanda Falls on the Nile River - an incredible display of God's power and sovereignty.

"And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them." - Romans 8:28, NLT

Multiple times in the last several weeks I have found myself shaking my head - questioning, wondering, in frustration. How? Why? Who?

Recently we have had numerous snake sightings, subsequent killings and unfortunately three people bitten by cobras. One little girl died because the right help was not sought in time. One man's life was spared and he later gave his life to Christ - hallelujah! I shake my head at these slimy threats that lie at our very doors, but also at God's amazing protection. In the past week three snakes were killed on the SHIM compound - one each in the Smith home and the O's home, and one just outside the Smith's place.

This week one of our secondary teachers was dismissed because of improper conduct. As his story continues to unravel I shake my head. I trusted and respected this man and yet he had been living a life of lies for sometime. How could I be so fooled? How could he, even after being warned multiple times, defend his actions? How could he continue to claim to be a believer?

Last night I heard of island women who are beginning to understand the Biblical culture and how different it can be from their own. Mothers who are seeing the value of loving and respecting their children and not abusing them in speech, neglecting them, or tying them and then beating them. Wives who are comprehending what it means to care for a husband and not just to live as two individuals under the same roof. I praise God He is opening their eyes to His view and value of relationships.

In the midst of all this I have been listening to sermons from home, taken from the end of Romans 8, one of my favorite passages.

The verse I opened with is the pinnacle in this climatic description of God's incredible love for His children, found in verses 31-39.

So, if God works everything  for the good of those who love Him, does that also apply to the aforementioned situations? Was He taken by surprise at any of this? To the first question a resounding yes and to the second an emphatic no.

As I have rested in this incredible knowledge that God is supremely sovereign and most powerful over all and at the same time is intimately aware of every aspect and atom of His creation, I have been filled with His abiding peace.

There is a confident assurance that yes, God, is very much at the wheel and He can miraculously turn disappointing, hurtful, lousy, and otherwise bad situations into good - for His glory and for our good. Hallelujah!!

I don't know what you are passing through right now, but let me encourage you to remember, dwell on and stake your faith on the fact that our God is in control and He is on your side.

And, for further encouragement, read the entirety of Romans 8:31-39. :)