Thursday, July 24, 2014

Biweekly Bits #13: Be Thankful

After writing 26 bits, I realized that there is so much I could elaborate on with each of my bits. So I decided to turn them into a biweekly (i.e. fortnightly) series, for the next year.

Be thankful. Even when life does its absolute worst, be thankful that you are alive. Be thankful that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Be thankful when you have a cold, because it means that your immune system is functional. Just be thankful. (See also #1)

In several of his letters to the various churches, Paul calls on us to be thankful. It may seem like an obvious response, but the truth is we often forget that every good thing is a gift from God (James 1:17). God constantly and consistently provides for us, and God is good even when we are not.

Sometimes, we take for granted that the sunset, the air we breathe, the stunning flower, the majestic tree, the beautiful smile, and anything and everything that we appreciate in life come from God, the maker of all things. That alone should have us singing praises and thanks to God all day, every day. God, our Creator, is worthy of our gratitude.

In addition to this, anyone who has walked with God for even a moment has seen the ways that God provides for us. Sometimes it is through meeting our material needs, or our emotional yearnings, or our spiritual shortfalls, but every day and in every way, God's providence blesses us. We may not even realise how God has moved in our lives, but we know that the Giver of all things is constantly doing things for our good. This is a reason to give thanks! God, our Provider, is worthy of our gratitude.

But there is more! Greater than the gift of each new day, is the Gift that makes the newness of each day significant. That gift is of God's Son, Jesus, who died for our sin, and rose for our justification. Jesus' death and resurrection enable us to draw near to God, cleanse us of our unrighteousness, and give us the promise of being united with God when our lives on earth are done. And best of all, this gift was free, through the grace of God (Romans 6:23). We don't do anything to earn it, and it has no limits. We should be constantly rejoicing, giving God thanks for sending His Son to atone for our depravity. God, our Redeemer, is worthy of our gratitude.

So today, whenever you think of it, give God thanks. Sing songs of thanksgiving to God. Even when you're having the most terrible day, give God thanks that you are alive to see it, and that his mercies are new each day. Constantly and consistently remind yourself to be thankful. God has given you much.

Be blessed and shine thankfully!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Hymn-ful Sundays! "Trust and Obey"

John Sammis was a minister and hymnwriter at the turn of the 20th century. The term "trust and obey" was used in the testimony of a young man at an evangelistic meeting hosted by Dwight L Moody. Daniel Towner, inspired by those words, gave them to John Sammis, who developed the lyrics for this hymn. Towner then composed the music.

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obe

Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
But is blessed if we trust and obey.

But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.

Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet.
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way.
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.

John Sammis

This song is a simple reminder of what we are called to do as followers of Christ: to trust, and to obey. And as Sammis writes, there's no other way that we will be happy in Jesus. No matter what life throws at us, we are confident in this, that God can be trusted, and that our obedience to Him does not go unnoticed or unrewarded.

Be blessed and shine, trusting and obeying!

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Biweekly Bits #12: Things Taken Away

After writing 26 bits, I realized that there is so much I could elaborate on with each of my bits. So I decided to turn them into a biweekly (i.e. fortnightly) series, for the next year.

There's a blessing in things taken away too. Most of the time, when we think of God's blessings, we think of things given to us. Blessings are indeed gifts from God, but there are times when the "gift" is something being taken away, instead of being given.

I think very often, particularly in western Christian culture, we are taught to believe that God blesses us by giving us things, whether it is by providing material things or giving us less tangible spiritual blessings. And it's true, God gives us many things which add to our lives. But when God takes something away from us, we almost without exception see it as a negative thing, a burden of the human condition to be borne. Yet we forget to consider, to remember, that sometimes the blessing is in the things that God takes away from us.

Here are four points to meditate on when it comes to the things that God may take away:

Sometimes God takes something away to give us something greater.

Sometimes God takes something away to change our perspective.

Sometimes God takes something away to change our focus.

Sometimes God takes something away because its season is over.

I remember a few years ago a friend of mine lost his job, rather unexpectedly. He was pretty upset about it, and very disappointed, but I remember saying to him that losing that particular job was a good thing, because God was taking him to new places in his ministry, and the job would have been a burden. And sure enough, my friend has been richly blessed in the years that have passed since losing that job. Every step of the way God has provided.

We always think of loss as something to be sad about, and many times it is. It's a scary thing to lose a job, or for a relationship to end, or even to lose a favourite item that you own. But sometimes, even in the midst of losing a job or an opportunity, or having a friendship or relationship end, there is joy, because the Lord has still blessed us.

Be blessed and shine with joy!

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Hymn-ful Sundays! "My Faith Looks up to Thee"

Ray Palmer, a nineteenth century teacher, pastor and writer, wrote this week's hymn, shortly after graduating from Yale University, after receiving a vision of Christ. He carried the words that he'd penned around with him for two years, before meeting Lowell Mason, who asked him if he had any hymns to include in a compilation that he was creating. Palmer gave Mason the words that he'd written, and he set them to music. Mason told Palmer that he'd do many good things in his life, but he'd be remembered best for writing this hymn.

My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine!
Now hear me while I pray, take all my guilt away,
O let me from this day be wholly Thine!

 May Thy rich grace impart
Strength to my fainting heart, my zeal inspire!
As Thou hast died for me, O may my love to Thee,
Pure warm, and changeless be, a living fire!

 While life’s dark maze I tread,
And griefs around me spread, be Thou my Guide;
Bid darkness turn to day, wipe sorrow’s tears away,
Nor let me ever stray from Thee aside.

 When ends life’s transient dream,
When death’s cold sullen stream over me roll;
Blest Savior, then in love, fear and distrust remove;
O bear me safe above, a ransomed soul!

Ray Palmer

The words of this hymn just resonate with me. There's so much of the Christian experience here: looking to the cross where Jesus died to remind us of our salvation, totally surrendering ourselves to Him, looking to God as our strength and inspiration. Here, our hymnwriter uses four short verses to articulate the depth of life in Christ: that our God is a pure, changeless, living fire; that He is with us even in our darkest days, and that when this life is over, He carries us on to glory.

Be blessed and shine looking to Jesus!

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Hymn-ful Sundays! "Great is Thy Faithfulness"

This week's hymn is by Thomas Chisholm, a Methodist minister and hymnwriter at the turn of the 20th century, who wrote it as a testimony of God's faithfulness over his lifetime.

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
there is no shadow of turning with thee;
thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
as thou hast been thou forever will be.

Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
all I have needed thy hand hath provided;
great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
sun, moon and stars in their courses above
join with all nature in manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside! 

Thomas Chisholm

Truly God is great, and greatly faithful! We are reminded of this as we awake each day to God's new mercies. In every season, God has been, and will always be faithful to us, His people. He has bestowed on us forgiveness and peace, and God never changes. What a wonderful God we serve!

Be blessed and shine in His faithfulness!

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Biweekly Bits #11: Patience is a Practice

After writing 26 bits, I realized that there is so much I could elaborate on with each of my bits. So I decided to turn them into a biweekly (i.e. fortnightly) series, for the next year.
Patience is a practice. I know you've heard "patience is a virtue" many times, and it is, but it is also a practice. It is intentionally telling yourself to take a moment, or several moments, to calm down/cool your blood/think things through before acting or reacting. You train yourself to be patient, and it is just like training as a runner: every time you can go a little bit further, and you do get to a point where you can't go on anymore. But the more you train, the further away that point becomes, until you can run one of those super-marathon things without dying (or collapsing, or just giving up). (See also #3.)
This has been one of the hard lessons of my life, as it probably is for many. We're told that patience is a virtue, and we know that it is part of the fruit of the spirit, but no one really talks about how we become patient. However, I've learned through the years that patience is intentional, and requires practice.

So, how do we practice patience? Here are three steps:

1. Pray - prayer should always be the first step. Patience is challenging, challenges require prayer to overcome them. Pray for insight into why you need patience: is it in a specific area of your life? Pray for strength to be patient despite the situation. Pray for people in your life who encourage you to be patient.

2. Put it in context - when you find your patience wearing thin, sometimes context can help. Is an extra five minutes spent waiting that important? Is it something worth stressing over? How can this be used for God's glory?

3. Place things in God's hands - when it comes to big things, sometimes we are impatient because we lack control. We think that we know when is the best time, or the exact sequence of events that would be most ideal. We don't, but God does. Trust Him to know when the time is right.

There are two big things to learn here too. First, is that patience doesn't make you a pushover. Because you are patient doesn't mean that you allow others to take advantage of your time or your life. What is more important is that your life is prioritised differently. As a matter of fact, patience is impossible without God's insight into what takes precedence.

The second thing is that being patient when waiting for some things to happen will help us be content with what is happening. Our contentment comes from confidence that God is working, even when it seems like nothing is happening. Patience in the long wait gives us the chance to enjoy the journey, instead of just anticipating the destination.

So, let us make a practice of patience, with the little things, like waiting in line, and with the big things, like waiting for God to fulfil a promise to us. The patience is worth the wait.

Be blessed and shine with patience!