THE PLAIN TRUTH ABOUT GIVING THANKS

By Lisa Huddleston

“Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18).

Tucked away in a list of exhortations and blessings to the church of the Thessalonians is this simple little command:  “Give thanks in everything.”  Which would be all fine and good if “everything” didn’t sometimes include some really rotten things.  Does this really mean I should give thanks when my dog dies?  When I have the flu?  When I get a flat tire?  When my bills aren’t paid?  When my friends get angry?  When there’s conflict at church?  When really terrible things come my way?  May I humbly say in response, “Heck no!”  And “Heck yes!”

No way I’m going to feel thankful for any of those things I listed above.  They are not good things.  In fact, I’d have to be more than a little crazy to be really thankful for any of them.  So what in the world was Paul talking about?

This is the place where I could slip into my “Super Christian” persona and write that even though bad things happen to good people, we can still be thankful that God is always with us and that He can use all things, even the bad ones, to shape us and to build our characters.  But, honestly, does that really make you feel thankful about experiencing negative, even at times really evil, things?  I didn’t think so.  Sometimes rotten things happen, and you just feel rotten.

But then—oh boy, here it comes—you remember Him.  Yes, by “Him” I mean Jesus.  At least that seems to be how it happens to me.  I can be in the middle of some really bad stuff.  I can feel angry and selfish and determined not to care about anyone but myself.  I can even self-righteously pontificate to anyone who will listen about what I do and don’t deserve.  And suddenly, right then and there, I remember Him.  One minute I’m ranting and the next I think of Jesus.   He suffered truly horrible things.  Things that He didn’t deserve, that He didn’t have to experience, and that He could have simply stopped and walked away from.  But He chose instead to go through them for me.  And that remembrance humbles me and causes me to give thanks—even in the midst of hard things.  Because He chose me, I can choose to give thanks despite my feelings and despite my situations.  Incredible!

Yes.  I hate to admit it, but Paul was right.  (Go figure.)  Give thanks in everything.  In the good times, of course, but even in the bad.  He is trustworthy.  He knows how we feel.  And He has a plan for each one of us—which includes whatever we are going through today.

Give thanks with a grateful heart; Give thanks to the Holy One;

Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son.

–“Give Thanks,” Henry Smith

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NO PLACE LIKE HOME

By Lisa Huddleston

“God provides homes for those who are deserted” (Psalm 68:6, HCSB.)

When I was a little girl, I always looked forward to the once-a-year showing of “The Wizard of Oz” on television.  It wasn’t until a girlfriend asked me to watch it at her house one night that I realized that it went from black-and-white to color when Dorothy entered Oz, but I loved it either way.  I loved the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion and even the creaky Tin Man.  I loved Dorothy and her little dog, Toto, too.  I loved those creepy, flying monkeys that always scared the bejeebers out of me, and I loved when the Wicked Witch melted.  But most of all, I loved it when Dorothy finally found her way home.  She clicked the heels of her ruby red slippers together and said, “There’s no place like home …  There’s no place like home … ,” until she woke up in her own little, black-and-white bed surrounded by all those people who loved her.  It always made me cry.  She was back where she belonged, and she finally knew and appreciated it.  It didn’t get any better than that.

Isn’t that the way it is for most of us?  We sometimes don’t take the time to appreciate the black-and-white, mundane, but astoundingly gracious, blessings in our lives.  We are always on the lookout for the Technicolor, out-of-the-ordinary existence of Oz.  So much so that we take for granted the homes in which God has placed us.  Yes, God provides our homes.  It sounds so simple, but it is deeply profound.  Another translation of this same verse says, “God sets the lonely in families” (NIV).  Isn’t that intense?  He sets us in families.  He provides us with homes.  He doesn’t leave us lonely or deserted, but He gives us what we need.  A place to belong.  A place to find love.

For the month of November, our church has a strange, whimsical, little tree set up in the corner of our Welcome Center.  On its top is a hand-painted, wooden sign that reads, “Give Thanks,” and placed on a table next to the tree is a basket filled with construction paper leaves and a few markers.  The church family has been asked to take some leaves, write down the blessings for which they want to give thanks, and tie them with yarn to the brown, wire branches.  I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to pause and meditate upon my blessings, but I’ve also been touched and encouraged by reading what others have written.  Sweet, ordinary little things that are truly enormous in the joy they bring:  friends, family, church, a beautiful fall, a husband, a wife, sweet children, even lipstick!  Tiny, sometimes overlooked joys, but the deepest and richest provisions from our Father who knows and desires to meet our every need.

There really is no place like home—the home that God has provided for us this very day and the home that Jesus has gone ahead to prepare for us.  What are you thankful for right now?  What ordinary thing has God provided to give you an extraordinary blessing?  Thank Him today and every day.  There’s no place like home!

Come, ye thankful people, come, Raise the song of harvest home!

All is safely gathered in, Ere the winter storms begin;

God, our Maker, doth provide For our wants to be supplied:

Come to God’s own temple, come, Raise the song of harvest home.

–“Come, Ye Thankful People, Come,” Henry Alford

HYMN OF PRAISE

By Lisa Huddleston

“For the beauty of the earth, For the glory of the skies, For the love which from our birth Over and around us lies:  Lord of all, to Thee we raise This our hymn of grateful praise.”    –Folliott S. Pierpoint

O how I love the fall!  The coolness of the breeze.  The glory of the leaves.  Yes … I could get downright poetic about it.  It is my all-time, hands-down, favorite time of year.  And not just for the beauty it displays, but also for the potent illustration it paints.  Every year, as green summer blazes and then fades to grey winter, fall reminds me of what has been.  And I savor the melancholy remembrance.  The people I have loved and who have powerfully loved me.  The places I have left behind both by choice or circumstance.  The memories crowd into my head in ghostly whispers and engulf me in their smoky arms.  Wrapped up in the past and recognizing that it is also my future, fall shows me how beautiful dying can be.

Not meaning to be morbid, but death is what fall foreshadows.  It is the final glory of the leafy world around us.  Not yet gone.  Not dead yet, but dying.  And powerfully, passionately lovely.  And, Lord, it reminds me of You.  You who died to all that was rightfully Yours.  You who took on the form of servant in order to wash me clean.  You who suffered as the winds of hate stripped Your glory from You … almost yet not quite.  You who in death delivered blazing orange and yellow victory.

Yes, the beauty is in the dying.  In the willingness to give yourself over wholeheartedly and without any reserve.  Like the golden woods surrounding my home.  Blazing to die.  Flashing in brilliant, beautiful sacrifice.  Giving it all to the end.  Sadly, it is not in me to die with such glory.  Not me.  I am one who fights for her rights.  Who doesn’t like to lose.  Who hates to wash smelly feet and reviles suffering.  Who hangs on for dear life. 

But, the beauty is in the dying.  Dying to my selfishness.  Dying to my pride and arrogance.  In bright and blazing reds and yellows.  Dying even to my petty preferences that often go unnoticed.  My favorites, my comforts, my familiars.  Even they must die in star-like spurts of aster blues and purples.  All must go and give way to the grey death of winter.  And I don’t want to die.

Yet, I hear Your whispered words of love.  “Come on, sweet girl.  It’s not so bad.  Give up and let go.  Let Me light you up like the fall!”  So I smile and take one timid step and then another.  “Oh, please, catch me when I fall.”  And falling I fall … into the arms of God.  Slowly.  Season after season.  Little by little.  Moving ever closer to His glory and the blazing, beautiful surrender of the fall.

“For the wonder of each hour Of the day and of the night, Hill and vale and tree and flower, Sun and moon and stars of light:  Lord of all, to Thee we raise This our hymn of grateful praise.”