7 Attitudes that Hinder from being Thankful

Have you ever wondered where thankfulness comes from? Does it come from having things like health, a spouse, a family, or a great career? Does it come from owning a big home or a  fast car? Most would agree that if thankfulness came from these things, then un-thankfulness would also come from not having these things. A materialistic culture might make such assumptions, but the meaning goes deeper than the matter that passes through our hands.

I am convinced that both thankfulness and un-thankfulness are ways of thinking. Both are a choice of how we see God and the world.  Both can be fostered or inhibited.

Here are 7 attitudes that can hinder us from being thankful:

1. Being possessed by our possessions – Greed  

The “stuff” God allows through our hands is the test of whether or not that “stuff” will have us, or whether we can just have “stuff”. The constant drive for more in a materialistic culture will keep us in a constant unthankful state because we never attain what we think will make us happy. Jesus warned against being defined by “stuff”:

And He said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Luke 12:15

2. Fixating on the past.   

Some are stuck in a cycle of time. They cannot be happy today because of happened yesterday. Psychologists call this "rumination. It’s when cows chew on their cud, chomping over and over without swallowing. Psychologists say that    

when people ruminate, “they repeat negative thoughts over and over, dwelling on something either in the past or the present” (Psychology Today).

Un-thankfulness says, “Look at all the bad things that have happened to me all these years”, but thankfulness says, “It’s been rough but look at what God has done through it”. Paul, not fixating on his prison cell, said:   “I know that this shall work to my salvation”.  

3. Playing the comparison game.

We compare our looks, our bodies, our incomes, our families, our spouses, our homes, and our careers with others. We see a “perfectly” built person on TV and instantly (to our dismay) match ourselves up.

The quickest way to have a bad day is to compare yourself to others. It is the quickest way to feel depressed, inadequate or a failure. Comparing ourselves only embraces a spectral fantasy. In fact, we cannot imagine a hero without varnishing over their flaws and imperfections. Thankfulness however embraces our reality as is with gratefulness and says along with the Psalmist,

I am fearfully and wonderfully made” Psalm 139:14

4. Dwelling on the negative.   

It has been said:

“If you realized how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a negative thought.”  (Peace Pilgrim quotes).

When has focusing on the negative ever helped you in any way? Dwelling on the negative drains every part of you, but thankfulness creates spiritual vitality and lifts you up in every way. God gives us life-giving things to dwell on in these words:

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Philippians 4:8

5. Looking only at what you don't have.     

We tend to measure our lives by lack - what we don’t have - Lack of having the perfect job, people’s praise, lack of the things we want, or relationships. We believe that if we don’t have these things, we don’t really have anything. We equate blessing with the amount of "things" we have so that when we lose X, we lose everything. This is why Hebrews tells us:

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Hebrews 13:5   

6. Believing things that are not true.   

“What did he/she mean by that”?. “Did you see how he looked at me”? “The doctor is going to give me the worst case scenario”! “How can God love me if I went through that that situation?”. These outlooks underline the fact that there is what really happened, and then there is the story we tell ourselves.

Did you know that there is a connection between un-thankfulness and believing untruths?  Romans connects these words:

"Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened”
Romans 1:21,26-27

When we are unthankful, it opens the door to thankless theories in our head. But true thankfulness always points you back to God and like the Psalmist insists:

“I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living”. 
Psalm 27:13

7. The Anxieties of Life   

When something intense happens – When someone says something hurtful - An interaction at work- Bad news or tragedy - These have the effect of dropping red dye in a glass of water. Everything becomes clouded.  The Word calls this “the cares of this world that choke out the Word”. Any confident thinking or attitudes become strangled out of you. But Paul gives us hope in his letter to the Philippians:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Philippians 4:6  

It has been observed that every letter Paul wrote except for Galatians , 1st Timothy and Titus contained thanksgiving in some way. No other writer opens with thanksgiving the way Paul did. So could it be that it wasn’t the miracles Paul did, the sufferings of being nearly stoned to death more than once, shipwrecked, or beatings that made Paul great. It was Paul’s mindset of gratitude in any circumstance.


Shadows and Substance

    Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4  


Filling in the blanks.

My first introduction to fear as a boy was when I mistook a bathrobe hanging on the back of the door for a hooded villain. It seemed that every time I ducked under the blanket awaiting my doom and stole a furtive peek, the villain grew in size. Unbeknownst to me at that age was the mind’s ability to exaggerate fear. Our minds have an incredible penchant for filling in the blanks created by our obscured sight. Our imaginations can draw fatal conclusions from shadow-skewed scenes giving the insubstantial more credence than it deserves. These shadows stalk us in our daily journey as we navigate relationships, experience tragic events, face work-place issues,  juggle change and loss, and on the list goes.  These experiences can cast threatening silhouettes that temp our minds to complete the vague picture in a pessimistic light. We blow up out-of-context words a coworker said at the factory.  We suffer 1,000 death scenarios of what we will do after a life-debilitating illness or divorce.  Or maybe we run ahead of a doctor’s call for tests with wild fantasies of what it could mean.

These profound mental and emotional reactions often occur because what we saw became exaggerated by shadows.  Shadows cast our perceptions in a cold and menacing light. They give illusory power to mundane things, tricking our minds time and time again.


Are we afraid of a cause or an effect?

In “the valley of the shadow of death”, shadows represent the darkest, scariest places we encounter - Spiritual places where you can’t see your hand in front of your face - Tangible darkness that you can feel. Shadows obscure sight, exaggerate the threat, and create unwarranted anxiety.  Shadows make substantial that which was never meant to have substance.  Because of shadows, what began as a seed-thought sprouted into a monstrous apparition.  But how much of our fears are unfounded because we have been reacting to an effect (shadow) instead of a substantial cause?  Remember the story of David and Goliath? David’s people Israel were unnerved by the giant who was described as 9½ foot tall fully armored foe. A detailed description is given in I Samuel 17. After processing the threat, Israel’s mind did the rest, resulting in panic and cowardice. I call this “The Goliath Syndrome”. The effect he had on everyone surpassed the cause. This is proven when David - a teenager - killed him with a small stone, breaking the enchantment. The effect is only greater than its cause because our minds make is so.

The Shadow Chaser

One of the most comforting phrases in Psalm 23 is about what the shepherd does in the valley of the shadow of death for those who trust Him. This is the comfort they receive:  “For you are with me”.  Only light can dispel the shadows.  Through the Shepherd’s presence, we see shadows for what they really are.  The Wizard of Oz's curtain is drawn back and we realize how hollow the threat was. We see the legend our minds created and are left with the real picture. But even though the true picture may seem bleak, it’s always better to have light and reality than shadow and myth. God is the shadow chaser. He pulls back the gloom and lets in the light, chasing away the things we thought had substance. The beauty of this scene is that when we discern the reality for what it truly is, we discover along with David , “for You are with me”.    






Everyone talks to themselves.

Remember Ralph Kramden from the “Honeymooners”? He was notorious for having conversations with himself that were usually prompted by a fight he’d had with his wife Alice. Before making up, Ralph would always have a complete dialogue with himself, including hand gestures and pleading faces that always made the scene hysterical to watch. Could it be that we laughed because we identified with Ralph - because he mirrored to us the times we’ve had full interchanges with ourselves when dressing for work or standing in front of the mirror?

What Do You Say When You Talk To Yourself?

Talking to ourselves is no big deal - It’s what we are saying that matters.

“The most important conversation in your life is what you say when you talk to yourself.”
Richard Dobbins.

What I mean when I say “Talk to yourself”.

When I say “talk to yourself”,  I don’t mean chanting a mantra some guru gives a person to repeat, ensuring riches and success. I mean when you look in the mirror, drive in your car, make breakfast, or dig up your garden - what are you saying?

I also don’t mean the self-conversations that are part of our daily rituals, like errands I need to run, who gets picked up when, etc . . . But I mean the conversations you have about your life - Those conversations can have powerful impact one way or another. What you say about yourself can be healing or condemning, hopeful or hopeless, angry or forgiving, open a door to temptation, or closing it. Your own self-words can make or break your day, lead you to focus or become discouraged.

This is why someone once said “Take the initiative in speaking to yourself because if you don’t, SELF will speak back to you and you won’t like what it says”. Our speaking can also be wordless because our minds can process many times faster than our mouths. Is it any wonder why Peter charges us to “gird the loins of your mind”. Think of how much damage can occur in just 15 seconds of harmful mental conversation.

When I was younger, I used to worry about what others said about me, but now I am more concerned about what I say about me. This is why it’s important to run these conversations by someone who loves you because if the only feedback you have is inside your head, than you are in trouble. Have you ever seen someone’s self-talk in the news after they have committed suicide and left a note . . . What would it had been like if they only had someone to help them with the toxic self-talk coming out of their mouths? 

Why self-conversations are important.

Self-conversations are important because they tell a lot about where we are. 

Lucifer’s conversation with himself showed his lust for power (Isaiah 14:13–14). A rich man’s conversation with himself showed his downfall as greed (Luke 12:16–19). A Persian king’s conversation with himself exposed the hubris of self-sufficiency (Daniel 4:30).  A sick women’s self–conversation revealed hope (Matthew 9:21).


Our past experiences can be are a major source of present self-talk.

What are you telling yourself about your life - your past? Someone recently told me that how they viewed their father was far different from how their mother viewed him. This person viewed their father as verbally abusive, never affirming etc. - while their mother saw him as wonderful, warm, and a good provider.

This is telling of how we get so much of our present conversation from our past experiences, and that the longer we live, the more we can revise the past.

My wife’s family dog while growing up was Rex – who was described as a massive, intimidating German Shepherd. When I saw an old, crinkled snapshot of Rex, he looked more like a small scrawny mutt. Then again, this fiction was spun by my wife when she was six. Two people can experience the same event 30 years ago and tell two vastly different accounts. (Just attend an alumni event and you will see what I mean!).

In a negative way, our self-conversation can emanate from past distorted technicolor images and become verbalized into toxic words.

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.
Matthew 12:34–35

The only way to change the bad treasure.

Change the conversation. Charles Finney once said that “Only truth can cast out error”.

Our past may blur into an uncertain cataract of blended pictures, but God’s Word never changes. We must therefore store it in our hearts in order to reset our conversation. It’s impossible to deposit the Word in your heart and it not affect your self-talk!

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.
Psalm 119:11

In fact the Bible encourages self-talk.

Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs
Ephesians 5:19–20

 “But David encouraged himself in the LORD his God.”
1 Samuel 30:6

Listen to what you are saying (for the purpose of changing) and if your words are not life-giving, challenge them. God will correct and convict us, but He will never condemn us or leave us hopeless.  


Always “On”- Have we learned to hit the pause button?

 Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to just “stop”? Why you can’t seem to get off the merry-go-round of life’s impossible schedules and demands? Such sentiments were mirrored on the cover of the September 15th issue of the Time Magazine entitled,  “Never Offline”. Technology is keeping us always on and connected. It seems that scarcely a moment goes by where our devices don’t vibrate, ring or chirp, or beep out a Facebook alert, ever prodding us to always be “on”.

Most people would agree that anything constantly in motion will eventually break down. Some call it the Law of Decay or atrophy and it is proof that nothing lasts forever. There is an ancient term used in the Scriptures that is so relevant to this modern day “always on” culture - The word is “Sabbath” and it was given to mankind in the 4th Commandment. Why would God add to the list of “Don’ts” a command to rest? Why would stopping to smell the roses be as important as not murdering or stealing?

Because Sabbath resonates with the way we and the world were created.

It says in Genesis that God created the world in six days and rested the seventh. Even the Creator of the universe who never “sleeps or slumbers” took a Sabbath indicating to us that there is more to Sabbath than just rest. It’s almost as if the world was not complete until its Builder paused and beheld it. When we stop, we are brought into equilibrium with the way we were created.

Pressing the pause button also reminds us, as Abraham Heschel puts it that, “The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else”. My identity doesn’t come from things I own or do, but from the One who created me. But how many have lost their souls to the rat race, never stopping enough to discover who they really are?

In today’s world, Sabbath is the hardest mandate to live out because overwork is seen as noble in our culture. It’s hard to receive something you didn’t hard work to earn. 

This may be a stretch for some, but I believe something deep inside us all confirms the truth of this. Here is what I mean:  Part of the Sabbath tenet says that God gave us 6 days to get it done. Picture these neat boxes of time slots against the backdrop of eternity. In these slots, we are “On”, we subdue, wrestle, control, take, produce, run, give out, and more. Into these boxes, we pour all of our energy, blood, and sweat. We become master jugglers of these spinning boxes as they turn faster and faster and pray that none fall.

These spaces however are consumed with one word, “doing” and never take into account the way we were created. All though we were created to “DO”,  as Adam and Eve worked hard tending the garden, we were also created to “BE” - That’s where hitting the pause button comes in.

Sabbath was given to prevent burnout of body, soul, and spirit. It brings things eternal into relief as we stop enough to reflect, rethink, and reenergize. This is “being

We must pause long enough to put down the spinning boxes that enslave us to time and nurture the things that time management could never satisfy – our souls . . . thus, The Sabbath was given.  

I have spoken with people who have endured life altering experiences such as traumatic events, losses, or near-death encounters. They often speak of how they were jarred out of a complacent-wrong focus and into a moment of clarity now seeing how unimportant those spinning boxes in time are, how few they have left, and how absurd they look against the backdrop of eternity.

But we  needn't learn these lessons in such a dramatic way.  We can chose to stop and create sacred spaces in time. The fact is, there will never be enough hours to get it done, so why not hit the pause button and renew, rethink, and reflect?

There’s an old story of two lumberjacks. One worked all day non-stop. The other lumberjack stopped and took multiple breaks, including a relaxing lunch. "I don't get it," the nonstop lumberjack said. "Every time I checked, you were taking a rest, yet you chopped more wood than I did." "But you didn't notice," said the winning woodsman, "that I was sharpening my ax when I sat down to rest."                 


What it is about religion that attracts you?

There is an unspoken longing inside us all that is drawn to the authentic and will not settle for empty substitutes. We don’t want the flashy looking replica you can purchase on any street corner, we want the genuine.

 People are drawn to Christianity for many reasons. Some people seek absolution, others peace, and yet others, a sense of belonging. Some may even find comfort surrounded by beautiful stained glass. In our quest however, we can become attracted to Christianity for more surface reasons.

Theologian Gordon Fee once said,

“The proper aim of all true theology is doxology. Theology that does not begin and end in worship is not biblical at all, but is rather the product of western philosophy.”

This is a very poetic way of defining worship - not just a posture, but a response to who God is and His heart for the world.

Christianity has many alluring traits - things like the illusion of a refined lifestyle, its own “Christianese” language, music, and political view. It even has a squeaky clean dating site that helps The Almighty in finding people their mate.

Within our brand of Christianity, it’s easy to become victims to what attracts us to this lifestyle.  Even the “how-to approach” to preaching and study can pull us in as we search for solutions to our problems, as God stands by, being seen but not heard.

Though there is nothing inherently wrong with these things by themselves, unless they lead to “Doxology”, where we become more like Christ, they serve only as high moralism - Cultural conservative standards with God inserted only as a footnote. Being more like Christ means that we think like Him, act like, and respond the way Jesus responds because He is the center of our lives, not homogenized Christianity.

The Pharisees were masters of morality, but did not recognize nor follow Jesus as the Savior of the world. Their standards (which was the engine of their religion) where so stringent that Peter described them as "a yoke people could not bear".   Acts 15:10

I love great worship music - melodies that brings you into God’s presence - but have we become too attracted to the latest styles of worship? People can even become attracted to conservative values like anti-abortion or prayer in schools and miss the agreed-upon maxim in the Westminster confession, "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever".

The latest sounds, standards, styles, methods, and political views, can become the epicenter of our religion, turning Christ into a watermark that just sits in the background.

 Here’s a test:  If we took away all our music and worship riggings, our staunch political convictions, our styles and methods, what would we have left? Would we have “Doxology” without these things? Would we be in love with Jesus and have God's heart for the lost without all of the props?


The "cult" of the Presence


You’ve heard of  “The Cult of Personality”? A cult of personality is when an individual or people create an idealized and heroic public image of something or someone and then worship it. 

There is also what I call “ The Cult of the Presence”.  It is when we hold an idealized, unrealistic image of God that when lived out in this view, always ends in disillusionment and idolatry. In this view, God ceases to become a Person and becomes a thing, to be utilized and worshiped only for what He can do.

This can be found in the sad story of the day Israel lost the Ark of the Covenant - the sacred chest where God’s Presence rested as a sign that He was with His people.

In this incident, there was a puzzling disconnect between God and His presence - Between who He is and what He can do for us.

When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.” 1 Samuel 4:3.  

Notice that to the elders, God was a resource, not a relationship - something to be wielded like a Spear of Destiny. God’s presence had become a spiritual “Rabbit’s foot”, a “Cosmic Santa”, a good luck charm to be brought out only when you have bad luck or hit bottom.

I would suggest four ways we can know if God’s presence has become a “Cult of Presence” to us.

Used, not Engaged

When God is seen not as a friend but a resource, His presence becomes something we control at whim. A talisman we use to confront evil and change our outcome. It is the proverbial looking at God’s hand but not His heart where God is seen no differently than a doctor, lawyer, or mechanic who offers services when needed but we don’t really know the One offering the service. We can live in proximity to His promises and not His presence.  His Word can become the fell sword we employ at need without knowing Him of who the Scriptures testify as “Christ” John 5:39. 

Therapy, not Intimacy

Taking from God only the practical things we need: There are so many “How To’s” of Christianity being taught today - How to raise a better family, be a better leader, improve your marriage. We know that these things are important in our faith, but they should never take precedence over knowing Him intimately. If having an intimate relationship with God is not at the center of the “how tos”, then we are no more than cultured conservatives. As far as Paul was concerned, knowing God was THE most important thing a believer could do. Everything else could burn (Philippians 3:10-1).

 Absolution, not Purity

When we use God’s presence “culticly”, there is a tendency towards excessive liberty. We make up the rules because there are no rules, after all, say some “The moral law is annulled in Christ”. Some of the modern extreme grace teachings are nothing more than the repackaged antinomianism (lawlessness) that the church has grappled with for centuries. Liberty becomes distorted into license, grace becomes disgrace, and all in the name of His presence. Yet it is impossible to be with someone and not resemble them in time. The theologian as well said, “Those who are saved, act like it” (Jude 1:4).

Public Service, not Divine Encounter

There are some whose whole religion consists of curing society’s ills with the occasional name of God thrown in. They run and promote amazing programs that help the poor and needy. We know that the world is in dire need of these things, and part of God’s plan entails addressing the human condition. These great sacrifices however should never substitute for encountering the living God.

Like Samson who wanted God’s power, but not His presence, he only sought to affect  the world around him with His muscle, but didn’t want relationship. God as the divine subject becomes a divine object. This is why many years earlier the golden calf incident didn’t work out with Israel.

 Matthew 26:11states, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have Me”.

So let’s spend time in His presence. Every victory, every breakthrough, every good work, and every hope is a result of being with God. Nothing else we do will matter if He is not the centerpiece.




Knowing God by Ear

When I was in college, my English professor told me something I never forgot: “You know English by ear”.  I didn’t know what she meant until I realized that even though I had grown up in the inner city speaking English as my first language, for whatever reason, I had learned it by hearing it but didn’t really know the grammar behind it.

Job was stricken by a similar realization when he encountered the living God.

I've heard You with my ears; and now I've seen You with my eyes.
Job 42:5

It is possible to know God with our ears, but not with our eyes. We can know God by traditions, doctrine, Bible knowledge, scholarship, catechisms, Christian culture, and experiences and yet never really see Him.

When I use the word “see”, I do not mean visual confirmation with our physical eyes, but an inner vision of the soul - The kind of revelation that Abraham, David, and Elijah lived from - One that knows Him beyond the five senses - Beyond empirical proof.

This is counterintuitive to knowing something by the senses - In this case, by “ear”.  We can study the sounds and movements of religious culture and still be no closer to knowing God than finding what happened to Amelia Earhart.

Isaiah thought he knew God thoroughly until he saw Him.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up;  and the train of His robe filled the temple.
Isaiah 6:1

One way to know you have had a vision of God is when you see yourself not in the light of a Smartphone “selfie”, or biased parents, or flattering friends, but in His light. It is a terrifying prospect to see God, because in seeing Him, we catch an unsettling glimpse of ourselves . . . But He doesn’t present us such an ugly “self” revelation to drain us of all hope - In fact, it’s the very opposite.

We must know we are lost before we can be found. If you throw a life raft at a person who is tanning on a beach and reading a book, they would wonder what hospital you escaped from. This is no different than modern day teachings that dole out grace without the need for repentance.

But throw a life raft to a man drowning in the ocean surrounded by sharks and you would not find bewilderment but gratitude.

“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much.
 But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

Luke 7:47

God shows us Himself as an invitation to engage in deeper relationship. This is a process, and like Isaiah, we see ourselves and are horrified - but then the Father beckons us to look beyond the scandalous sight and find the life raft - His grace - and move further into relationship. Once Isaiah was purged by a coal from God’s altar (representing grace), he didn’t go back to canonize his experience and remain there, but he looked up and saw the ocean of lost humanity and asked to be commissioned on the spot.

 “Here I am! Send me.”
Isaiah 6:8




You Can’t Avoid Process

There is a word that none of us like to hear - when it is uttered in the atmosphere, all the energy and excitement is drained from you, and you feel like when you were a kid and you parents told you, “Fun time is over! Do your homework” or “Time to brush your teeth” or “Eat your vegetables!” - The word is “PROCESS”.

PROCESS has been defined as “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end”.   

Process says that homework is part of a route that will take a child from grade school, to middle school, from middle school to high school, from high school to College, and later career. It’s impossible to have a finished product without Process or succeed in any way without the steps to get there.   

On the one hand, you have the promises God gave in His word, on the other hand you have “Process”.

We need process because there are no shortcuts to growth.  Billy Graham said,

“Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion -
It is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.”

Unfortunately we live in an instant gratification culture that demands “now” results.

An AT&T ad says that “Now is better”. You are entitled to what you want NOW. 

Another ad promises instant diet results - No need for self control, just take a pill, patch, or cream and you will lose weight.

Human nature also loves comfort and ease. The idea of process is horrifying and an infringement on our calm - But even eagles feed their young for a season, but then comes the day where it begins removing the soft feathers and branches from the nest, and the food stops. The eaglets cry out for food and comfort but receive none.  This begins the process they must undergo in order to learn how to fly.

I’ll admit, part of me wishes God could wave a magic wand or reveal His secret sauce for instant growth, but it is a dangerous thing to have promotion without process.

Imagine if Joseph had been promoted to the right hand of Pharaoh without process.  Joseph’s life began with a promise. Joseph dreamed elaborate dreams of the sun, moon, and the stars bowing down to him and another where his brothers’ grain baskets bowed to his.  With youth, comes pride, and Joseph’s head most likely swelled at these dreams. Joseph saw the completed picture of the promise without the process and became proud. Can you picture what kind of leader he would have been with this kind of attitude without having undergone the rite of passage that produces character and maturity?  Joseph would have been like a child of privilege being handed the company without undergoing the process of discipline and hard work. 

Joseph’s process began with his brothers’ hatred of him because he bragged of the dreams, and to add insult to injury, Joseph was his father’s pet. His process continued with being thrown into a pit by his brothers and later sold as a slave, falsely accused of rape, and then thrown in prison for many years. This was the gauntlet Joseph was to run in order to attain the promise.

Let’s not run from the process that precedes our promise, but instead embrace it. When we choose to walk through the process, God in turn will do His part.

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
1 Peter 5:10


The Deeper Question

The Deeper Question

There is a question we all have to settle when we are in seasons of pain - It’s the deciding question of whether or not we are going to continue to follow Christ, or depending on our journey, whether or not we believe in God. This question is not a philosophical or even a logical one, but a “soul” question - one that comes from the depths of our being.  It is a question that, when we are in the throes of pain, defies any basis of reasoning. It’s the only question we ever really ask. This question is HOW?  How could a “loving” God allow this?

After all, the Bible says that God’s very nature is Love. His very essence is benevolence. He cannot be otherwise. God can’t break promises or in any way become the author of evil (James 1:13). To do so would be a contradiction of who He is. It would deny His very essence (2 Tim 2: 13).

Yet with all this illumination, there remains a deep-rooted need in all of us to make sense out of pain. Once the “How” soul question is uttered, it seems that all the knowledge we have about God is rendered academic. Affliction has hit home and what we know is not sufficient to get us through the hour.

 So what do we do when we come to cross purposes with our deepest convictions about God?

The first thing is not to panic. Whatever doubts we may have do not affect how God feels about us.

In this epic struggle, doubts and trust can sometimes travel the same highway.  Job held these two realities in tension with each other.

Though He slay me, I will hope in Him; yet I will argue my ways to His face.
Job 13:15

On the one hand, Job unquestionably committed his soul trust to God. On the other, he argues with God. The Bible is the only place where you find man disputing divinity, and divinity not getting nervous over it.

In another place, God challenged Israel in their plight to “Come let us reason together”.        Isa 1:18

This tells us that God never discounts our humanity in times of affliction, but also that there are realities far deeper than our bitter questions that, if we are willing to put in His hands, will be navigated.

Don’t allow yourself to become crippled by your questions. Continue to trust Him while, like Jacob, you also wrestle with Him, and He will bring you through.


Primitive Christianity

I recently took a trip to Asia with a group of committed believers who are zealous for what God is doing in that part of the world. We were able to connect with some extraordinary believers. 

I had traveled many times before but had forgotten how glaringly different American Christianity is from the rest of the world.  In a wordless manner, we can mistakenly assume that our brand of Christianity is superior to all others - That we are the center of gravity -  the template everyone should use, and that we need to help "these poor under-developed"  Churches "catch up to us".  I'll admit I felt a stab of smugness for a brief moment that quickly vanished when I worshipped with these precious people. Something immediately stood out as obvious as the proverbial nose on our faces. The cold and apparent fact that we in America have lost something that “primitive” churches have:  Pure, unrelenting passion for God - a primal abandon that was seen in old Christian revivals our culture - a fire that went beyond tents and buildings and into the cultural ethos . . . Passion was "the status quo", and indifference the exception.  This is what I witnessed on every level - a profound love for believer and unbeliever alike - A clear consciousness that we are connected to a narrative that surpasses our four walls and infuses every sphere of life - A movement that locates its identity in God, not culture.

I am convinced that we need to return to primitive Christianity. When I say primitive I am not suggesting we digress into inquisitions, crusades, or witch-burning - Or that we move to the wilderness and build a log cabin with no electricity.  I’m suggesting that we return to the kind of purity and naiveté that can be found at the inception of any mass movement.  Every group, whether good or bad, began with a simple passion to change the world, and their daily lives reflected it.

Throughout history, Christian groups who began as simple and pure always descended into sophistication and complexity, inevitability edging out God in the process.

But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning,
your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion
to Christ.
2 Corinthians 11:3

Simple devotion always tends to become convoluted as we grow away from the revelation that birthed us. Movements become managed into carefully honed organizations. Even though they issue passionate calls to return to their original purpose, they become like one of Narnia’s victims turned to stone by the White Witch - monuments of what they once were.

These precious cultures do not need our help in making their churches run like a finely tuned business; we need their help in reminding us of who we once were. 

The Centerpiece

 It has been said that “no table is complete without a centerpiece”.  Though this blog is not about centerpieces, I would like to give some background on centerpieces before I make a point.

Centerpieces have been used since recorded history and have always served as the visual focal point of the table.

 In Roman times, centerpieces were composed of decorative foliage with vases and an endless configuration of ceramics.  Later traditions included pastries shaped like people or animals, and in more recent times, flowers and foliage were used celebrating a season or event. Today we use decorative objects to serve as the visual center of the table. According to event planners, there is something about the centerpiece that naturally pulls your eye towards it.

I write this one week before Christmas and cannot but make a connection here. The spat of shootings, stabbings, and brawls on Black Friday drives the point home that Christ is far from being the centerpiece at His own banquet. Black Friday happens just after thanksgiving and heralds the coming of Christmas. Yet no sooner do some leave the table of thankfulness to camp out in cold weather with their children in makeshift tents days before the “Holy Event” only to rush in and fight for things that will wind up in a trash heap in five years.

How is it possible that the whole world can celebrate events leading to your birthday and it have almost nothing to do with you accept for the occasional use of your name in vain?

It is clear that the centerpiece has shifted from God to greed. People in a frenzy break their backs to make enough money to buy presents and even go into debt so that Christmas can be complete. We know that giving and exchanging gifts can be wonderful as long as you know what’s at the center.

Surely a table with the wrong centerpiece throws off everything. Missing from the Christmas table is the presence of Christ – the birthday boy who would never tolerate the wholesale of His Father’s “House of Prayer”, let alone today’s corporate greed machine. No one could think He gave His life for that.

 Christ gave His life so that all who turn to Him might have an eternal Hope. This is what we should celebrate – giving and exchanging gifts to mark the stunning reality that in the midst of darkness, “light has come into the world”.


Grumpy or grateful  

“Thanksgiving was never meant to be shut up in a single day."
Robert Caspar Lintner

There are those who see life in two different ways: One counts the blessings while the other counts burdens. The person who counts their blessings tends to see the best in every situation, no matter how dire. On the other hand, the person who is grumpy will see the worst in every situation. When I say grumpy, I don’t mean a bad day or occasional times when you have a bad attitude, but grumpiness as a lifestyle. It’s one thing to be in a bad mood, but quite another when the bad mood becomes your only mood. A grumpy person is incapable of joy on any sustained level. Somewhere on the journey a grumpy day became a grumpy lifestyle and a decision was made to color the way they see the world.


Researchers have found that individuals who practice gratitude are happier, healthier, and more energetic. Grateful people tend to have fewer physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches - and that’s not to mention the psychological, emotional and spiritual effects.

Did I mention the word “practice”? Absolutely! Gratitude is more than a thankful mood, but a skill you must practice. It is practiced not only in good times (Thanksgiving), but especially in the bad. In dark times is where a grateful mindset really shines.

One way you can practice is by making a list of the things you are thankful for. Writing it down somehow solidifies your intention to view life in a grateful way. Gratitude has a way of disarming a complaining spirit as it refocuses your perspective. Tim Keller beautifully illustrates this idea: “You are worse off than you ever dared to imagine, but God loves you more than you ever dared to hope.”  

Documenting your gratitude is important because the thing you focus on has the power to shape the way you see reality.

An experiment was done with the addictive game Tetris. College students played for hours. Long after they stopped playing, they continued to see triangle shapes in everything. Focusing on your failures, troubles, tragedies, mistakes, failed expectations, and what God hasn’t done is no different than playing Tetris and seeing only triangles.

One sign that a person is becoming more grateful is that they begin to see the world with a sense of wonder. They notice the brevity and sacredness of life contrasted against the pettiness of our complaints and the futility of defining ourselves by our pain.

So which person will you chose to become? Will you be like the man who wakes up with Lindberg cheese in his mustache and concludes that the whole world stinks? Or will you be that person who despite tragedies, bewilderment, and loss says, like Helen Keller, “All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.”



A Revelation


We are “information” driven people. Our lives are fueled and navigated by facts, numbers and mind-boggling details. We even have devices that facilitate the never-ending tsunami of data we receive through our five senses with alarms confirming our appointments via beeps, rings, vibrations, and our favorite tune.  In these virtual spheres, we hear philosophy, politics, entertainment and a host of other things that make up the knowledge ecosystem.

I believe, however, that never has there been a time where there is so much information but so little wisdom - So much talking but very little communication - Like Simon and Garfunkel's song that described “People talking without speaking, People hearing without listening,”.

Never in the history of the world has there been more debate, more arguments, more words and so little meaning.

 Do we know what we are starving for?

Frederick Buechner shares about the prophet Amos’ prediction that what will really kill them in the end they are oblivious to.

 “But according to Amos, it won’t be the shortage of food and fun that will hurt. It will be the shortage “of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8: 11). Toward the end, God will make himself so scarce that the world won’t even know what it’s starving to death for (Amos 6–8).

 We are starving for a revelation of God because we were created with an appetite for divine encounter. Where information are facts that can be dissected and manipulated, revelation puts us at the mercy of what we see. It is seeing the person of God with the spiritual eye He gave you. that transforms you! The scriptures say that “God’s Word tried Joseph”. These are not words on a sheet but an illumination that comes from seeing of God.  

What happens when God enters the conversation in the “media sphere universe”?

It verifies the aching need in us all that there is more than just cold reason and data. There is something hard wired into us that hungers for revelation.

 Information is not necessarily the enemy of revelation. It can be the bread crumbs that lead to the main course, but it can never substitute for revelation. Information can tell you about yourself, but seeing God can tell you who and what you really are, and where you need to go.

 I believe that many books marketed to Christians in an attempt to be practical and relatable have become top-heavy on information and bottom light on revelation.

 I like the way Jeremiah  put it:

 "When Your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart's delight, for I bear Your name, LORD God Almighty" (Jeremiah 15:16).

Why I Hate Backing Into a Parking Spot

It has been said, “You can’t live your life looking in the rear view mirror”. This is one reason why I hate backing my car into parking spaces. It’s so counter-intuitive. It’s inimical to the fact that God put eyes on the front of your head for a reason. We were not meant to go backwards, but forward.

Yet we do exactly that. We live in places forgotten by time, but not by us . . . moments that, like vapor, have long dissipated.

Some of us try to live our lives driving our car in reverse. I have seen this in my own life where my mind’s eye is set aglow at a memory of how things used to be. Yet fixating on what is behind us is what keeps us from every type of healthy growth – including forward movement.

There are many reasons why our heads turn to the past, but I believe a prominent one is sentimentality which according to the online dictionary is “a thought, view or attitude based on strong emotions”. We know that there is no sin in having a fond memory, but there danger in remaining there . . . Of having an emotional connection to the past drive your present. When we peer into what was, it reminds us of better, happier purpose-filled days . . . Days when there seemed to be no limits to what could happen. Yet the more we look at the past and hold it against the present, the more we revise it until it becomes like good fiction.

Because many of us have been through the fire, there is a great temptation to do what is described next:  Live under the notion that what I had was the best it will ever be.

Months and years of heavy, interminable burdens can lead any of us to conclude “the good I once knew was only a hiccup in my timeline - This my real life now”. Yet this wrongly assumes that God can’t create a new history for any of us - That the trial I am now under is my life and the pleasant memory but a dream. This same despondent attitude is found in Job when in his present despair he reminds his accusing friends of all he once had.

It is a fact that Cortez destroyed his ships when they landed in the newly-discovered Americas. Two years later, they conquered the Aztec empire. I wonder if he hadn’t destroyed his ships, would his soldiers have been tempted to go back and South America as we know it would have looked much different? We, like Cortez, must destroy whatever would tempt us to go back.

I am glad that Job’s story doesn’t just end with “what I had is as good as it gets”. There is one more thing that Job said that showed he expected to move on: “When I am tried I shall come forth as gold”. This is the outlook God is after in us. He wants us not to look at the mountain, but through it, to see Christ.

When the Word commands us “Looking to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith”, this implies not just taking your eyes off yourself, but not looking back . . . Because if you’re attention forward, you won’t be distracted with what’s behind..

To Everything There is a Time and a Season

It always happens the same way here in the Northeast United States: September ushers in the push that begins with “Back to School” rush, creating a frenzy that terminates at the end of December with promises to do better next year. Adding to the frenzy are holidays like Thanksgiving and its commuting nightmare, Black Friday’s insanity, then Christmas with its marketing pressure to buy, buy, buy. After all is said and done, then comes New Years Eve with reflections of the past year and fresh vows for the next.

We do things rhythmically and in unspoken cycles.  In the Spring, we plant crops. We work hard in the long days of summer, contemplating the impending winter. In the Fall, we harvest, then batten down the hatches for winter. At least that is how it is in the Northeast.

Though some seasons are imposed on us by the tempo of culture, there are some spiritual seasons that are imbedded into our creation:  Plowing,  Planting,  Reaping,  and Stripping.

In plowing, we do as God told Hosea, to "break up the fallow ground". That is the season where we search our hearts and, as the Psalmist prayed, “see if there be any wicked way within me”. In those plowing times, your heart may be broken into a million pieces. The furrows dug in our heart’s soil feel more like wounds, but they are preparing us for the planting season.

Then we "sow to ourselves righteousness". That’s the planting part.  In the sowing season, we plant seeds that will eventually benefit us - "to ourselves".  Plowing and sowing are hard work and just like real farming, requires perseverance.  When you forgive, you are sowing to yourself.  When you help someone in need, when you do the right thing, when you say no to temptation, you are sowing to yourself righteousness. Bear in mind that Jesus is the farmer. The righteousness we sow is not one that saves us, but one that shows we already belong to Him and “His seed abides in us”.

Reaping is the time of harvesting blessing. It is enjoying (hopefully) the good consequences of our choices.  Blessing doesn't just come. You must harvest it (snatch it up) or It will remain there until you do.  How do you harvest a blessing?  By seeing it when your cynicism would see things otherwise. Sometimes a long season of plowing and planting can make us think that these seasons are who we are - but all seasons must eventually end and give rise to new ones.

The Stripping time.  Like the eagle that sheds its feathers, drops its beak, and loses its claws, we to must go through seasons of molting where we are pared down to nothing and feel  naked in the wilderness.  This season is one where no matter how much you plow and plant, there is little or no harvest.  It is a season where we must, like the eagle, learn to wait on the Lord until we renew our strength.

It is important to know the season you are in so that you will be on the same page with where God has you. Not knowing can lead to great discouragement and feelings of abandonment - But remember the promise:

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

Isaiah 40:31


Finding your heart again

There is a touching scene in the movie “Ratatouille” where the villain Anton Ego Nostalgia experiences a transformation. Anton is a hard and unforgiving food critic whose reviews can make or break a restaurant. He carries his large critic’s pen like a blunt weapon waiting for its next victim. He enters the once famous “Gusteau's Restaurant” that since has been downgraded by previous reviews he wrote. Anton Ego is sitting at a table like a mean judge ready to pass sentence without mercy when he is served a simple peasant dish (a poor man’s meal). He takes the first bite and is instantly transported back to his childhood, a time when he was a person . . . a time where he felt loved. Tears flow from his eyes, as he remembers what it was like to be so alive.

Back in the present, Anton’s lethal pen crashes to the ground like a large anvil as if unburdening him. Then his perpetual scowl is replaced by a warm smile as he devours the rest of the humble food.

Everyone has heart - not the muscle that pumps between 5 and 10 pints of blood through your veins, but a spiritual heart . . . The deepest part of you . . . The part that believes or despairs, is angry or lustful, where passion lives as well as deadness . . .The part of you that is deeply moved by a sunset or a beautiful song . . . The part that is crushed by rejection or elated by good news. It is because of your heart that there exists a voice in you that cries out, “There must be more!”

Even The Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz acknowledges that he could not do anything without that unseen part of us called the heart.

“Just to register emotion, jealousy, devotion,
And really feel the part.
I could stay young and chipper
and I'd lock it with a zipper,
If I only had a heart.”

If I Only Had a Heart
The Wizard of Oz

Fortunately Anton Ego found his heart from a childhood memory of what once was.

The way back to a passionate life-filled heart is not complicated but as simple as letting God help you rediscover your heart. The reality is that “the way” never really left you - It was only obscured by the fog of life. Paul promises in Roman,

“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”
Romans 10:8

Jesus is ever standing in the doorway or our hearts seeking entrance, waiting for us to reconnect with Him and ourselves.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,
 I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me.
Revelation 3:20


What is your “Doctrine”?

Everyone has to live for something - believe in something. Whether we realize it or not, we all have a “doctrine”, a set of belief - something we live and die by. We live by these beliefs regardless of how liberal or conservative we may be. It can be something as simple as helping the poor, vowing to never speak an unkind word, or picketing a conservative group.

When the Occupy Wall Street movement started some years ago, I always felt that it lacked definition and focus. It put on the face of a “revolution”, but at the same time, stood for nothing tangible. It had the appearance of being against everything and yet standing for nothing in particular.  G.K. Chesterton puts it beautifully:

“The new rebel is a skeptic, and will not trust anything . . .  but] therefore he can never be really a revolutionary. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind . . . Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”

Is it possible that some people insist on opposing everything because if they believed in something substantial, then they would have to stand by it? They would in practice be admitting to absolutes.

“You gotta serve somebody” said the Bob Dylan song - This rings true here. Those who imply “No moral absolutes” can never be absolutely sure.

With God, there are no arm chair critics. To sit on the sidelines is to make your choice of what your doctrine will be. To be against everything is to choose to weasel out of making a real choice and then standing by it. A real revolutionary chooses and stands for something. 

Even God stands for something.  Some modern-day Bible teachers have tried to eliminate the doctrine of hell from God’s plan - but this would foolishly imply that God stands for nothing.   

What is your doctrine?

“And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua 24:15 (ESV)


It's Personal

For many people, not believing in God is “Personal” - They can’t believe in a God who would allow all the evil in the world. They simply refuse to follow someone like that. We have all heard the reasons:  “With what I went through, there can’t be a God”, or  “God took away so and so.” - “I prayed and God didn’t do what I asked” . .. and the infamous “And what of all the senseless tragedies?”

But should these personal reasons be evidence that God doesn’t exist, or is something more going on here? “This is not how things are supposed to be”.

A child can’t understand why they must suffer through a dentist, but they still believe in their parents. Though at the moment all they can see is that it hurts, they do not doubt their parents love.

But what of all the tragedies that don’t seem to yield any good? Some ask, “Where is the good in what happened? . . . The disasters, tsunamis, hurricanes, genocide . . . ?

This again is a juvenile way of seeing pain. Like a child, we assert that if I can’t see that suffering will produce any good, God can’t exist. But even science teaches us that just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there. John Dalton was the first to propose that atoms exist though you can’t see them by conventional means. Even though in the 1700’s you could not see atoms, Dalton postulated theories about atoms, becoming the pioneer of atomic research. I suppose even scientists exercise faith.

God works in ways our eye cannot see. Modern scientific culture is bound by the five senses. (empirical evidence) and in the end, hamstrings itself from embracing the spiritual. It is based in observable information to justify its beliefs, whereas with God, reality is based on revelation.

This is why Christianity never claims it can explain every kind of tragedy or disaster, but it does assert that God works them for good.  If you judge God by your five senses, you will be disappointed every time.

Corrie Ten Boom profoundly said, “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don't throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer”.

With God, it’s personal.

Christianity is the only religion where God came down from heaven to suffer for and with humanity and bring good out of the bad. Hebrews 12:14 states, “For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities”.

Tim Keller points out that what happened at the cross was “abandonment on a cosmic level”.  God himself took on all the suffering of humanity past, present, and future. He faced the “ground zero” of the world’s war between good and evil and gave all those who look to Him a fighting chance.

When you are tempted to judge your circumstance by what you see, realize that God took every pain and tragedy you would ever suffer personally.

“And by His wounds we are healed.”
Isaiah 53:5


Milestones or Millstones

Have your milestones become millstones?

According to the Online Dictionary, a milestone is a “stone marker set up on a roadside to indicate the distance in miles from a given point.” Symbolically, milestones mark specific points of the journey.

On the other hand, there is a millstone which are “a pair of round stones used in a mill for grinding grain”.  In life, a millstone is a heavy weight or burden. Peter made allusion to this when he said, “Our forefathers put burdens on us we could not bear”.  He was talking about how the Pharisees took the milestone (Ten Commandments) and turned them into millstones by adding hundreds of additional laws to them.

In life, the very things that once served as our anchors of trust can become the shackles that keep us from our next milestone.

The very milestones of our past season can become millstones that keep us going in circles, grinding the same grain day after day. Milestones are markers indicating a straight path forward, while millstones (used to grind grains) never go anywhere, but round and round.

Could it be that the thing you once trusted in - the wharf you once tethered all our hopes and dreams on has padlocked your life into a cyclic loop going nowhere? Instead of discovering new markers of wonder on the journey, you have simply stopped. This instinctive “clutching” for the familiar milestones keeps us from discovering the marvelous mysteries God has for us.

A challenge to anyone hugging their past milestone to the point where it has become a millstone: Let God reserve the right to blow your mind. Allow Him to do something you’re have never seen or heard before. In doing so, you will experience new milestones on your journey.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:19

The Safe Place Can Be The Most Dangerous Place

The Safe Place Can Be The Most Dangerous Place

C. S. Lewis once said, “Everyone thinks that forgiveness is a good idea until they have something to forgive”. He was accentuating the fact that we human beings are in love with concepts. We love the idea behind a thing and all its angles. We hold up ideas like a diamond and turn them to admire each facet. We talk about all the things we want to do, but often don’t do them.

The same can apply with our daily lives. We can live our lives in bubble-like safety, void of any risk of doing anything different, all the while talking about how we would love to grow, or improve, or prosper in some way while remaining in a stationary orbit around our predictable lives. Yet the only way to get to fulfill God’s purpose in our lives is by taking the leap from concept to reality.

You only grow by leaps and bounds when you leap and when you bound. You can see everywhere in Scripture God calling His people to stretch beyond themselves. He called Abraham to a land he never heard of nor knew its language. He called Moses to deliver over 2 million people from a despotic oppressor in Egypt. He called Israel to cross over a sea, believe God for food and protection in the wilderness, and conquer a new land.

God stretches us by calling us to take the leap with our visions and dreams. This stretching even delves into the realm of what we own.

“‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it” (Malachi 3:10).

The beauty of taking the leap is that you are never more alive than when your feet have left the ground for a dangerous place.

It is said that a famous missionary was once chased by a lion up a tree. He was horrified, discouraged and beginning to question why he was deep in the African bush. As he was playing the waiting game with the lion, he heard a voice say to him, “You are in the safest place in the world because you are in My will”.  Imagine if this missionary remained home and chosen to play it safe. It would have been the most dangerous place in the world for him, and like David in his comfortable palace, he would have been vulnerable to failure.

The tragedy of not taking the leap is that we become forever shackled to living our lives by sight and not by faith . . . and “without faith it is impossible to please God”.

God is calling us to step out of our morbid sameness and into our destiny. To do so will require a “leap” into the unknown.  I don’t know about you, but I would rather experience that moment of instant terror that comes from leaving the familiar than to endure the safe confines of the predictable.