1024) Jealousy

I Samuel 18:5-9  —  Whatever mission Saul sent him on, David was so successful that Saul gave him a high rank in the army.  This pleased all the troops, and Saul’s officers as well.  When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine (Goliath), the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing,with joyful songs and with timbrels and lyres.  As they danced, they sang:  “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.”  Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly.  “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands.  What more can he get but the kingdom?”  And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David.

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WHEN GOD BLESSES OTHERS

     Jealousy is a destructive attitude that poisons the way you view life.  It is so harmful that God condemned jealousy in the Ten Commandments.  King Saul was a jealous and insecure man.  He had been elevated to the highest position in Israel.  He had been blessed in numerous ways.  But Saul saw that David was gaining the attention and praise of the Israelites.  The Israelites recognized Saul’s accomplishments, but they also praised David, whom God was using to accomplish even more.  Rather than rejoicing that God had empowered another to defeat their enemies, Saul became murderously jealous and sought to destroy David.

     Jealousy is an abomination in the life of a Christian.  God has made us His children.  None of us deserves to be God’s child, so there is no need to compare our blessings with those of other children of God.  Jealousy is self-centeredness at its worst.  Jealousy robs us of joy and chokes our contentment.  Jealousy hardens the heart and stifles gratitude.  Jealousy assumes that God’s resources are too limited for Him to bless another and still bless us.

     Watch over your heart!  If you find yourself unable to rejoice in the success of others, beware!  Do not let jealousy taint your heart.  Repent before it robs you of any more of the joy and contentment God desires for you.  When you are tempted to compare your success in life to that of another, ask God to remind you of all the ways He has blessed you undeservedly.

–From Experiencing God Day-by-Day, by Henry and Richard Blackaby

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The jealous are troublesome to others, but a torment to themselves.  –William Penn

Don’t waste time on jealousy.  Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind.  –Mary Schmich

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Exodus 20:17  —  You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.  You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Proverbs 14:30  —  A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.

Galatians 5:26  —  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

James 3:16-17  —  Where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving,considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

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Lord, I perceive my soul to be deeply guilty of envy.  I would prefer your work not done at all, than to be done better by someone else other than myself.  Cleanse me, Lord, of this bad spirit, and turn my envy into gratitude, making me thankful to you for other people’s gifts, as well as for my own.  Amen.

–Thomas Fuller  (1608-1661), English clergyman and historian  (adapted)

957) Doing Better But Feeling Worse (b)

     (…continued)  The third reason people don’t feel good even though they have more is what Easterbrook calls “collapse anxiety.”  Even if people do realize they have it pretty good these days, there is reason to fear that it won’t last.  Terror threats, stock market crashes, global unrest, and so many things in our dangerous world leave us fearful that everything we have can be taken away anytime.  People in 1855 had their own weather and local troubles to contend with, and that was worry enough.  They were not bombarded by news 24 hours a day telling them everything that was already going wrong and could possibly go wrong in every part of the world.

     Reason number four the book lists is called “abundance denial,” which means that most people are simply blind to the fact that they are well off.  Despite our high standard of living, most people will not admit that they are doing well.  Studies show that people in almost every income bracket define “well off” as making twice as much money as they themselves are presently making.  Families making $25,000 a year say that and families making $150,000 a year say the same thing.  Few consider themselves well off– ‘well off’ is someone who is making more than you are.  I have heard many people who lived through the Great Depression say that they didn’t know they were poor, because no one in their community had anymore than they did; everyone was poor, so folks grew up thinking that’s just how life is.  These days, the opposite is true– people don’t know they are rich.

     Finally, the fifth reason is what Easterbrook calls the “choice penalty.”  Years ago, because of economics and custom, people were locked in to the way of life they were born into, and that resulted in a certain amount of frustration and anxiety.  Now, economically, many people are able to pick from an endless amount of choices in career, places to live, hobbies, travel, and so much more.  This leads to a different kind of anxiety and frustration.  Many people are endlessly wondering “should I have done this instead, is it too late to change, am I missing out on this because I chose that, I could have gone here or there instead, maybe that is what I should have done, let’s do this, no, let’s do that,” and on and on they go.  Many people, breathlessly trying to take it all in and constantly on the run, go back and forth between frustration at missing out, and longing for a simpler time– a time that was ‘simpler’ precisely because the choices were fewer.

      Not all of those reasons apply to everyone, but everyone can probably see themselves in at least some of them.  But what I found most interesting is the solution Gregg Easterbrook suggests.  Take a moment to guess what that might be… (HINT– Thanksgiving is this week.)

     The suggested solution is one that you’ve heard often– on this website, in church, from your parents, and from your own reading of the Bible or any devotional book ever printed.  It is a common Biblical theme– commanded, recommended, or modeled on nearly every page.  The phrase used most often in the Bible is “Giving Thanks,” and Easterbrook calls it “the virtue of GRATITUDE.”

     Easterbrook writes, “Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress, and to achieve a positive sense of self.”  ‘Beginning to suggest…?’– as if this is a new idea?  From the very beginning of time, God’s Word has asserted the need to give thanks; and if you ever thought that was for God’s sake, you were mistaken.  The command to give thanks is not for God’s sake, but for our own.  God is God and doesn’t need anything, but we need to give thanks, says the Bible; and so now also say the experts in ‘gratitude research.’

     Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  Begin with thanksgiving, says Paul, making that a part of your prayer life and your whole approach to life, and you will have peace.  When life gets better and we’re feeling worse, the solution is to ‘count your blessings’ and be thankful, says the Bible.

     In the spirit of such gratitude, Paul was able to write a few verses later:  “I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”  That sounds good to me.

    May we, who have been given so much, pray to God for one more thing, a grateful heart, because with a grateful heart, comes peace and contentment and strength.

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Philippians 4:6-7  —  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:11-13  —  I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry,whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

I Chronicles 16:34  —  Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

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Thou that hast giv’n so much to me,

Give one thing more, a grateful heart.

–George Herbert  (1593-1633)

956) Doing Better But Feeling Worse (a)

     I have always enjoyed listening to elderly folks talk about life in the old days.  My grandparents remembered life before the automobile, before electricity, and before indoor plumbing.  My parents remember experiencing as children the hardships of growing up during the Great Depression.  And in this fast changing world, people my age look back to the very different world of our childhood in the 50’s and 60’s.  But no matter what age we are, when we talk about times past, we don’t just call them the ‘old days,’ we call them the “GOOD old days.”

     But I have also heard elderly people talk about the severe hardships of those old days, and they usually admit that the good old days weren’t always so good.  So why, in this age of every convenience and unprecedented wealth, should we be looking back with any kind of fondness at all?  Winter will soon be here.  When the temperature dips to twenty below do you think anybody will be wishing for the ‘good old days’ of outdoor toilets?

     I think back to my immigrant ancestors, those hardy folks who left their homeland to come to Minnesota a century and a half ago.  I try to imagine what it would be like if my great-great-grandparents, August and Augusta, could come ‘back to the future’ of 2015 for a visit.  Surely they would be dazzled by the ease of life today.  The work that even a small lawn tractor could do would amaze them, much more so the huge machinery that can now plant or harvest in a few hours what they worked at for weeks.  And what would they think of the quick trip to town in a warm car, instead of a slow ride in a cold horse-drawn wagon?  Once there, they would be amazed to see the grocery store aisles lined with everything– bread already baked, strawberries in March, entire meals that could be prepared in minutes.  Imagine their astonishment at schools, not just for a few months when the kids were not needed at home, but for nine months a year, with children in separate grades; and then college as a common destination for many, not just the wealthiest.  They could also wonder at the incredible health care, not to mention an average life span of 77 years instead of 46, along all the wonders of technology– televisions, cell phones, computers, or even electric lights.  One does not have to go back too many years to find none of that enjoyed by anyone.  Our great-great-grandparents would probably say that life in modern America is better than anything they even expected in heaven itself.

     But if life is so good now, why is it that the old days often look better?  Many people today do not feel very positive about life today, nor do they think the future will be any better.  Despite steady gains, it is common to hear Americans say, “My parents had it better than I do.”  Americans tell pollsters that the country is going downhill, that they feel unbearably stressed out, and that their children face a declining and frightening future.  The percentage of Americans who describe themselves as ‘happy’ has not budged since the 1950’s, even though the average real income has more than doubled.  Far from feeling better about their lives, many are feeling worse.  Such gloominess seems strange in a country of ever higher living standards and unprecedented personal freedom, but such unhappiness and hopelessness is common.

     An author named Greg Easterbrook looked at all of this in his 2004 book The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse.  (2004?– even that is looking like the ‘good old days’!)  He lists five reasons why people feel worse even though so many things are so much better, and then he suggests a solution.  First his reasons.

     The first reason is what Easterbrook calls “the revolution of satisfied expectations.”  He says that most people judge their well being not by where they stand, but by their hopes for ongoing improvement in the coming years.  He said that in the 1950’s people lived in small houses, struggled to afford one car, and few, if any family members attended college.  But, he says, they were in good spirits because they expected soon to be earning and possessing more, expectations that were met for decades.  But now many people have large houses, three or more cars, and whoever wants to go to college, can go.  Many already have far more than they need, so the expectation that each new year will be noticeably better than the last, once deeply ingrained in Americans, is fading.  Millions of Americans find that they now have what they once dreamed of having; and it has not made them happy, and so they wonder what will?

     The second reason is what Easterbrook calls “catalog induced anxiety.” While we already have more than enough, we can, at the same time, see on TV and on-line the lavish lives of the very wealthiest, those folks living lives like we cannot ever hope to live.  Even though average Americans have the highest average standard of living in human history, they look not at the 98% of the people who ever lived who had (or have) far less, but at the one-tenth of one percent who have the very most– and they become convinced they are missing something. (There are even words for this now– FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out, or FOHMO, Fear of Having Missed Out)  (continued…)

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Ecclesiastes 7:10  —  Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?”  For it is not wise to ask such questions.

Ecclesiastes 5:10  —  Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.  This too is meaningless.

I Timothy 6:6-8  —  But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

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O Lord, Jesus Christ, who art as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land, who beholdest thy weak creatures, weary of labor, weary of pleasure, weary of heart from home deferred, weary of self; in thine abundant compassion, and unutterable tenderness, bring us, we pray thee, into thy rest.  Amen.

–Christina Rosetti  (1830-1894)

955) When Are We Most Thankful?

By Lutheran pastor David G. Johnson, The Road Once Traveled, 1991, pages 36-38 (adapted).

     My grandmother, Annie, had real difficulty accepting a compliment or even “thank you.”  She would respond with denials.  “Oh, no,” she would protest, “it was nothing.”  The cookies which everyone thought were terrific, the “melting in your mouth” variety, just had not turned out right this time.  “I don’t know what went wrong,” grandma would confess.

     Sometimes I wonder if my grandma was more shrewd than I knew.  If she had simply answered, ‘thank you” to a compliment or “you’re welcome” to an expression of gratitude, that would have ended the conversation.  As it was, through her denials and protests, grandma was able to prolong the compliments as people tried desperately to override her objections and make her see that she really had accomplished something.  It got to be a survival of the fittest.  Rarely did grandma give in.  For her it would have been the height of immodesty.  She generally had the last word, “it was nothing.”  The compliment or “thanks” was not accepted.

     But, turn the tables, and grandma would lavish praise on others.  A simple “thank you” was never enough.  It had to be “manga, manga tusend tuck,” Norwegian for “many, many thousand thanks.”  And she was just as generous with compliments, throwing out a whole pattern of them, like a shotgunner, so that at least one of them would connect.  As a ‘thanker” she was devastating.

     I know she was sincere.  My grandparents were very thrifty and spent almost nothing on themselves.  Grandma would have been a little freer with the money had my grandfather allowed her to handle it.  She regularly snitched a nickel or a dime out of his pocket to give to me for a shopping spree in Garretson when I accompanied my grandfather to town.  I think he knew but overlooked it.  In spite of their frugality and simplicity of their lives, my grandparents were thankful people.  Because my grandmother was more expressive, it was more noticeable in her.  They lived their lives down among the basics of life where gratitude originates.  Their only concession to extravagance was the upright Edison Golden Disc phonograph with two drawers full of scratchy records.  Otherwise they dealt in staples and necessities.  Their lives were not cluttered with non-essentials.  Because of that, I believe, they were less apt to take credit for what they had.  They delighted in the meanings their relationship with the land, other persons and God brought them.  They felt blessed.  Consequently, they were thankful, not because of their abundance of material goods but because of the goodness of nature, others and God.

     Hasn’t it always been that way?  Consider the history of our national observance of Thanksgiving.  It can be summarized in three parts.

     The first chapter begins with the early colonists at Plymouth Plantation in what is now Massachusetts.  In November of 1620, 98 colonists landed by mistake off Cape Cod.  They were headed for the already inhabited Virginia.  Even though Cape Cod was not their destination, they decided to stay and begin their mission to build a godly community.  The odds against the colonists were enormous.  William Bradford, who was to govern Plymouth Plantation for 30 years, wavered as he faced the future.  He believed the only sure thing they could count on was “the Spirit of God and His grace.”  Even that, during the hard winter months, seemed to be in short supply.

     By spring about one half of the settlers had died.  Only 12 of 26 husbands or fathers survived.  The women were hit even harder.  Only three of 18 married women lived to see the winter snow melt away.  When spring mercifully arrived, the ravaged colony began to plant, fish, hunt, cut, saw and build.  The Indian, Squanto, showed them how to fertilize and cultivate the corn.  They referred to Squanto as “a special instrument of God for their good.”

     In the fall of 1621, the pilgrims and the Indians shared in New England’s first Thanksgiving.  They were grateful, not for an abundance of material goods, but for survival.

     The second part of the history of Thanksgiving took place on November 1, 1777 when the Continental Congress issued the first proclamation of Thanksgiving to all the colonies.  The colonies had just declared their independence and were at war with England to win that independence.  In part, the proclamation reads: “Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty to all men to adore the Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to Him for benefits received, and to implore such further blessings as they stand in need of:  and it having pleased Him in His abundant mercy not only to continue to use the innumerable bounties of His common providence, but also to smile upon us in the prosecution of a just and necessary war for the defense and establishment of our unalienable rights and liberties …”  The colonists were now struggling to remain an independent nation.  Concerns over the gross national product would come much later.  Now they were grateful to God for existence.  As they considered the task at hand, that of building and governing anew nation, they looked to God for help and issued a declaration of dependence on the Almighty.

     The final segment in the history of Thanksgiving takes place in 1863, in the middle of the bloody Civil War.  President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed there should be a national day of thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November.  Lincoln declared it should be “a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.”

     It is instructive to note that each of these dates, 1621, 1777 and 1863 represent difficult times.  The pilgrims had experienced terrible losses and possessed practically nothing, but they were alive.  In 1777 the colonists were engaged in a tough war with England.  They had their independence and pride, but very little else.  In 1863 a brutal Civil War was being fought.  It was a costly and divisive conflict, and the nation was looking forward to the end of the conflict and to rebuilding.

     It would seem that we are most apt to be thankful, not when times are easy and our larders are full, but when life has been tough and we are glad to be alive and have each other.

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I Thessalonians 5:16-18  —  Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 106:1  —  Praise the Lord.  Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Colossians 3:15  —  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.

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O Lord, keep us sensitive to the grace that is around us.  May the familiar not become neglected.  May we see your goodness in our daily bread, and may the comforts of our home take our thoughts to your mercy.  We give you thanks.  Amen.

–J. H. Jowett  (1864-1923)

916) Thanking God in Difficult Circumstances

     Pastor H.B. Charles tells the following story about a woman he knew who showed up at church and prayed the same simple prayer.  “O Lord, thank you Jesus,” she prayed week after week.  The kids at church would start laughing every time she opened her mouth because they knew it would be the same prayer—”O Lord, thank you Jesus.”  Finally somebody asked her, “Why do you pray the same little prayer?”  She said, “Well, I’m just combining the two prayers that I know.  We live in a bad neighborhood and some nights there are bullets flying and I have to grab my daughter and hide on the floor, and in that desperate state all I know how to cry out is, ‘O Lord.’  But when I wake up in the morning and see that we’re okay I say, ‘Thank you Jesus.’  When I got to take my baby to the bus stop and she gets on that bus and I don’t know what’s going to happen to her while she’s away, I cry, ‘O Lord.’  And then when 3:00 P.M. comes and that bus arrives and my baby is safe, I say, ‘Thank you Jesus.’”  She said, “Those are the only two prayers I know and when I get to church God has been so good I just put my two prayers together, “O Lord, thank you Jesus.”  

–H.B. Charles, “A Psalm for Giving Thanks,” http://www.PreachingToday.com

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Ed Dobson  (1949- )

     In the fall of 2000, former megachurch pastor Ed Dobson was diagnosed with ALS (or Lou Gehrig’s disease), a degenerative disease with no known cause or cure.  In 2012 Dobson shared his ongoing struggle to give thanks while living with an incurable condition.  He writes:

There are many things for which I am not grateful.  I can no longer button the buttons on my shirt.  I can no longer put on a heavy jacket.  I can no longer raise my right hand above my head.  I can no longer write.  I can no longer eat with my right hand.  I eat with my left hand, and now even that is becoming a challenge.  And over time all of these challenges will get worse and worse.  So what in the world do I have to be grateful for?  So much.  Lord, thank you for waking me up this morning.  Lord, thank you that I can turn over in my bed.  Lord, thank you that I can still get out of bed.  Lord, thank you that I can walk to the bathroom …. Lord, thank you that I can still brush my teeth … Lord, thank you that I can still eat breakfast.  Lord, thank you that I can still dress myself.  Lord, thank you that I can still drive my car.  Lord, thank you that I can still walk.  Lord, thank you that I can still talk.  And the list goes on and on.  I have learned in my journey with ALS to focus on what I can do, not on what I can’t do.  I have learned to be grateful for the small things in my life and for the many things I can still do.  

–Ed Dobson, Seeing through the Fog (David C Cook, 2012), pp. 69-70

For more from Ed Dobson see:

http://edsstory.com/

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Psalm 103:1-2  —  Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.  Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

Psalm 107:1  —  Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.  Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.

Philippians 4:11b-13  —  I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry,whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

I Thessalonians 5:18  —  Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

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PSALM 86:1-4:

Hear me, Lord, and answer me,
    for I am poor and needy.
Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;
    save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord,
    for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
    for I put my trust in you.

825) Quotes by Nick Vujicic

To learn about Nick Vujicic see yesterday’s blog, Emailmeditation #824

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“I never met a bitter person who was thankful; or a thankful person who was bitter.”

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“If I fail, I try again, and again, and again.  If you fail, are you going to try again?  The human spirit can handle much more than we realize.  It matters how you are going to finish.  Are you going to finish strong?”

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“When a lot of BS comes your way, just BS- Be Still… at least for a little while.  Be Strong, Be Sober-minded, and Be Satisfied with what you have.”

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“The greater the struggle, the more glorious the triumph.”

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“Just because I don’t understand God’s plans does not mean that he is not with me…  I encourage you to believe that you may not be able to see a path right now, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

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“I don’t believe I’m disabled.  Yes, I have no arms and no legs, but big deal.  It doesn’t matter how I look.  It’s who I am and what I do.”

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“If you can’t get a miracle, become one.”

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“Some injuries heal more quickly if you keep moving.”

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“Don’t put your life on hold so that you can dwell on the unfairness of past hurts.”

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I had a wave of faith and peace wash over me after reading John 9, where when speaking of the blind man, Jesus said, “So that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

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“My hope is that when people who are in pain see that I have a joyful life, they will think, ‘If Nick, without arms and legs, is thankful, then I will be thankful for today, and I will do my best.'”

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“The greatest news I  could ever say it that Jesus is Lord and Savior of my life.  He is my friend.  He is with me wherever I go.  I’m so delighted to continue to grow in my relationship with Jesus.”

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“People often ask how I manage to be happy despite having no arms and no legs.  The quick answer is that I have a choice.  I can be angry about not having limbs, or I can be thankful that I have a purpose.  I choose gratitude.”

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“The pinnacle of fulfillment for my spirit and soul will be to hear from the Lord Jesus, when I see him face to face, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.'”

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Nick and his son.

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John 9:1-3  —  As Jesus went along, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, “Rabbi,who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

I Thessalonians 5:16-18  —  Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Matthew 25:23a  —  (Jesus said), “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!”

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Take My Life and Let it Be, 1874,Frances R. Havergal, (1836-1879)

Take my life and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take my moments and my days;
let them flow in endless praise.

Take my hands and let them move
at the impulse of thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
swift and beautiful for thee.

Take my voice and let me sing
always, only, for my King.
Take my lips and let them be
filled with messages from thee.

Take my silver and my gold;
not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use
every power as thou shalt choose.

Take my will and make it thine;
it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart it is thine own;
it shall be thy royal throne.

Take my love; my Lord, I pour
at thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be
ever, only, all for thee.

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Chris Tomlin’s rendition of Take My Life:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agROj9nTQP4

824) No Arms No Legs No Worries

     Imagine getting through your busy day without arms or legs.  Picture your life without the ability to walk, care for your basic needs, or even embrace those you love.  Meet Nicholas Vujicic (pronounced VOO-yee-cheech).  Without any medical explanation or warning, Nick was born in 1982 in Melbourne, Australia, without arms and legs.  The Vujicic family was destined to cope with both the challenge and blessing of raising a son who refused to allow his physical condition to limit his lifestyle.

     The early days were difficult.  Throughout his childhood, Nick not only dealt with the typical challenges of school and adolescence, but he also struggled with depression and loneliness.  Nick constantly wondered why he was different than all the other kids.  He questioned the purpose of life, or if he even had a purpose.

     According to Nick, the victory over his struggles, as well as his strength and passion for life today, can be credited to his faith in God.  His family, friends and the many people he has encountered along the journey have inspired him to carry on, as well.

     Since his first speaking engagement at age 19, Nick has traveled around the world, sharing his story with millions, sometimes in stadiums filled to capacity, speaking to a range of diverse groups such as students, teachers, young people, business professionals and church congregations of all sizes.  Today this dynamic young evangelist has accomplished more than most people achieve in a lifetime.  He’s an author, musician, actor, and his hobbies include fishing, painting and swimming.  In 2007, Nick made the long journey from Australia to southern California where he is the president of the international non-profit ministry, Life Without Limbs, which was established in 2005.

     Nick says, “If God can use a man without arms and legs to be His hands and feet, then He will certainly use any willing heart!”  Nick’s latest foray into radio will expand his platform for inviting men and women all around the world to embrace the liberating hope and message of Jesus Christ.

–From Nick’s website at:  http://www.lifewithoutlimbs.org 

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     MORE ON NICK’S JOURNEY:  At the age of eight, Nick could not see a bright future ahead and went through a depression.  When he was ten years old, he decided to end his life by drowning himself in a bathtub.  After a couple attempts, he realized that he did not want his loved ones to feel the burden and guilt, that would result from his suicide.

     At the age of thirteen he hurt his foot, which he used for many things like typing, writing, and swimming.  That injury made him realize that he need to be more thankful for his abilities and less focused on his disabilities.

     When he was fifteen years old, he sealed his faith on God and from there it has been an amazing journey.  When he was seventeen, a janitor at his high school inspired him to start speaking about his faith and overcoming adversity.

In the following videos Nick tells his amazing story and offers encouragement to others facing difficulties.  I bet you can’t watch just one!:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USUvzKDroqM  (scenes from his life; four minute testimony; 2007)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gc4HGQHgeFE  (from Nick’s inspirational speaking on video; 2010 four minutes)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3QezBvN1BE  (The story of Nick and his wife; 12 minutes)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kxSrPD__BA  (great speech to teens on believing in yourself; ten minutes)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CM_eHJcdjig  (2012 interview/testimony; eight minutes)

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Nick and his wife Kanael and son Kiyoshi.

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Psalm 46:1  —  God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

II Corinthians 12:9  —  And he (the Lord) said unto me, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”  Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

I Corinthians 1:27b  —  God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

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Dear God, 

Enlighten what is dark in me,

Strengthen what is weak in me,

Mend what is broken in me,

Bind what is bruised in me,

Heal what is sick in me,

And lastly, revive whatever peace and love has died in me.  Amen.

774) Memorial Day Meditation

By Charles Colson for Breakpoint; aired 5-28-10 (www.breakpoint.org)

     Memorial Day is when we honor the men and women of our Armed Services who have made ‘the supreme sacrifice,’ giving their lives for their country.  Especially these days, when Memorial Day seems nothing more than a time for cookouts and swim parties, we cannot be reminded often enough about how great a debt we owe our war dead.  They gave up their hopes and dreams, families and friends.  They submitted themselves to rigorous discipline– something I understand as a former Marine– 24-hour a day duty, and placed their lives in great peril.  Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).  Their sacrifice should inspire in us a profound sense of gratitude– gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy, bought with a price.  And that gratitude should compel us to lives of service as well; serving Christ, our neighbor, and yes, our nation.

     I can’t help but recall the ending of the brilliant film Saving Private Ryan (1998).  James Ryan, now in his seventies, has returned with his family to the military cemetery in Normandy.  He visits the grave of Captain John Miller, the man who a half a century before, led the mission to retrieve– to save– Private Ryan.  At the end of the mission, Miller was fatally wounded.  As he lay dying, his final words to Private Ryan were, “James, earn this.  Live a good life.  Earn this.”  In other words, men have died for you, now live a life worthy of such a sacrifice.

     We then see Ryan kneeling at Captain Miller’s grave, marked by a cross.  Ryan, his voice trembling with emotion, says, “Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge.  I tried to live my life the best that I could.  I hope that was enough.  I hope that, at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.”

     Red-eyed, Ryan turns to his wife and says, “Tell me I’ve led a good life… tell me I am a good man.”

     With great dignity, she says, “You are.”

     With that, James Ryan salutes the grave of Captain Miller.  You see, Private Ryan, out of gratitude for Captain Miller’s sacrifice, did all in his power to live a good life.

     And Memorial Day is a great time for each of us to look into the mirror… to examine our own lives. Columnist George Will called the film “a summons to gratitude.”  Are we living good lives in gratitude for all those who have sacrificed for us– including our men and women in the military, our families, our friends, and most of all Christ?  Are we, like Ryan, kneeling before the cross?  Spielberg, a master cinematographer, had to realize the power of this imagery.  Are we, out of gratitude, doing our duty for Christ in whatever field to which the Lord has called us?

     Examine your life.  And this Memorial Day, at the very least, thank those who have sacrificed for you and those you know who have served in our nation’s armed forces.  Maybe you’ll do what I do when you see someone in uniform… at the airport, at the store, wherever… walk up to them and thank them for their service.  

     And then go and remember Whom it is you serve.

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John 15:13  —  (Jesus said), “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Joshua 24:14-15 — (Joshua said), “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness.  Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.  But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.  But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

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A prayer for soldiers and sailors from an old Army and Navy Service Book:

Blessed Lord Jesus, who knows the depths of loneliness and the dark
hours of the absence of human sympathy and friendliness: help me to pass
the weary hours of the night and the heavy hours of the day, as you did, and
know that you are with me, as your Father was with you.  Lift up my heart to
full communion with you; strengthen me for my duty; keep me constant to
my trust, and let me know that however dark or desolate the hour, I am not
alone, for you are with me; your rod and your staff are my comfort;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and
the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

696) The Crowded Kindnesses of God

By Randy Alcorn, in the Spring 2015 issue of Eternal Perspectives

     God isn’t just in life’s monumental things.  He’s present in the little things: rain drops, the artistry of spider webs, and the sound of an acoustic guitar.  A child’s laugh, surfing songs, a swing set, sprinklers, and the smell of split cedar.  Colorful birds and fish.  Stars that declare God’s glory.  Little League, skiing, ping pong, a hot shower.  Maple syrup, fresh green beans, buttermilk biscuits, and homemade strawberry jam.  Aspirin, artificial limbs, wheel chairs, and synthetic insulin (I can’t live without it).  Ripe oranges straight off the tree.  Pecan pie a la mode, chocolate chip cookies hot out of the oven and a tall glass of cold milk.  A good recliner, the smell of leather upholstery, and a dog’s wagging tail.

     If we disregard these and thousands of other gifts, we don’t just fail to notice them, we fail to notice God.  God’s goodness is always evident if we look in the right place.  “He is actually not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:27-28).

     Alexander Maclaren advised, “Seek to cultivate a buoyant, joyous sense of the crowded kindnesses of God in your daily life.”

     One of my Bible college professors often used illustrations of Christ’s presence in the small events of his day.  I asked myself why those things didn’t happen to me.  God showed me they did—I just hadn’t noticed!

     If we fail to see God’s “crowded kindnesses,” it’s not because they’re lacking but because we’re blind.

     In a letter to his wife Elisabeth, Jim Elliot observed, “Amy Carmichael writes of little joys, like flowers springing up by the path unnoticed except by those who are looking for them…  Little things, like a quietly sinking sun, a friendly dog, a ready smile.  We sang a little song in kindergarten which I’ve never forgotten:  ‘The world is so full of a number of things / I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.’  Simple, but such a devastating rebuke to the complaining heart.  I am impressed with the joy that is ours in Christ, so that heaven above and earth below become brighter and fairer.”

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James 1:17  —  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Psalm 9:1  —  I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.

Psalm 19:1  —  The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

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When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

–Johnson Oatman, Jr.  1897

586) What Are You Looking At? (part two)

    Jealousy 

     JEALOUSY:  It starts early

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     (…continued)  A man was complaining to his neighbor about his bad luck in his business and finances.  He was wondering why he could not be as lucky and as well off as their other neighbor down the street who had been extremely successful and seemed to have it made.  The other man said simply, “I know very well that man, and I know about his hidden cares and burdens, and I can assure you  that you would not want to trade places with him.  You might want to trade bank accounts, but I know you would not want to trade everything.”  We all get our own mixed bags of blessings and woes, and if we knew the whole story of everyone else, we would not be so quick to envy.

     According to the Bible we are not born inherently good, and, we are not born as blank slates as some psychologists have believed.  Rather, says the Bible, we are sinful from our mother’s womb; we are born selfish and turned in on ourselves.  There are few areas where this is more obvious than this whole matter of jealousy– of looking not at what you have with gratitude, but in looking at what someone else has with envy.  If you put two small children into a room full of toys, nine times out of ten what toy is that each child wants?  They want whatever it is that the other child has.  Children must be taught to share because sharing does not come naturally.  The envy and selfishness is what comes naturally.  You do not have to teach a child to be jealous.

     This matter is so important that God dedicated two of the ten commandments to it.  “Thou shalt not covet” are the first words of the ninth and tenth commandments.  ‘Coveting’ is desire with a wicked twist to it, desire that is not satisfied with one has, desire that is resentful about another’s good fortune, desire that might even scheme to hurt another.  The farmer in the parable I began with (EmailMeditation #585) was granted three incredible wishes, but he ruined everything by coveting.

     “How is your wife,” said one man to another.  “Compared to what?” said the other man in the familiar comeback.  Meant to be humorous, the reply illustrates the point.  How should one make such a comparison?  Compared to Marilyn Monroe, the comparison would come out one way; compared to Mother Teresa, the comparison would turn out quite another way.  Basic to any sort of evaluation is the question of what standard one chooses to use, and this is certainly true in comparing our blessings in life with other people, as we think about whether or not life has been fair to us.

     The issue is always, ‘compared to what?’  In the parable, if the farmer compared his wealth to what he had at the beginning, before the angel of God came to him, he certainly had reason to rejoice.  What someone else did or did not receive should have certainly been secondary to the fact that out of nowhere he was greatly blessed.  It was only when he compared what he had to what his neighbor had that his rejoicing turned into resentment.

     This is the crucial issue for all of us as we examine the circumstances of our own lives.  The place to start is by asking what we had before God entered the picture– and of course God entered the picture at the very beginning to give us life itself.  Before that we had nothing at all.  As long as we stay focused on where we began and realize that life itself is a gift and birth itself is a sheer windfall for everyone of us, then a spirit of astonishment and gratitude will never leave us.  Before you complain to the Dealer about the hand that you have been dealt in life, you need to remember that if it wasn’t for the love and grace of God, you would have not been dealt any hand at all.  When you forget that fact, and begin making comparisons not to what you had at the beginning but to what someone else has, then the gratitude turns to accusation, and faith and trust disappear.  The ‘amazing grace’ of God isn’t just that your sins have been forgiven.  Everything you have and everything you are, including the fact that you were even born, comes by grace of God.  There is no other source of anything.

     German preacher Helmut Thielicke was right when he said, “The goodness of God can never been seen through jealous eyes, for this involves looking in the wrong direction for what is most important.  The goodness of God is seen only through the eyes of gratitude.”

     So what are you looking at?– your neighbors’ blessings, with envy; or your own, with gratitude?

–Adapted from a message by Rev. John Claypool, Episcopal priest, (1931-2005)

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Proverbs 14:30  —  A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.

I Corinthians 13:4  —  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

Psalm 103:2  —  Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

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Eternal God, my sovereign Lord, I acknowledge all I am and all I have is yours.  Give me such a sense of your infinite goodness that I may return to you all possible love and obedience.

–John Wesley  (1703-1791)