I choose thankfulness.

I live in a cynical and sarcastic world.  It is easy for me to complain about life.  I can look outside at the beautiful world and complain about the cold temperature.  I turn on the news and grow frustrated at the depressing accounts.  It is a short week thus I wake up irritated at how much I have to do in a few short days.  Without thinking twice I can tear another person down in my mind if not verbally to someone else.  Standing in line at the store I grow impatient because the clerk is taking a little too long helping a person at the register.  Yes, it is easy to complain about life.  So, this week I am going to choose to be thankful.

I am thankful for the beautiful blanket of snow that reminds me of God’s forgiveness.  I am thankful that I have a nice warm house to enjoy this blanket.  I am thankful I can romp around in the snow making snow angels and having a snow ball fight with my kids.  I am thankful that God is creative to provide diverse seasons.  I am thankful at the artistic display of snow clutching to tree branches as if they are outlined by a painter.

I am thankful for work.  I wake up with numerous possibilities each day.  I have the opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life.  I can be productive in life.  I can come home tonight and feel I have accomplished something.  And this job helps me provide for my family.  I am thankful for hands to work and a mind to think.  I am thankful that I have gifts, abilities, and experiences that are useful in life.

I am thankful for family.  I am surrounded by people who genuinely love me.  I have shared experiences that frame beautiful memories for me.  I can come home knowing that I am loved and supported.  I have people to enjoy a meal with this week.  I can laugh, debate, discuss, and console those close to me.  I always have someone I can call in the midst of a pinch.  Yes, I am thankful for my family.  And, most of all, I am thankful for a wife to have shared all of life with for the past twenty years!

I am thankful for rest.  It is a short week; however, I have the chance to sit back, enjoy some food, play games with my family, and take a snooze on the couch.  Rest is good.  I am thankful that I have a couple of days to do just that. I am certainly going to be thankful for time to do nothing, and maybe even take in a football game.

I am thankful for Christ.  He promises to always be with me regardless of the pain or difficulty.  I have the peace that transcends all understanding – not a fleeting high but something durable.  God’s abundant grace sustains me, especially when I mess up.  I have the hope of everlasting life.  There is something beyond this world.  I am truly thankful for Jesus.

I have a choice.  And this week I choose to be thankful!

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances;  for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

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Grieving the Violence in Paris and Everywhere

Our hearts are rattled by the terrorist attacks in Paris.  I cannot imagine the grief parents are experiencing at the realization they will not hug their children again.  The carnage of the concert hall prompts my eyes to turn away when the muted images are shown on the news.  People walking merrily through the streets of Paris found their lives turned upside down in a moment last Friday night.  The city will never be the same again.  France needs our prayers.  Our hearts should in fact weep for Paris.

There is tremendous beauty that is emerging as a result of this tragedy.  People are responding with love and care.  A renewed and global solidarity with the people of France is on display captured by the phrase, “We are all Parisians.”  A shocking tragedy such as this reminds us that we are all humans who need to come together at such times.

One reason the terrorist attacks cut our hearts is that we can see ourselves in those scenes.  It could be us enjoying a meal at a street side café.  It could be us watching a soccer match.  It could be us dancing at a concert.  It is a typical modern city that we can see ourselves visiting on any given day.  It creates anxiety in our hearts because it is too close to home.  I wonder if this is in part one of the reasons for our concern.

I ask this probing question because there was not the same reaction to a similar terrorist attack on April 2 that claimed the lives of 147 people at Garissa University College in Kenya.  In fact, I don’t remember hearing much news coverage on it.  Yet, they are equally tragic.  However, I wonder why one arouses an outpouring of grief while the other one does not.  To be honest, I question why my own heart is not moved as much by terrorism in Africa.  Is it possible that my response is somewhat related to my identification with the city rather than concern over the violence itself?

Reading the Chicago Tribune on Sunday, my mind was drawn to reports on the tragic murder of a 9 year old boy by the name of Tyshawn Lee.  He was killed November 2 at 4:15 pm in Chicago.  Tyshawn was the victim of gang violence in the city I call my home.  As of November 16, there have been 415 shooting deaths in Chicago.  This does not include the suburbs or surrounding neighborhoods.  I don’t think twice about traveling downtown.  I enjoy seeing the sights.  It is great city.  Yet, why don’t I become grieved when I think about my own city.  Is it because the neighborhoods where the violence occurs do not resemble my suburban one?

Granted, there is something to be said for the fact that our emotions are peaked because we can picture ourselves in those scenes.  Yet, I have to honestly ask myself whether it is strictly about the violence.  Because if that was the case, should I not be as equally outraged and grieved at violence everywhere whether it is in the Third World or the Inner City?  Most definitely, Paris needs our prayers.  Yet, so does Kenya and Chicago.  For while we might not see ourselves in those locations; nonetheless, it is home for someone who is equally victimized by acts of terror.  So the events of Paris have challenged me as a believer – to grieve for the violence in France but also to grow more conscious regarding the taking of human life wherever I see it.  God grieves in each of these places; so should we.  So should I.

 

 

Life is too short

Life is too short to squander it away.  Distractions abound that bring absolutely no satisfaction to my day.  Let someone else watch hours of TV with no meaningful connection with those that matter in his life.  Let someone else indulge in some sinful habit that only produces guilt and depression.  No, life is too short for such trivial pursuits.

Life is too short to second guess decisions.  It is easy to think about the road not taken when life is hard.  Yet, life has its speed bumps.  There is no perfectly smooth ride.  Let someone else sit back and wonder how life would be different if he would have chosen one career path over another.  Let someone else wrestle tirelessly over a decision made last week.  No, life is too short to live in the rearview mirror.

Life is too short to hang onto bitterness.  I have been hurt by people.  There was a time in my life where I did not expect it.  Now, I anticipate such times.  To be honest, there are times I have hurt other people.  Yet, the bitterness gets me nowhere.  Let someone else keep bringing up the past.  Let someone else be guarded out of fear of being hurt.  Let someone else plot evil in their mind over a broken relationship.  No, life is too short to fume with emotion.

Life is too short to live in fear.  I gravitate toward security the older I get in life.  I am a little less eager for adventure and quicker to grab onto the known.  Change is scary.  Yet, it should not paralyze.  Let someone else worry about the future.  Let someone else stay in the slow lane.  No, life is too short to only be comfortable.

Life is too short to complain.  I can easily find something negative in my life.  I can scowl at the person driving too slow in front of me.  I can grow agitated because the clerk is spending too much time with the person in front of me.  Frustration can eat at me because I have so much to do.  What does it accomplish?  Nothing.  Let someone else turn sour in life.  Let someone else become an old curmudgeon.  Let someone else see the pain.  No, life is too short to not be thankful.

Life is too short to put others down.  There is always something I can find to cut someone else if I disagree with the person.  I can even speak spiritually about someone else’s needs simply as a way to elevate myself.  Yet, the pride from that moment lasts but a second.  Let someone else tear others down for a short-lived boost to one’s ego.  Let someone else sabotage relationships because of jealousy.  Let someone else be toxic.  No, life is too short to not nurture relationships.

Life is short to beat myself up.  I can look in the mirror and find countless ways to tear my abilities down.  I can question my worth.  I can wallow in the failures that suck purpose out of my life.  Or, I can forgive myself.  I can extend grace to myself.  Let someone else hate oneself.  Let someone else belittle his accomplishments.  Let someone self spiral down because of a normal failure.  No, life is too short to dismiss forgiveness.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

An image that shook my mind…

Certain images are hard to shake from your mind.  It causes an emotional reaction.  It kicks around your head leaving your conscience unsettled.  I have had several images like that recently.  A father holding his lifeless son after they attempted to flee Syria caused my heart to break.   Fictitious yet certainly realistic scenes from the new movie Beasts of No Nation that chronicle the horrors of child soldiers in West Africa shook my soul.  And, the following image that I saw on Facebook today highlighting the conditions that many children face around the world.  I am not certain whether this image is real or not.  It doesn’t really matter.  The situation is most certainly a reality for many children.

image 1

How do you emotionally respond to such an image?  It should sadden us.  It should challenge us.  It should cause us to want to respond.  There are many ways in which we can respond.  We can donate towards a relief fund that helps those in need.  We can sponsor a child through Compassion International.  As a family, we sponsor a girl in Columbia who is at risk to the drug trade.  It brings us great joy!  You can take some time to donate your resources or time at a local food pantry or homeless ministry.  Granted our efforts are only a drop in the sea of need that exists around the world.  Yet, it helps!  It helps one child!

It should prompt some action.  It should cause a genuine response to the needs of the world.  The response should not be a token handout to soothe our guilt but rather a genuine heartfelt compassion regardless of the amount.  It will certainly put our holiday shopping in perspective.

It should prompt thankfulness.  In a few weeks we celebrate God’s blessings to us as a nation.  Most of us will sit around a table with a feast before our eyes.  We will stuff ourselves with our bounty.   It is good to take time to celebrate blessings.  We should not feel guilty for God’s provision to us.  But, we should be thankful – deeply thankful.  We should be reminded at how blessed we are in this country, blessings that a majority of the world envies.

It should prompt a changed perspective.  We become so consumed with the here and now that we forget the state of millions of people around the world.  We quickly complain about slights and inconveniences.  We survive the day and then fall into bed for the night – a comfortable, warm, clean bed.  Yes, we have needs but they pale in comparison to many people.  As we approach the holiday season, let us not simply see an image and gloss over it.  Let it impact us – deeply and genuinely.