Jackson Five Friday: Every Perfect Gift

Happy Friday, Spurrers! I hope you’ve had a wonderful week. I’m another year older since last Friday — golly the birthdays just keep coming, don’t they? Of course, every day is a gift. I won’t go as far as saying every wrinkle is a gift, but maybe that’s true as well.

This week I read an article about actress Julianne Moore. In it she claimed that she does not believe in God and that essentially she is “self-made.” Such claims invariably give me a sick feeling in my stomach because I believe life is ALL about gratitude and nothing evidences a lack of gratitude like a posture of “look what I did!” Jesus personified grace, but when he encountered proud, “self-made” types He was unambiguous.

“You fool,” God says in the parable Jesus told on the topic. “This very night your life will be demanded from you” (Luke 12:20).

We are not in control, no matter how much pompous pretending and proclaiming we may do.  I am grateful to have friends — faithful spurrers — in my life who remind me of this truth and point me toward gratitude.

James, in writing about wisdom, remaining steadfast, and overcoming temptation, said “Do not be deceived…every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:16-17).  Do you think wisdom might just be correlated with gratitude?  Do you think a strong faith might grow best in a thankful heart?  Do you think the ability to overcome temptation is hindered by gratitude or helped by it?  Do you think James just happened to link all of these subjects together in the first few paragraphs of his letter?  Of course not!  There are all intertwined.

Gratitude is foundational — it’s a delicate little root that needs constant watering but promises incredible fruit.  May I faithfully water my little seed by acknowledging that every gift is from above.  When I wake up in the morning, may I be thankful.  When I lay down to sleep, may I be thankful.  May gratitude be the air I breathe each and every moment.

Can you make a list of five specific things that have happened already in 2015 for which you are thankful?

How can you be more intentional in acknowledging that every perfect gift is from God?

Jackson Five Friday: Spurrers

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Dear Spurrers,

Today I am somewhat modifying the format of my blog.  I started Spur in August of 2008, but even though it’s been nearly seven years, some months with many posts, a few with none, I feel as though the vision has been somewhat blurry.  When I started posting, I wrote as if the audience was broad and impersonal like a piece for a magazine.  But over the years, it’s become clear that I have a group of faithful core readers — people I know and love.  I am grateful to have this hybrid community which is a little bit blogosphere, but mostly flesh and blood.  If you are reading this I probably know you personally, or I know a friend of yours personally.  I’m grateful for that.  I’m not a big online community person — I know that some people really thrive on that, but honestly that’s just not me.  Of course that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate when you share, like and favorite.  I love that!  Please keep it up.  In fact, I often tell people when they take the time to tell me they enjoy my writing how much that truly means to me.  As a writer, I am destined to remain in a place where no amount of praise is ever enough.  I don’t mean that in a “woe is me” way.  Writing is just such a vulnerable endeavor that you can never overdose on positive feedback!

So beginning today, I am aiming to make my posts more personal, more like I’m writing a note to you, my friend.

And what’s on my heart this morning is how much we all need spurrers in our lives.  Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  I don’t know about you but sometimes by bent is not toward love, and not toward good deeds!

There’s a situation in my life right now that pretty much bends me in the exact opposite direction.  My frustration over this issue spills out in ugly and unloving ways.  My sweet husband is so good about talking me out of my hostility.  He is a faithful spurrer, and in fact I’m always sort of amazed that when I do get wound up about something, how masterful he is at unwinding me.  Because if you know us, you know that’s something of a role reversal.  I’m not usually one who requires unwinding.

And I am blessed to have others who will listen with compassion, but refrain from stoking the fire, who in the end will point me back to love.  I don’t know how, other than the grace of God, I’ve been able to cultivate such spurring friendships, but I am so very grateful to have many in my life who spur me on.

Right now I am studying the book of James, which begins with the challenge to consider it joy when you face trails because “the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”  Trying to live that today in this minor, but irksome trial.  I am choosing joy.  I am trusting that this will produce perseverance.  Hold me accountable.  Spur me on!

Why not explicitly ask a friend to spur you on toward love and good deeds with regard to an ongoing issue or trial in your own life?  

How can you spur someone on today?

Joy to YOU,

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Jackson Five Friday: People Change

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A great and persistent lie of our culture is that people never change, or when they do it’s for the worse.  Think of all the marriages you know that crumbled because the people in them “changed.”  What a shame that changing for the good is written off as unrealistic.

This week I had numerous contractors at my house to install the above cozy gas fireplace.  One worker, named Tony, ran into all sorts of setbacks that were not his fault.  Others had told him to run the gas line one way, but when it got down to tackling the job, the guidance from his company was dead wrong.  His response cracked me up.  Instead of getting frustrated about the significant amount of time he wasted, Tony just calmly shrugged and said, “We’ll get it done.  Happens all the time.”

When he opened the custom metal panel he was installing around the fireplace, he discovered it was wrong too.  It had extra metal tabs that would need to be sawed off.  He didn’t have the tools to do it, but when he called in reinforcements to help, he did so with a voice as cool as a cucumber.  Tony’s day started early and it was already getting dark.  I wouldn’t have blamed him if he would’ve gotten a little ticked about the comedy of errors befalling our installation, but he just shrugged again and pressed on.

“Tony,” I said, “I think you could teach anger management courses.”

He stopped what he was doing and looked over at me.

“I spent two years in anger management,” he said.

You can imagine the depth of conversation we had after that, but the takeaway is that Tony changed.  By God’s grace, anger management took.

People change all the time.  I am not the meanie I was growing up.  I am not the selfish, jealous jerk my husband married.  I am not who I was at thirty, or thirty-five.  I am not the person I was last year or even last week.  Every day I am changed by my Savior.  I am on a journey of sanctification, just like Tony.  Anyone and everyone can change if they are willing to admit they can’t do it on their own.  And I know I’m a sinner, that I fall short all the time, that I stink at self-help, that any advancements I make on my own are temporary.  But I also know that God ripped out my heart of stone, and gave me a heart of flesh that is motivated not by bettering myself, but by pleasing Him.

I have a long way to go, clearly, but I am so grateful that I don’t live in defeat.  Today I thank God for 2 Corinthians 3:18

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

May I continue to behold the glory of my Savior each day and be transformed by Him from one degree of glory to another!

Jackson Five Friday: Managing Expectations

I’ve quoted my good friend Pearl here before: she says the secret to a happy marriage and a happy life is having zero expectations.  She claims that lowering expectations isn’t enough.  You’ve got to have NO expectations at all.  I love this wisdom from Pearl (yes, that’s her real name!).  But sometimes it’s hard to apply.

For example, my son, Will, has an injured hand which resulted from a run-in with a light fixture he’d previously broken with a tennis racket while practicing serving in his room.  Anyway, the injury required many stitches, one of which is to the tendon attaching the arm to the hand.  The trip to the ER was the first day of Christmas vacation, and the hand surgeon who sowed him up first said it would be six to eight weeks to return to basketball.  But then after he finished stitching it up, he said it wasn’t that bad and that maybe he’d clear him to play in three weeks.  Needless to say, when I took Will for his follow-up on Wednesday, he was expecting to get the green light for sports.  Instead the surgeon said, “well, the literature says the repair is weakest at the three week mark.”  And since I’m married to a doctor who advocates for evidence-based medicine as part of his job, that means our son ain’t returning to hoops this week, at least not without his brace the way he’d hoped.  The way he’d expected.

This kind of divergence of expectations and reality is often the source of disappointment.  Perhaps you’ve had occasion to witness this?  Like maybe Christmas morning?  Maybe New Year’s Eve?  Maybe Valentine’s Day?  Maybe practically everyday of your life in some small way?  We can try to manage expectations.  We can even try to live without them,  There is wisdom in both, but it only reduces the problem.  We can never eliminate disappointment.

What we can do is change our perspective. What do you think I told my son about not playing basketball this weekend?  The same thing you’d probably tell someone you love.

I said, “I’m sorry, Buddy.  I really am.  I’m disappointed too.  But God has a plan, and you need to be thankful that it is healing, that the wound itself looks great.  We need to remember that it could’ve been much worse.”

And it may not happen right in that moment for a thirteen-year-old.  He might stay mad and discouraged and crushed for a little while, but over time, gratitude changes everything.  You cannot be truly grateful for what you have and hold onto bitterness at the same time.  Grateful hands just get too dang slippery to hold their grip on grievances.  That’s how God designed it.  Colossians 3:15-17 says:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.  And whatever you do,whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

We were called to peace, called to give thanks.  May I have wisdom in managing expectations, but most of all may I model peace and gratitude for my sons each and every day.

Jackson Five Friday: The Importance of Habits

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We drove home from Florida today where we spent six fabulous days at the beach. I love mountains and skiing. I love seeing new places, but Palm Beach County is the place I have vacationed the most, and the flood of memories coupled with my own family splashing in and loving that same turquoise water means it’s pretty much a slice of paradise.

We arrived Friday evening, hit Publix for groceries and subs, and looked forward to dipping ourselves in the ocean the next morning. Some time that day Sam asked, seemingly out of the blue, “What day is it?”

When I told him, he said, “So we aren’t going to church tomorrow then?”

It seemed a fair question. “I don’t know,” I said.

He asked a few more times about it, but mostly we were at the beach and I didn’t think much of it.

The next morning was Sunday and I was sitting out on the balcony when my husband Will came out, looking concerned and a little bewildered.

“I told Sam we aren’t going to church,” he said. “He got all emotional. Now he’s shut himself in the bedroom. You better go see him.”

I laughed a little, but Will wasn’t amused. His heart breaks easily for Sam. Will’s soft spot for this third son is rather large. I think it encompasses his whole heart, and then some.

And the pieces of the Sammy puzzle can be so fragmented, but a lightbulb went off for me — Sam had asked about church repeatedly because he was anxious about us deviating from our habit. We often, but not always, go to church on vacation and we almost never miss at home,  We aren’t legalistic about it or make a big issue out off missing. Yet somehow skipping church for the beach felt wrong to Sam. Yes, this child is as unpredictable as can be. The Sunday before he mocked the responsive “Thanks be to God,” and on Christmas Eve he tried to lip sync along with an operetta-solo version of The First Noel.

Nevertheless Will and I decided to throw ourselves together and march our butts to church, just across the bridge from where we were staying. We heard a lovely sermon and our attendance was somehow a balm for Sam’s eggshell psyche. He smiled through church not because he particularly enjoyed it but evidently because we were there.

As I’ve written many times before this child of mine is an enigma. Yet in a sense I can relate maybe a tiny bit. I’m not a very disciplined person, which means habits take on even more importance. If I’m on a streak of daily exercise or daily Bible study and I miss a day that feels discouraging to me. Since I’m not naturally disciplined small setbacks tend to have a bigger impact than they should.  Maybe that’s how Sam felt.  Or maybe Sam is more of a Bible scholar than I thought.

Because the verse that is the namesake of this blog is Hebrews 10:24, but look at Hebrews 10:24-25

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

In this brand new year, may we encourage one another, spurring one another on, and let us not give up meeting together.  I am praying for more godly habits and discipline, for grace when I fail, and for protection — for both Sam and me — from discouragement over minor or perceived setbacks!

And praying too that you will have a fabulous 2015!