What Are Your Top Three?

Thanksgiving

It’s that time of year again in the United States when many gather around Thanksgiving Day dinner tables laden with food and surrounded by relatives and friends.

But many also don’t. You know who you are. Your parents may be gone, siblings celebrating with in-laws, and friends with their own families. Or perhaps your spouse is gone, your children are with your ex or grown doing their own thing, and everyone else assuming you’re with someone else. Or perhaps there’s not enough money to travel or your job doesn’t allow enough time off. The reasons are endless why you may be alone on Thanksgiving Day.

No matter our circumstances the very purpose of this holiday — being thankful — often takes backseat to everything else. To counteract this lack of thankfulness, we often hear challenges to make lists of all we’re thankful for. I’ve done this, but the list can be endless and after awhile it feels a little pointless. Where do I start and stop? And then there’s the problem that not everything I list as blessings sparks the thankfulness the exercise is intended to invoke.

This year I made a challenge to myself to name my top three blessings, and I’d like to challenge you to do the same. These three should supersede and perhaps even encompass every other blessing you have. So think about this for a bit before writing them down, and don’t just name the first three that come to mind.

Then this week as you’re either busily preparing gobs of food or packing your suitcase, or perhaps busily combating feelings of isolation and loneliness, be mindful of these three blessings and spend time thinking about the amazing difference they make in your life. Perhaps write them on your bathroom mirror, on sticky notes here and there, or whatever you do to remind yourself of important things. Share them with others if you’d like. But most of all keep them close to your heart and thank God for them!

I’ll share my top three to help you get started. If they resonate with you and you want to adopt them as yours, please feel free. But make sure you also own them and that they truly are your top three.

1. God’s Love

At the core of everything God does is love, because He IS love. Without it I wouldn’t have anything else, and especially not human love from friends and family, since all love originates with Him. Without His love Jesus would not have come to earth live among us, die for our sins, and gain victory over death so we can live forever.

God's Love

His love has sustained me through the heartache from betrayal by others, the passing of people I love, and the absence of loved ones because of distance or busyness. His love is always there. It’s often been in the absence of human love that I have most experienced God’s love for me in personal ways. I wouldn’t wanted to have missed those times for anything!

I recently heard a sermon by David Denison in which he said that faith doesn’t come from intellectual understanding, but rather from experiencing God. I believe this to be true. God can’t be proved. We don’t have the capability of scientifically measuring Him or testing for His existence. It’s when we experience His involvement in our lives in a personal way that we know not only that He is, but that He loves us deeply!

When my mother was on her death bed I sang to her one day when she was feeling restless. It seemed to calm her as she laid with her eyes closed. When I started singing the lullaby she had made up and sang to us when we were little, her eyes flew open and she smiled at me. I treasure that memory!

Several days later as she became unresponsive I started hearing a familiar tune almost as though it were coming over the hospital’s sound system. It puzzled me why I kept hearing this tune over and over. It was familiar, but I wasn’t recognizing it. Then, as I was walking down the hallway hours before she died dreading her imminent death, my heart cried out, “Who will be my mother now?” Immediately I heard God say to me, “I will,” and just as immediately I recognized the tune I was hearing incessantly — it was my mother’s lullaby! God was singing it to me now, and it wasn’t coming over the sound system, it was coming from Him. In that moment I knew (experienced) in the depth of my being how much God loves me, and knew that though my mother was going to where I could no longer hear her words of love, affirmation and encouragement, He wasn’t!

2. God’s Grace

The more I learn about grace the more I stand in humble joyful gratefulness, and the more I realize I don’t and can’t understand it fully. We rattle off the definition so glibly — free and unmerited favor. But we fail to grasp the depth of what that means. It means there is nothing — absolutely nothing — we can do to gain salvation or God’s favor, because Jesus has already done it all! His work on the cross is complete. Any attempts on our part to somehow sweeten the deal are, as the Bible says, like filthy rags. In other words, not only are our efforts worthless but they are offensive to Almighty God to whom we try to present them. He’s already given us Jesus’ pure robe of righteousness, and trying to add filthy rags to that outfit is just ludicrous.

God's grace

God’s job is to not only save us but to transform and sanctify us, too. We have but one part — not necessarily an easy one, but just one — and that is to surrender fully and completely to Him, over and over and over again, each and every moment.

I am so grateful for God’s grace because it means all my inadequate attempts to live the right life and be the right person are covered over and superseded by Jesus’ righteousness. This doesn’t mean I can do whatever I want and purposefully sin. It means that it is Jesus who does a transformative work in me as I allow Him to take over every aspect of my life.

Coming to know God’s grace more accurately — that He does the work while I surrender to Him — has given me much freedom of heart and mind as I am neither paralyzed by the belief I need to get everything absolutely right, nor am I passive in living out what He has taught us. I am actively and gratefully submitting to Him and His work in and through me.

3. Purpose

I am deeply grateful that God created me for a reason and that He designed me to be uniquely equipped for that purpose. He determined — among many other things — when in history I would be born, what the geographical location would be, who would be my parents and siblings, what my personality would be like, all the details of my appearance, and yes, even what my marital status would be and for how long. All these aspects precisely and strategically designed by God so I can fulfill the special purpose He has for me. The same is true for you and every person who has ever lived and will live.

Surrender to God

I have mentioned before that I believe loneliness doesn’t always come from lack of human interaction. Many times it comes from lacking a sense of purpose. The more I understand and live out God’s purpose for me, the fewer times of loneliness I experience. In my younger adult years I often felt varying levels of depression, especially as I watched my friends and siblings marry, have children, and settle into the life I had always thought I’d have. I thought I was missing out on the best of human experiences and couldn’t understand why God would deprive me of this ultimate earthly fulfillment.

Today, I realize all the faulty thinking and belief systems that led me to that conclusion. I now live a happy life living out my purpose and realizing that marriage and children would have hindered me in what God created me to do. I don’t have the blueprint for the rest of my life; it’s imprinted on God’s heart and that’s the only place it needs to be. But that also means I don’t know what He has for me in the future and I realize it may be very different from today. I know whatever it is, it is also lovingly planned by Him as the best possible way to continue living out the fulfilling purpose He’s given me. While living this earthly will always have its struggles, the depression I used to experience has been replaced by a deep sense of destiny, identity, and meaning!

One of my Facebook friends often makes detailed posts about his day or weekend with just the right amount of humor thrown in, and each he time concludes by writing, “I am indeed a blessed man!”

That’s how I want to conclude this blog post. When I look at these three top blessings God has given me and all they encompass, how can I say anything else but,

“I am indeed incredibly blessed!”

How about you? What are your top three blessings? Once you identify them, is it a natural and almost spontaneous response to also say, “I am indeed incredibly blessed”?

Would you like to discover your Purpose?

Visit our Finding Your Purpose page to learn more.


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Lonely in Church?

Lonely in church

I grew up in a small church, the daughter of a pastor who had a shepherd’s heart and a wife with the gift of hospitality. My parents invested deeply in the lives of many people and our home was a place where others in the church were free to come and go. Our church family was part of our family. I remember thinking as a child that if I never married it wouldn’t matter, because I’d always have a church family.

Reality as a single adult has been different than I’d anticipated as a child. I’ve struggled to find my niche in almost every church I’ve attended. It’s been one of my greatest disappointments as an adult. As a child I hadn’t taken into account how not having a companion would cause me to feel lonely at many church events attended mostly by couples and families — more lonely than staying at home alone. There have been times I’ve been tempted to give up on church altogether. Never on the Lord, mind you, but on church attendance.

And yet I know that the church — not just one, but all believers in Jesus all over the world — is indeed the Family of God, of which I’m a part, and that my spiritual health depends on staying connected to that Family. I want to take heed to the encouragement in Hebrews to “be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25 HCSB)

I believe there are three important elements to relating to the Family of God, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I may not find all three of them in the church I attend. If I do, that’s wonderful. But if I don’t, I need to find the missing elements in other places — a mix and match of sorts — rather than hopping from one church to another trying to find them all in one place.

Three Important Functions of the Family of God

1. Spiritual Nurture

Spiritual nurture

Whether as a baby Christian or a veteran of the faith, each of us needs spiritual nourishment regularly. In a church this may be from the sermon, a Sunday School class, a small group, or a Bible study. In an ideal world, we’d find this nourishment in all of them, every time we attend. In the broken world we live in, that’s not always reality. Rather than become resentful or blame others for not adequately feeding us spiritually, we need to take responsibility to find that nourishment. In our modern era this isn’t difficult, especially in countries where there is freedom of religion. From Christian radio to the internet, we can hear sermons, listen to worship songs, and participate in online Bible studies. Even locally outside of our church we can often find Bible studies that are open for anyone to attend.

2. Connectedness with Other Believers

This connectedness is for far more than accountability in showing up for church on Sunday morning. It’s for knowing each others’ hearts well enough to effectively challenge and encourage each other to keep following hard after God in every situation in our lives.

Connecting with others

For various reasons — not just being single — It’s been difficult for me to find this connectedness on a consistent basis in the churches I’ve been part of as an adult. But in that absence I’ve been incredibly blessed with a handful of friends outside of church who have met this need, and I for them, for several decades. Because they know my history inside and out, I don’t have to fill them in on background information when I call them for counsel or encouragement. They already have the backstory. They have helped me sort through the perplexities of life, guided me in gaining the right perspective, laughed and cried with me, and most of all kept me grounded in a close relationship with Jesus. I trust I do the same for them.

I also intend to keep trying to build connected relationships with those in my church.

Connectedness with others is more difficult to find than spiritual nurture, but I believe God is eager to help us meet this need if we ask Him. If it doesn’t come as soon as you’d like, trust He has a reason for the absence — perhaps so He can show Himself more real to you on a personal basis.

3. Opportunities to Serve Out of One’s God-given Gifts and Life Purpose

Serving with one's gifts

God has called each of us to serve using the gifts He’s given us. A reading of Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25 should sober all of us into realizing that investing them back into God’s Kingdom is not an option. Sometimes God calls us to do this within the church we are attending. Other times He calls us to do so beyond the congregation we worship with — perhaps because our church doesn’t have service opportunities to match our callings, or simply because God wants us to serve elsewhere. The Holy Spirit will lead us in this if we are willing to be used in His service wherever He calls us.

If any of these aspects are missing in your church, I encourage you to take action in finding them elsewhere. And remember, the lack of them isn’t something to blame on your pastor or your church. Consider that it’s all been orchestrated by God who sees the whole Family of God beyond the walls of our local church and knows where He most wants you to be nurtured, connected and to serve.

How is your relationship with the Family of God? Are you adequately experiencing all these functions as you relate to other believers, either within your church or outside it?

Would you like to discover your Purpose?

Visit our Finding Your Purpose page to learn more.



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The Truth About Our Worth

You are worth more than many sparrows

Years ago my young nephew came to visit for several days with his suitcase in tow. As soon as he arrived he opened it and pulled out his most prized possession at the time — his sling shot! He told me all about his plans to shoot shoot starlings, black birds, and sparrows, the only birds his mother permitted him to shoot — in other words, seemingly worthless birds.

As he was chatting away my thoughts drifted to what Jesus said about the sparrows: “Aren’t five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. Indeed, the hairs of your head are all counted. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows!” (Luke 12:6-7 HCSB)

Evidently sparrows were worth little to the people in Jesus’ day, too. But He used them to illustrate to His disciples how important we are to God. If God cares that even one lowly sparrow is shot to the ground by a little boy’s sling shot, how much more does He care about what happens to us?

It’s amazing to think God is aware when each sparrow falls to the ground, and that He knows how many hairs are on our heads even though that number is constantly changing. If He knows those seemingly insignificant details, then He knows every other detail about us. There is no one else who knows us that intimately, or who cares about us that much, to want to know minute by minute how many hairs we have! That kind of love and interest is incredible and can’t be matched by any human love.

When sparrows make their home in our bluebird boxes, we’re disappointed. After all, they were intended for the beautiful bluebirds, not the common brown sparrow. But God doesn’t differentiate between the two. He made them both, gave them both a purpose, and made sure each one has what it needs.

It’s the same with people. Although we humans mistakenly value one person over another at times, God never does. He created each one of us, loves us each equally, and has given each of us a purpose.

Far too often we lose sight of how much God loves us and how much our lives matter. The enemy of our souls loves to convince us God doesn’t love us because of something we did. Or we’re unlovable because someone dumped us for someone else. Or we aren’t valuable because our appearance doesn’t match Hollywood standards. Or our lives don’t matter because we don’t have children or an “important” career.

In our discouragement and loneliness we don’t realize these are lies. We forget God designed us and the circumstances of our lives and chose our spot in history long before time began, and we allow life to slip by without purpose and meaning. This is not at all what God intended for us! Jesus said He came to give us abundant life (John 10:10).

God knows the number of hairs on your head

In the very same verse he also warned that Satan tries to steal, kill and destroy our abundant life. There is a reason Satan is called the father of lies. Although he is not powerful, he is deceptive, and deception is the tool he uses to try to destroy us. Sadly, many times it works, at least in part — we believe his lies and lose interest in the amazing life God has given us, or fritter it away with meaningless activities.

The next time you see a bird, let it be a reminder of Jesus’ words that He loves you and provides for you so much more than He does that bird, for whom He’s provided every provision it needs. And the next time you comb your hair and a few hairs drop to the floor, remember God is keeping track of how many are left on your head. He loves you that much and is that interested in you and every part of your life! And then let that knowledge motivate you to love Him in return and to pledge your life to serve Him in the unique calling He has given you.

Would you like to discover your Purpose?

Visit our Finding Your Purpose page to learn more.



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