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Give Thanks in Everything

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Today I am honored to have a guest post by Natalie Finch. To learn a little more about her, I will give a bit more introduction at the end of this post.

 

November is here and Thanksgiving break is just a few days away. All over the U.S.A., people prepare to celebrate one of the biggest feasts of the year. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 provides a simple, broader perspective on thankfulness. It says,

 

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

 

From this, we can see that people should cultivate gratitude–and not just in November and the holiday season. Giving thanks “in all circumstances” implies that there are circumstances that do not initially lead us towards gratitude. Sometimes this can be the blindness of prosperity. When one has three meals a day, clothes, a home, a family, and opportunities for education, he or she can forget that these common gifts are not actually common world-wide. When one is tainted by trial or loss, it is not generally thankfulness which is keenly felt.

 

This verse can be difficult to live by when difficulties or loss come, whether we live with “first world” blessings or not. How can one give thanks in every circumstance, no matter what? After all, the initial audience for this command was under heavy persecution from the Romans, slaughtered by the sword, tortured, imprisoned, and even a source of brutal entertainment to the Romans in the Colosseum. How could God have put these seemingly impossible expectations on His children in the early and modern church?

 

This question can be answered by taking a look at the first Thanksgiving. In 1621, the first Thanksgiving brought the Native Americans and the Pilgrims at Plymouth to a harvest feast. The Pilgrims had just left their homes and all that they owned in England. Many had left family members behind or lost them on the Mayflower; they had left the church and were trying to start fresh in a foreboding new land. Many of them didn’t know how to farm or build houses or survive the winter. What could they possibly have to be thankful for? How could God expect them to give thanks in such circumstances?

 

Despite the Pilgrims’ situation, God watched over them. The natives in the area taught them how to plant corn, helped them build houses, and kept them safe from other hostile tribes. In a way, the feast showed the Pilgrims’ gratefulness to their new friends. The Mayflower could have landed anywhere; the Native Americans the Pilgrims met could have fought against them; they may have landed somewhere barren; but instead, God ordained that they land at Plymouth. God always watches over his children, even when He seems distant.

 

He does sometimes allow the Devil and forces of evil to test us, as in the book of Job. God allowed Satan to take away Job’s children, crops, herds, servants, and everything he had. Why? In order to test Job’s faith. However, Job worshipped God even after he lost everything, and eventually God blessed His servant as He blesses all his children. Will you be a Job of this generation? Will you honor the name of the Most High through anything He allows in your life?

 

Although His blessings aren’t always in material form, they are always present. It is important to realize that trial and evil do not come from God, and that He always provides a way of escape for His children—Jesus! We never have to face a circumstance alone, something to be infinitely grateful for. We see this in the second half of the verse. If a circumstance is God’s will, then it is known by Him and has boundary lines set by Him. This is also something we see in Job’s story, but God’s preparation for an event goes beyond His omniscient knowledge of it. Being subject to God’s will also means to be availed of His grace, since He has the final word over all. Therefore, if God knows our cares and provides grace, it no longer seems like an unfair expectation to give thanks in all circumstances.

 

No matter the circumstance, God calls His children to give thanks and to show gratitude, and He always provides reasons to be grateful. The chief reasons for gratitude are His presence, His omniscience, and His grace in the midst of every circumstance. When God blesses you, thank Him, and when in trial, look for evidences of His grace and thank Him for them. When they’re hidden from view, thank Him for His presence, in which we can be confident because of Jesus Christ.

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Natalie Finch, 16, first published this article in The Potter’s School Clay Magazine, an online magazine of commentary, news, essays, satire, interviews, cartoons, and discussion, earlier this month. She writes a column for the magazine once a month. Writing is a passion for this high school junior honors student, but she also loves singing, musical theater, reading, piano, coffee, and hanging out with her family. She and her three siblings have all been homeschooled and enjoy a rich relational connection. I have watched her spiritual growth expand over the course of her life and love going for coffee with her. She is one of my granddaughters and she hopes to pursue a career in writing after college.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections on Maturity

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If I were to survey a group of people of varying ages and cultures about what maturity looks like, I think I would get a wide range of answers. Maturity is one of those nebulous words we all believe we understand, but have difficulty defining succinctly. There can be a lot of subjectivity involved and our own age and maturity can affect our response as well.

 

One thing we would all likely agree on is that it is a quality that is considered an asset. I say that with assurance because when we hear someone say, “She/he is so immature” it has a negative connotation. Most of us would also agree that chronological age is not necessarily a corollary with maturity.

 

From my corner of the universe, one quality that identifies maturity for me is when a person is able to be honest without being rude, crude, or obnoxious with someone. It means that person can look at life, a circumstance, or a problem for what it is rather than what she or he wants to believe it is or isn’t.

 

John Eldredge succinctly states: “Maturity means living without denial.”

 

One of the joys of a healthy childhood is how unrestricted imagination can be. Pretending is great fun. We can be the hero or the villain, the rescued or the rescuer. We can pretend to be any age we wish. It doesn’t work out so well if we continue that habit as we get older. It can appear that someone who tries can get away with it for a short time, but the truth, the reality, catches up with him or her at some point.

 

3985f4641a22a192e235c90048686429--charles-spurgeon-quotes-the-giftWe may fall prey to the habit for many reasons, but I think that one of them is that we really want to be better than we believe we are, stronger than we are, more clever than we are, more knowledgeable than we are, and so on. Somewhere inside we see the deficits and consciously or subconsciously try to wallpaper over the marks we see against us. We also don’t want you to see those things so we might try to work very hard to make you believe in the press we are trying to sell ourselves.

 

Those tendencies sometimes get in the way of our relationship with the Lord. The secret guilt of knowing we aren’t all we are cracked up to be heaps shame on us that causes us to be much like Adam and Eve and look for fig leaves to cover over our condition. We try to hide.

 

This tendency is as old as time. Over and over scripture admonishes us to become mature, put away childish things, or grow up. Here are some examples:

 

“Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.  And this we will do if God permits.” Hebrews 6:1-4 (ESV)

 

“Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” 1 Corinthians 14:20 (ESV)

 

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrews 5:12-14 (ESV)

 

Many situations and circumstances can serve to help us “grow up”, but one of the most images (2)direct paths toward the goal might be to admit the truth to the Lord about what we think and believe and ask Him to correct and align those beliefs with the truth. Yes, that might be painful, but what He shares with us will always be spoken with grace and love.

 

Owning the truth is one of the best qualities we can attain. It will not only develop maturity, but integrity will be a companion of that maturity.

 

We will gain freedom in our daily lives because we are not trying to keep up the masks and pretense.

 

We will also begin to experience the richness of authentic relationships with others. Our relationship with the Lord will deepen and we will be congruent in the depths of who we are.

 

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What Audacity!

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Have you ever considered how audacious Jesus was?

 

He broke every aspect of the religious culture of His day. He hung out with all the wrong people. He even seemed to enjoy doing so, not because He was showing the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of the day. He actually loved them. He never saw them as less than.

 

I love how Leslie Leyland Fields describes this:

 

“Jesus seems to collect them, the ones every other leader ignores, the kind of followers no one else wants: the sick and weeping, lame and palsied.”

 

And it was really a shock when He started choosing His disciples. They were just common fisherman by and large. There was even a tax collector and some were known to have quite a temper. They never studied the Torah. What made them so special?

 

I heard He even hung out with that weird guy who was baptizing by the river whose name was John and He let John baptize Him. If God sent Him, why would He consider that? No one was sure of whether John was really legit or not.

 

There was a big stir when He went to the wedding with His mother. I guess the host’s wine ran out and He asked for the water pots to be brought and then somehow turned that water into wine. The wine was supposed to be the best wine served that whole night. Talk about a bold move!

 

Then there were women.

 

He actually hung out with women. How scandalous that was. Some of the women were IMG_3047known to be loose and free with favors. There was even a harlot. And then that madman who went around half naked much of the time. They say He cast out demons and sent them into a herd of pigs that ran over a cliff.

 

Unbelievable!

 

None of it made sense. If He were the Messiah, He would never have been born to Mary and Joseph, the carpenter. Besides He didn’t look or act like a king and He didn’t crush the Romans who were making life so difficult or deal with the priests who were robbing people blind sometimes.

 

I think we miss seeing this Jesus many of us profess with all His glory displayed for us to see. He loved no matter who you were, where you were born, how you had messed up, what disease you had, who your parents were. How audacious!

 

It can be easy to forget that the word “nice” doesn’t seem to show up as a character trait or a fruit of the spirit. It can be easy for us to be misled, as we desire to be like Him. We try to be “nice” and end up being inauthentic instead of loving boldly and audaciously as He did. He didn’t limit His circle to the approved group…quite the opposite. He held nothing back, not just on the cross but every time He interacted with anyone.

 

I wonder if we have ever considered how dangerous life could be if we really became more like Him. People wouldn’t “get” us. The crowd we usually hang with would be confused and maybe a little irritated if we brought “one of those people” to our meeting.

 

The truth is that He came to shake things up because no one was really getting in touch with the truth about His Father, our Father. He was clear on His mission and purpose, but He wasn’t out to start a revolution.

 

He was the revolution.

 

Whether you accepted Him or not, whether you do today, the world has never been the same because He came and with a holy audacity that turned the world on its ear.

 

“The audacity of Jesus! To love people like me, like them, and to move us toward faith in him! To sweep so many undeserving into heaven!” Leslie Leyland Fields

 

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Yielding to the Fire

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I recently read these lines in one of those novels that we female types enjoy from time to time: “Find someone to love and pour your heart and soul into it. Some people were like pottery. They had been tested in a fire just hot enough to make them capable, but perhaps not yet durable. But…was fine porcelain. Delicate, yet purified in white-hot flame reserved for those who would stand every test thrown at them.”

 

Ah, yes, we love those lines and in our dreams we hope for and imagine someone who will be that prince who comes for us and takes us off to his kingdom to live happily ever after.

 

If we discover the prince who chooses us or whom we choose, does not quite fit that description, we can become very disenchanted. We may start to wonder if the prince is a frog, but the truth is that few of us will marry a prince in real life. We will marry a mortal with various flaws and imperfections much as we are also.

 

But there is also another truth.

 

There is a Prince who has done just that and will one day soon return to take us to His Kingdom to rule and reign with Him forever. And He did and does love us and has poured His heart and soul into us, His body was broken and blood poured out for us. We hear or read that and nod in agreement, but barely know what that means. It is incomprehensible when we reflect on it.

 

The challenge for us is that though betrothed, we are still mortal and laced through with flaws and imperfections. To be prepared for that day of ruling and reigning, we must be refined. Peter talks about that in 1 Peter 1: 3-7 (ESV):

 

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

 

We are mortal, made of the dust of the earth, fashioned of clay it would seem. Clay is soft at the outset and unable to be of much use in that state until it is shaped on the wheel of a potter into the design he or she has in mind. Jesus is the potter and we are the clay, but once shaped in the design He has we must be fired to be purified and made fit for use.

 

Life on this earth tests us in many ways and forms whether by disease, evil, heartbreak, or any number of options we face as the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve whose enemy still seeks to claim us from the Prince who lives in our hearts. Who can say how many times our Prince allows that process to happen? He knows the design and purpose. In that we must trust.

 

To a mortal potter the firing happens at least twice. The first time the high temperature vitrifies the clay enough so when the finishing touches of glaze are applied, they adhere correctly. The temperature in the firing rises slowly to dry out the clay greenware. The bone-dry clay is fragile so the temperature of the firing must be just right and at the exact speed of increase to drive out everything in the clay that is not pure.

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This process results in the clay now being changed forever.  

 

The clay is now less fragile, but still not as durable as is needed. A second firing is needed after the potter applies the glaze. The skilled potter knows just how quickly the temperature of the second firing can take place and to what degree to bring the clay and glazes to maturity. (Do we get the metaphor? The human potter is bringing the clay to maturity…so is the Lord accomplishing in His refining of us.) When this process is complete and the pot is cooled, what is the result?

 

The fire has caused a remarkable change in the original clay. The pot has been changed from a soft, fragile substance into a delicate, rock-hard substance resistant to many of the things that would have destroyed the clay. It is sealed against all that may come against it.

 

How powerful a picture He has painted for us when scripture refers to the potter, the clay, the testing and firing.

 

“But He knows the way that I take; when He has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” Job 23:10 (ESV)

 

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Have We Forgotten?

 

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What does it all mean…this Christian life we enter?

 

Each one of us could answer that and our answers might sound or look very different. The answers would be true for us, but sometimes the “big story” is the one we don’t mention.

 

Love came and found us and pursued us from wherever we were and wouldn’t walk away or let go until we accepted Him. That’s the big story…the big picture”.

 

IMG_5191 (1)We really could hardly believe that it was possible or true. How could anyone love us after all we had done, after all we had become? When it finally broke through our resistance, we couldn’t imagine what would be next or how everything before could all be erased.

 

As we started our new walk, we still messed up a lot more often than we thought we should and old voices whispered condemnation and guilt. But He was patient and gentle with us. He reminded us that He was changing our hearts, putting His light, His truth, and His love within us even if we couldn’t see it yet and no one else believed in us.

 

If we were lucky someone else who had been walking this path a bit longer than we did came along beside us and loved us for Him. Some of us didn’t have that privilege and the walk was tough for a long time. There were times we stumbled and did not want to get back up again. We met others who Love had pursued and won, but sometimes they didn’t look like Him or sound like Him. He accepted us where we were, but sometimes they focused on what we weren’t and how we didn’t fit in.

 

But Love still pursued us without tiring, without giving up.

 

When we were stronger we wanted to find ways to thank Love. What could we possibly give or offer? In time, we learned that the best way to thank Love was to not forget how He had pursued us, accepted us, and never shamed us or gave up on us.

 

In the movie “A River Runs Through It”, the narrator makes a significant statement:

 

“We can love completely without complete understanding.”

 

 How can that be? How can I know how to love you if my life was and is so different than yours?

 

I really don’t know what to tell you. But you see, that’s where we miss it. We aren’t IMG_0941supposed to tell you anything so much as we are to simply let Him live and love through us. I don’t need to understand you. I just need to have Him take the lead. I need Love to so permeate my own heart that it just happens even when I don’t know how, even if you are different than I am, even if I think you are a mess. That’s how I thank Him. That’s how you thank Him.

 

After we’ve walked with Him for a while, we can get so comfortable around others whom we presume are like us that we miss the reason we are here. We forget that Life lives in us and unless we allow that breath of God to exhale gently on others, it loses its purpose. He can do this if we let Him, if we don’t decide it is too difficult or “you” are too difficult.

 

We forget we were difficult too.

 

We don’t have to have the answers to all your questions. After all, they’re your questions. (We could barely answer our own.) We just need to be there and help you find someone who can answer your questions. We need to see the possible that you can’t see yet. We need to see “treasure in an earthen vessel”.

 

 Will we let Love lead? Will we set aside the jargon and language that interrupts the flow of Love through us?

 

No, its’ not easy. Often men and women try to kill Love. Once they thought they had succeeded, but then they discovered Love was stronger than hate, stronger than death, and Love rose up and lived. Then Love multiplied in the most unusual way. It multiplied in you and me or at least it was supposed to so long as we didn’t forget.

 

We can love completely without complete understanding because we know what that feels like. It happened to us.

 

 Have we forgotten?

 

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*Photos (except the final one) all courtesy of my friend, Muriel, from Maine. The final photo is my own from Vermont.