Thanks-living

Years ago, the story goes, an admiral was speaking to a Navy Officer’s Wives Club. Before he began, he asked the wives to line up in order of rank. They dutifully complied without a word being said. He then lectured them that they didn’t have rank, their spouses did.

The wives smiled politely, but they knew better.

When we enter into a new situation, we instinctively size up where we fit in. Yet when Jesus left heaven to enter into his creation, he always took the bottom position. And at his last meal before his betrayal, he knelt to wash his disciples’ feet.

And he told us to do the same.

We’ve been studying Ann Voskamp’s book, 1000 Gifts, about her personal journey from anxiety to joy. Her journey meant practicing giving thanks in all situations, even when it was hard.

The practice transformed her. It didn’t change her situation; it changed her.

And the transformation was ongoing. There was always another, deeper layer to a life of thanksgiving.

Naming blessings, and giving thanks for them, led her to live the blessings.

Voskamp says, “At the last, this is what will determine a fulfilling, meaningful life, a life…every one of us longs to live: gratitude for the blessings that expresses itself by becoming the blessing.”

It’s not just the Navy. Every day, someone or something reminds us where we stand in some pecking order.

But when we get down on our knees to serve Christ by serving others, when we empty ourselves of us, that’s when Christ fills us with Him.

And with Him comes joy.

Bridges

Pittsburgh is the City of Bridges. You can’t go anywhere in Pittsburgh without crossing them. Unlike that other famous city of bridges, Venice, which is crisscrossed with canals, Pittsburgh is crisscrossed with rivers and hills, and bridges are needed to cross between the hills, and over the streams that run down from them. 

When you cross a bridge, you trust that the bridge will hold. Countless times every day, that trust is affirmed.

Ann Voskamp, in her book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson in saying, “All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.”

When some great challenge looms up ahead, and we’re consumed with fear and anxiety, Voskamp suggests that we say a prayer of thanks.

Thank the Bridgebuilder every time you cross a bridge to remind you of the countless times His bridges have held.

Spitting Seeds

One of my wife’s favorite memories is of the evening she spent eating watermelon and spitting seeds off our front porch with our two boys. That was 28 years ago, when the boys were 7 and 9.

Our lives in the Air Force were nomadic, moving to the next assignment every couple years as I moved up the career ladder. When you move that often, you’re always in a hurry. You only have so much time to make your mark before you move again. We did our best to “make the most” of each new assignment and turned each move into a travel adventure.

So why would eating watermelon make the list of life memories?

Because every now and then you slow down long enough to take in the miracles in a moment.

There are the miracles of things like light and air and gravity. There’s the way the light reflects off things and enters the eye, which signals the brain, which makes sense of it all. The miracle of taste.

Seed spitting presupposes photosynthesis, the miracle of botanical growth, to say nothing of the miracles of farming, food distribution, and supermarkets.

And who can fathom the miracle of a mother’s love, and two rambunctious boys who began as tiny eggs in their mother’s womb?

And how is it they love each other?

Why does something so “simple” give so much joy?

What, after all, is more miraculous than these things that we call “ordinary?” OK, some things may be more spectacular—a lightning strike, a mountain vista—but more miraculous?

When asked by Moses to state his name for the record, God answered, “I am.” Not, “I will be.”

“I am.”

God is in every moment.

Ann Voskamp, in her book 1000 Gifts, asks, “In Christ, don’t we have everlasting existence?” 

Shouldn’t we live like we actually believe it?

If we’re immortal, and we are, what are we rushing for? 

Giving thanks

Twenty years ago, I realized it was about time that I quit making excuses for not being involved in church. I told myself that if anyone asked me to volunteer, I would say “yes.” (Notice that I didn’t start out by actually volunteering for anything.) I told our family we were going to give thanks at every meal, and we would no longer skip church.

Not exactly a great commitment.

But then one thing led to another. I said “yes” to teaching adult bible study; “yes” to being a deacon; and “yes” to being a guest preacher. Then Jana became a certified Christian Educator. Both our sons became serious about their faith; today one is a minister and the other is in seminary. I’ve been a minister now for over ten years.

Giving thanks was life changing.

Most of us had parents who taught us to say, “thank you” when someone did something nice for us. But the Christian faith teaches us to give thanks in all things.

Jesus gave thanks at his Last Supper, knowing he was about to be betrayed. But was only through Jesus’ betrayal and death that the world received the ultimate blessing of resurrection life.

Most polite people know to give thanks after some blessing comes into their life.

But for a follower of Jesus Christ, giving thanks precedes the blessing.

Giving thanks gives us an awareness of the blessings all around us. This Sunday, I’m starting a sermon series on gratitude inspired by Ann Voskamp’s powerful little book, One Thousand Gifts. Starting on September 8th, I’ll be doing a five-week study of the book during the Sunday school hour. Voskamp, a farmer’s wife in Canada, worked through personal tragedies to be able to see God’s blessings in all parts of life. I invite you to join me.