Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Assuming God is Good- No Other Gods Session 6

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Giggling from the backseat, my son read the completed Mad Lib aloud to his brother and friends. At the time, the boys were in elementary school—a prime age for reveling in the silliness of this classic fill-in-the-blanks activity. You probably remember doing Mad Libs of your own in younger days: one person acts as the scribe and asks the group for nouns, verbs, adjectives, and other parts of speech to write into blanks in a pre-written story the participants haven’t read. The results are usually funny—especially with boys who strive to choose the most ridiculous words they can think of.

As we get older, we continue filling in the blanks mentally, but the results are usually less fun and often reap more negative results. We get in the habit of making assumptions and filling in gaps of information with our best guesses. For many of us, these are more negative than positive. We do it all the time with other people. We also do it with God.

That’s why I find the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son, Isaac, so astounding. As a test, God asks Abraham to do the unthinkable and kill his cherished child as an offering on the altar. Yet never once do we see Abraham getting angry with God or assuming he’s cruel. Scripture gives us a few clues about how Abraham saw the situation. The first is in Genesis 22 as Abraham prepared to take Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him:

“He said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.’” (Genesis 22:5, NIV)

Despite the plans he had to sacrifice his son, he told the servants both he and Isaac would return. Why would he say that? I used to think he was just trying to act casually to cover up what he was about to do, but now I see that it may actually have been an example of his faith in God. A few minutes later Isaac asked his father where they would find an animal to sacrifice and Abraham replied:

“`God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’ And the two of them went on together.” (Genesis 22:8, NIV)

Again, I used to think Abraham was stalling and giving an excuse to Isaac, but now I see that he really believed what he said. At the moment Abraham raised his hand to kill his son, an angel called out to him, showing that God was, indeed, trustworthy:

“`Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’ Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.’” (Genesis 22:12-14, NIV)

In Hebrews 11:17-19, we discover more insight about Abraham’s perspective on God, especially regarding the sacrifice of Isaac:

“Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” (NIV)

This story is hard to grasp on many levels, but what strikes me as I read it this time is Abraham’s unwavering trust in God. Never once did he accuse God of being cruel or unfair, even though what he was asked to do would cut any parent to the core. Abraham believed God was good and trusted him to provide.

I’m humbled by Abraham’s faith as I recall the many times I’ve filled in the blanks with negative assumptions about God. How many times have I fretted over a difficult or uncertain situation instead of simply laying it at his feet, knowing he is trustworthy? When have I demanded to know why God allowed pain in my life instead of trusting that he would use it for his perfect purposes? If I’m honest, there are many times I’ve struggled to believe the promise of Romans 8:28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (NIV)

Instead of filling in the blanks with positive assumptions about how God will work in the unknown, I tend to fret and worry he won’t come through. For many of us, we assume God is either not paying attention or not going to act in time, so we turn to idols. We want God to work for good according to our purposes instead of his. So we look for comfort, security and control in other things instead of trusting him and waiting for him patiently. We “fill in the blanks” with idols when God doesn’t do what we want, when we want, how we want. All the while, we’re forgetting what Abraham remembered, even in his darkest hour. God is good. God is for us. God loves us. He has plans for us. He knows us. He knows what we need. He keeps his promises. His timing is perfect.

For me, the best way to remember this is to fill my mind with truth about God. I’ve found listening to good music with sound theology is a great method for doing this. So often, I find myself mentally playing a song that reminds me who God is and keeps me from filling in the blanks with negative thoughts. I’m always drawn back to my good, good Father. Click on the link to marinate in truth about God by listening to Chris Tomlin’s “Good, Good Father.”

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Communicating Your Gratitude

Brandishing an unspent gift card, my son looked at me with a gleam in his eye. “Can I bring this to buy a Lego set when we go on errands today?”

Curious, I asked, “Where did you get that card?”

“Four months ago, for my birthday!” He answered before adding, “Don’t worry, Mom, I already wrote a thank you note for it a long time ago.”

If there is one thing my boys know about me, it’s that I am adamant about showing gratitude—whether it is for a gift we’ve received, an act of kindness someone has done for us, or time spent on our behalf. They learned long ago that we would not leave a sports practice or a game until they had shaken hands with the coach and said “thank you.” Although it’s human nature to focus only on what we’ve received, we try to help our kids remember the giver too.

Expressing gratitude is the best way to combat the entitlement so prevalent in our culture today. It reminds us that the many blessings we have are not rights, but privileges. A grateful heart enables us to give and receive God’s grace more freely because we recognize it is a gift we don’t deserve. Learning to be thankful in all circumstances also helps us to keep our eyes on God, no matter what we are facing. Gratitude prevents bitterness and negativity from taking up residence in our minds. Maybe that’s what the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote:

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV)

The Thanksgiving season provides an annual opportunity to recognize our many blessings instead of just taking them for granted. But is just feeling thankful enough? What about acknowledging those who deserve our thanks, starting with God?

“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:16-17, NIV)

I would be bothered if my boys received a gift in the mail, opened it and then held it up and said “I’m thankful for this,” but never bothered to tell the person who sent it. The giver would have no idea that they appreciated what they received. And yet, there are many things we regularly enjoy or appreciate without taking time to express gratitude.

Feeling thankful should prompt us to communicate how we feel. There are little things we take for granted every day that repeat so frequently we may forget we’re thankful for them. In that spirit, I’d like to share a few of the things that are part of daily life that I’m thankful for this year:

-The spiritual gifts God has given me to use for the sake of others. I have discovered more joy in the past three years than I’ve ever experienced before as I’ve had new opportunities to share the gifts of encouragement, teaching and shepherding. These gifts would be worthless if I kept them to myself, but are invaluable and infinite when shared with others.

-My husband’s constant support and encouragement. I couldn’t write, speak, teach or pour into others to the extent that I do if my husband wasn’t providing for our family and supporting me emotionally and spiritually. We are a team, always looking for ways to further God’s kingdom together and individually. Never once has he questioned the amount of time I spend writing, studying or connecting with people. He cheers me on every step of the way and partners with me whenever the opportunity arises.

-My teenage boys who still talk to me and spend time with my husband and me. They delight, amaze and amuse me almost daily with their antics, their stories and their insightful observations. I thank God for the relationships we have and for His obvious presence in our household.

So how about you? Can you make some time this week to identify a few things in your daily life that make you thankful? Start by telling God. Then, tell the people closest to you that you are most likely to take for granted.

For inspiration, click on the link to enjoy Chris Tomlin’s song of praise, “Good, Good Father.” It’s a great reminder of the most basic truths about God that we sometimes take for granted. Happy Thanksgiving!

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