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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Behold the Virgin Shall be with Child!

Behold the Virgin Shall be with Child!
The prophet Isaiah wrote these words “Behold a virgin shall be with child and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).  These words were written about 750 years before Jesus was born.  And 750 years later, Matthew believed that the old prophecy of Isaiah was finally being fulfilled in the birth of Jesus. 
Inspired by God, Matthew writes: “So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’”  (Matthew 22-23) 
One of Jesus’ names was to be “Immanuel”. The name Immanuel here declares the presence of God with His people. Also the angel told Joseph to name this baby “Jesus” and the name “Jesus” means “Yahweh (God) is Salvation.”  Jesus would be the long awaited Messiah.  Obviously the baby Jesus would be different from any other baby ever born. And His conception would be different from any other conception – in that He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus would be God and He would be human.  
The gospel of Matthew starts out with the genealogy of Jesus.  This genealogy demonstrates continuity between the Old Testament and Jesus and it also shows Jesus’ royal line in that Jesus was a Son of David.  And it also demonstrated Jesus’ link with Abraham the patriarch or father of the Jewish race in that Jesus was called a Son of Abraham. 
We usually read the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth from the gospel of Luke since Luke’s story is so beautifully written  - the shepherds and the wise men – the bright star and the angels singing in the heavens – the stable and the baby Jesus sleeping on the hay in the manger –  and Mary and Joseph standing watch over the Christ child.  And our Christmas carols reflect Luke’s miraculous story.
But when Matthew’s gospel describes Jesus’ birth, his words aren’t so magical, and they do not easily lend themselves to Christmas carols. Matthew jumps right in talking about the problems Jesus’ birth brings.  First he gives us a glimpse of the problems Mary’s pregnancy causes her with her fiancé Joseph.  Matthew writes: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.  Then Joseph her husband, being a just man and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to divorce her secretly.” (Matthew 1:18-19). 
“But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she will bring forth a Son and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”  (Matthew 1:20-21) 
Biblical scholars tell us that there were no sexual relations during an ancient Jewish betrothal period, but an engaged couple like Mary and Joseph were considered to be “husband” and “wife” and their engagement could only be broken by divorce.  Matthew uses the terms “husband” and “wife” for Joseph and Mary before they were married.
Joseph obviously did not believe Mary when she told him that she was pregnant and that she had not had sex with another man. A pregnant virgin – impossible!  It had never happened before – or since – so how could Joseph believe that Mary could be the only woman in the world who became pregnant without having sex?  He wasn’t stupid, was he?  
Mary told Joseph about Gabriel, the bright angel that had appeared to her bringing news that she would become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. And she told him about this same angel who had promised that she would give birth to the Son of God, the One who would save His people from their sins!  That yes, she was the only virgin to ever be pregnant with a child, but her Child would be the only Child to save His people from their sins!  A miraculous pregnancy and a miraculous Baby!
 But this was all too much for poor Joseph to take in. All he knew was that the woman he loved - the woman he had trusted – the woman he called his “wife” -this woman had betrayed him and was pregnant with someone else’s baby! And soon the whole village would be whispering about it.  It must have been humiliating and painful – not only for Joseph but also for Mary.
We are not told how Mary felt in all of this. She had wanted God’s Will in her life.  But submitting to God’s will was already causing her to lose her man. She had counted on her Joseph to be there for her and to believe her when she told him about how the angel had given her this wonderful news.  But instead Joseph had become angry with Mary’s news of the Baby. He didn’t believe one word of her story. He thought she was lying. And he didn’t leave room for God in her story either! So Mary was pregnant and watching the man she loved reject her and walk out of her life.  And while he was walking away he promised that a shameful divorce would soon follow.  At least he was good enough not to have her stoned! 
But then God stepped in and took care of the misunderstanding.  God sent an angel to Joseph in a dream and told Joseph that what Mary had told him really was true!  That Mary was indeed pregnant by the Holy Spirit and that she truly would give birth to a Son who would save His people from their sins!  And they should call His name “Jesus”. 
Matthew continues the Christmas story by telling us that Joseph woke up from his dream and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and he took Mary to be his wife. Joseph and Mary later traveled to Bethlehem where Jesus was born.  And wise men or Magi from the East came to Jerusalem asking where they could find the king of the Jews.  They had seen His star and they had come to worship Him. 
Matthew now describes a second problem that the birth of Jesus brings!  It seems when Jesus came into the world as a baby two thousand years ago, His birth caused problems for some. And when He comes into our lives and world today, it is the same. His Presence with us can also cause problems from a rejecting world. 
Matthew begins by telling of how Herod, the evil king at that time, was troubled by these traveling Magi asking where the new baby king of the Jews could be found. Who was this “new king” they were asking about anyway?  Herod was the only “king” the Jews could have!  How dare they talk of a “new king” being born!  Jealously and rage filled Herod’s heart.  He asked the wise men to return to his palace after they had found this “new king”.  Return and tell him where this baby king was so that he could go and “worship” him also.   (King Herod had no intention of worshipping Jesus!) 
The wise men or Magi followed the star to Bethlehem and Scripture says that these men “rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”  (Matthew 2:10b)  It seems that Jesus’ presence brought exceeding great joy back then and His presence in our lives brings us exceeding joy today!  And when the wise men came before the baby Jesus and His mother Mary, they fell down and worshipped Him. And they gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Magi were probably Gentiles.  Matthew shows that people of all nations acknowledge that Jesus is “king of the Jews” and we Gentiles come to worship Him as Lord like the wise men did.  But God warned the wise men in a dream not to return to the wicked Herod and tell him where Jesus was but to travel back to their country another way.
King Herod waited for the wise men to return and tell him where he could find this “new king” – the baby Jesus.  But when the wise men never returned to Herod with that information, he flew into a rage.
 When the wise men had first asked King Herod where to find this new king, the scribes and religious scholars of the day had come before King Herod and referred to an Old Testament prophecy in Micah as to where the new king would be born.  There are many prophecies in the Old Testament pointing to Jesus’ birth, but this one in Micah says that the Messiah or king will come out of the town of Bethlehem.  This scripture reads: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me, the One to be ruler in Israel.  Whose goings forth are from of old and from everlasting.”  (Micah 5:2) 
The scribes and the religious scholars believed from studying Scripture that their Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. They referred to Micah’s prophecy when the wise men asked where He might be found. Yet none of those ancient theologians bothered to accompany the wise men to Bethlehem (a 7 mile journey) to see if, indeed, the Messiah had been born!
The little town of Bethlehem is now a point of pilgrimage for thousands of Christians yearly.  But let us learn from those scribes and religious leaders in Jesus’ time who knew all the right answers but did not make that first pilgrimage to Bethlehem. They knew where their Savior was to be born from studying prophecy but they did not love Him enough to go find Him for themselves.
 Today neither our orthodoxy, biblical knowledge, nor church attendance guarantees that we will see what God is doing in our midst. We can know all of the correct answers like the religious leaders of old did and yet miss the Savior! Let’s be willing to love Him enough to follow the leading of God and His Word wherever it may lead.   


Saturday, December 16, 2017

God Calls Us o be Separate

God Calls us to be Separate
I often feel like I don’t fit in when friends serve desserts or goodies. I can’t eat pies, cakes, bread or cookies.  Any food I eat that has wheat, barley or rye flour in it makes me very sick.  A doctor diagnosed my problem as a disease called “Celiac Sprue” which is a gluten intolerance.  Some of my friends think I am faking when I can’t eat everything they are eating, and it can be awkward.
 Since most processed and packaged foods are made with some wheat flour which includes gluten, I cannot eat many processed foods without coming down with severe tummy problems.  I can eat fresh foods, meats, fish, gluten free breads, fruit, salads, vegetables, potatoes, etc.  So, I eat well. But I work hard to hide my problem from others, and usually no one knows. But sometimes I just don’t fit in when I can’t join in and eat what everyone else is eating.  
The Bible tells us that when we decide to follow Jesus that we won’t always “fit in” with what the world is doing.  We will need to separate ourselves out from some of the actions and popular fads of the day. Scripture says: “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord.  Do not touch what is unclean and I will receive you.  I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.  (2 Corinthians 6:17-18)   
Just as gluten and wheat flour is off limits for me to eat, some things are off limits for followers of Christ to indulge in. God has given us laws to follow: laws to love Him with all our hearts and souls and minds and laws to love one another as we love ourselves. We are commanded to help the poor. We are to put God first in our lives.  Not worship anything but God. Not take God’s Name in vain.  Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.  Honor our parents.  We are not to kill human life or steal or commit adultery or bear false witness.  And we are not even to covet (want what is not ours). 
This sounds like a lot of work on our part, but actually it is made easy because we have help.  God gives us the Holy Spirit to open the way and to give us joy and peace as we walk the new walk.  If we let Him, the Holy Spirit helps us stay away from temptation, failures of our past, pride, and anything that draws us away from God.  So, we have a choice in the way we live. 
Our citizenship is in heaven – not really in this world. (Philippians 3:20) Scripture says that we won’t fit into the world because Jesus didn’t fit into the world and was rejected by it.  Jesus spoke to us with these words: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I (Jesus) have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.”  (John 15:18-19)   We don’t completely understand this mystery.  But someday we will.
Our part is to offer ourselves to Him.  Scripture says: “I urge you, brothers and sisters in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.  And do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”  (Romans 12:1-2)
The Holy Spirit will lead us to become more and more like the Lord.  Without the Holy Spirit we cannot do that on our own.  Scripture says: “The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” (Galatians 5:17)
 Our flesh, if left to its own will, will be opposed to the Holy Spirit in us.  Either we submit to God and the leading of His Spirit or we do not submit.  Scripture says: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24) The little secret that those who have not submitted to Christ don’t know is that there is great joy and peace in submitting to Him. 
King Solomon, king of Israel, started out following God like his father King David had done.  God gave him favor and riches and the nation of Israel was greatly blessed under most of King Solomon’s reign. God commanded King Solomon and the people of Israel to stay away from worshipping idols.  All of the other nations in that day worshipped idols so the nation of Israel had to separate themselves from the crowd and be different.  But King Solomon promised to stay true to the God of his fathers.  For awhile King Solomon loved God and followed Him.  
But as the years progressed, King Solomon forgot God’s commands and allowed other idols or gods to be built and worshipped in Israel.  He was no longer loyal to God and God soon sent the prophet Ahijah to King Solomon to tell him that his kingdom (Israel) would be torn away from him.  Instead of King Solomon taking God’s warning seriously, he didn’t believe the prophecy and went on allowing the popular worship of idols to continue. (1 Kings 11:28-32)
Because King Solomon did not separate himself from the sin of idolatry as God had commanded him to do, God took his kingdom from him.  How many times have we lost something valuable that God had for us, because we did not separate ourselves from the world? 
We who have the Holy Spirit in us should be different from those who do not.  And part of that difference is being faithful to God by separating ourselves from any known sin. The Bible says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30) When we receive Jesus, He gives us the Holy Spirit to live in us as the seal that confirms and secures that bond between us and God!  The Holy Spirit is forever committed to live in us and help us live the life that God wants us to live -a life that brings glory to Christ.  It doesn’t get any better than that!   
Many of the ideas in this blog were taken from Stormie Omartain’s book, “Lead Me, Holy










Saturday, December 9, 2017

She Died and Came Back and tells her Story

She Died and Came Back and tells her Story
Mary Neal is a Christian and a physician, married with grown children, and she has quite a story to tell. Her story begins on a January morning in 1999.  She and her husband, Bill had been vacationing in Chili and they had planned to paddle kayaks down the Fuy River that day.  The Fuy River was known for its many waterfalls, but Mary and Bill were experienced kayakers. They would be paddling with a professional raft and kayak guide, who was experienced in leading trips on rivers in Chili, along with several other adventurers. 
At the last moment Mary’s husband Bill became ill and couldn’t make the trip but insisted that Mary go without him.  So, Mary reluctantly joined the group at the river, not knowing that disaster was just around the corner.  As the group pushed off, Mary paddled her kayak into the swiftly moving waters.
 Ahead were two waterfalls.  Powerful currents of water were pulling her toward the larger waterfall and as her kayak was thrust over the waterfall’s edge she saw a lot of turbulence below.  She rapidly dropped into the turbulence plunging deep below the water’s surface.  Her kayak jolted to a stop with the front end being jammed between rocks underwater.  And Mary was stuck under water too.  She tried desperately to free herself from the boat, but the sheer weight of the water and the force of the current kept her pinned underwater. She struggled desperately, but no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t break free.  Finally, Mary began to realize that she was drowning. 
Oddly Mary tells us that she experienced no panic or fear.  A peace settled in over her and she prayed to God, “Your will be done.”  And then she writes: “I felt the physical sensation of being held and comforted by Jesus.  I felt His embrace as tangibly as I could feel the plastic of the boat around my legs and the weight of the water pressing on my torso.”  Jesus assured her that everything would be “fine” and she felt that Jesus was pouring His boundless love, kindness, compassion, and mercy into her very soul while she was drowning.  
She writes that time seemed to stop and that she felt connected to everything.  She speaks of Jesus lovingly showing her the story of her life and reminding her of the great beauty that comes of the events in her life.  She writes: “I could feel the powerful currents pulling my body out and over the front deck of my boat.  Eventually the current ripped my helmet from my head and my life jacket from my body.  My knees were forced to bend forward, breaking bones and tearing ligaments in the process, yet I felt no pain. “
“As my body was leaving my boat, I could also feel something else happening – Jesus was releasing me, and my spirit was slowly separating from my body.  Suddenly, I felt my spirit release with a small pop.  The separation felt painless, gentle, and beautiful … and I felt more alive than I had ever felt. “  “ I was not afraid.  With God’s perfect love so profoundly present, fear had no room to exist.  As I hovered above the river, I was welcomed by a group of “somethings.”  She didn’t know whether these “somethings” were angels, or people or who they were. “All I can say is that I had absolute knowledge that these beings had known me and loved me as long as I had existed, and that I had known and loved them also. “
She describes the group of “somethings” as: “They were radiant, brilliant and overflowing with God’s love.  In that moment, I knew that they had been sent by God to comfort, guide, and protect me.  In their presence I felt completely and unconditionally loved by God in a way that is elusive if not impossible on Earth.  I was filled with an inexpressible peace and joy that made life on Earth seem pale and unappealing by comparison.  I felt like I had finally returned home.”
She continues: “I found myself reveling in my new existence but still watching what was happening on the river below. …The past, present and future all seemed to merge into one reality. I seemed to be in a different special dimension as well.  But all the while was able to look down on the scene at the river.  By now, my body had been under the water for almost thirty minutes.” 
Soon Mary could see members of her kayaking group huddled around her lifeless body giving her CPR and begging her to take a breath.  At that same time, she was walking with her group towards a great shinning domelike structure, with arches that seemed to be constructed of blocks woven together with fibers of God’s love.  Like everything else, the structure was brilliant and radiant.  Beyond the arch she could see inside and there was a great deal of activity and many radiant souls bustling about.  She wondered if this was the New Jerusalem spoken about in Scripture. 
Mary was not allowed to pass through the arch at the domelike structure.  She was gently told by her welcoming group that it was not yet her time to leave the Earth.  That she had more work to do on Earth before she entered in and that she could go no further. Going through the arch into the city seemed to be the point of no return she thought. Mary surprised the group of fellow kayakers on Earth gathered around here lifeless body on the river bank by breathing a breath on her own and opening her eyes. Mary was back, and the experience changed her life.
Many people have claimed to have had near death experiences and brushes with eternity.  Many people who have had a near death or after death story have a story similar to Mary’s story.  However, a few people who had a near-death experience thought that they saw hell.
Almost all the people who have had a near death experience felt the overwhelming love and peace of God surrounding them. They all described a beauty and glory that they had no words for and nearly all seemed to see their life review and understand why circumstances in their lives happened the way they did. And how God was weaving it altogether for good for them. Many were met or waved at by loved ones who had gone before.  And nearly all reached a place of no return where they were told they had more work to do and were sent back to Earth.  
Are these near-death stories true?   There are several accounts in the Bible where people came back to life (1 Kings 17:17-21, Luke 7:12-15) John 11:1-44, Acts 9:36-41, Acts 20:9-10) And St. Paul wrote a report of his near- death experience.  St. Paul writes:  “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven.  Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not knows…God knows…He was caught up in paradise and heard inexpressible things.”  (2 Corinthians 12:2-4)   It seems that Paul was limited in describing this experience because there aren’t words in our human vocabulary to describe heaven. 
Mary says she has learned that circumstances make sense when seen through heaven’s lens.  And that we receive abundant grace from God who loves us more than we can ever know.  She has learned not to fear death since it is not the end.  It is a threshold where we leave our physical bodies behind and walk whole into eternity.  And she has learned to choose forgiveness so that she can live fully and joyfully in God’s extravagant love.  Reading her story and those of others has helped me not to fear my own death as much and I hope it will do the same for you.
Most of the ideas from this blog were taken from Mary Neal’s book, “7 Lessons From Heaven”












Saturday, December 2, 2017

How to be Led by the Holy Spirit

How to be Led by the Holy Spirit
Jesus promised His followers that God will send us the Holy Spirit to lead us through our life.  John 14:16 and John 16:13 records Jesus’ words when He promised us: “I will pray the Father and He will give you another Helper, (the Holy Spirit) that He may live with you forever.”   And “When the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth.”
God guides us by His Holy Spirit. When you receive Jesus, He sends the Holy Spirit to live in you.  Then God speaks to you not just through His Word, but also through the Holy Spirit living in you.  You can’t live well without the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can guide you to where you need to go and help you do what He has for you to do.  But how do we hear what the Holy Spirit is saying or know where He is guiding us? 
Years ago, my husband and I both felt that the Holy Spirit was leading us to start a Christian camping ministry in the mountains of Northern California.  We both were driven by a strong desire to build a retreat in the mountains above Porterville, California.  For a year we couldn’t get it out of our minds.  A joy seemed to push us toward moving ahead and giving this endeavor a try.
We bought ten acres of land in the mountains among the giant redwoods and near a babbling brook.  Then we spent three years restoring an old lodge and cabins and digging out paths on the land and piping fresh water into those buildings from a spring we developed. These improvements to the property were expensive.
We named the camp, “Zephaniah’s Camp” and many church groups from hundreds of miles around came up to our camp and held Christian retreats.  For ten years we ran the camp, cleaning and cooking for large groups and taking them on hikes through the giant redwoods.  There was joyful singing and prayer around the campfire and cookouts in the woods by the brook.  In the winter church youth groups sledded down snowy hills nearby and held Bible studies in the lodge around the fire.  Many campers were blessed, and the Lord was with us.
But some of the people living on the mountain were unhappy that a Christian camp had been built in their neck of the woods.  Several people called us and threatened to burn our camp down. And others drove by and began shooting at our campers.  This happened many times and we worried that someone would be hurt or killed by these shooters on the mountain.  
We continued losing money all those years and finally were forced to sell the camp because we couldn’t afford to keep it.  We had to sell our home and rent because the money we put into the camp left us without enough to pay our bills. My husband had a heart attack and our church friends disappeared. We were all alone during those dark years as we experienced the dark night of the soul.
The question we asked –and still don’t know is -Did God through the Holy Spirit lead us to build that camp or was it just our own idea?  I suppose we will never know for sure until we reach heaven!  After much prayer we still felt an inner urging to build the camp, accompanied with much joy, so we believed that that was the Holy Spirit urging us along.
Does everything have to turn out perfectly when God is leading? Of course not. Was that desire and joy to build a Christian camp given to us by the Holy Spirit or was it just our own wishes?  Here on earth we walk by faith and not by sight. 
So often Christians want a simple formula to show them exactly what God wants them to do.  But finding God’s will for our lives is a whole way of living, a Christian lifestyle. We have the Bible, the Word of God to guide us in the basics.  (Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not commit adultery, etc. Exodus 20:14-15) And we have the Holy Spirit within us to guide us into what we do with our individual lives.  And when we want something we can ask in His Name and God will give it to us. (Matthew 7:7-12)   
 I believe that we are guided by the Holy Spirit when we trust God and submit to Him each step of the way. We will often mess up, but God forgives and with His help we keep on trying. We find in the Bible that God gives us His laws. He calls us to love Him with all our hearts and all our strength and all our minds and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  (Matthew 22:37) He calls us to believe and trust in Him, and to believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.  We experience the Holy Spirit’s guidance when we trust and obey as we walk through life. There is great joy, peace and strength in trusting God. 
The Holy Spirit in your life will not lead you away from the truths in God’s Word, the Bible.  We need to know God’s Word in order to judge what we are hearing.  If we think the Holy Spirit is telling us to cheat on our husband or wife or to hate our parents we are listening to our own desires and not those of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit will not guide us into something that Scripture says is wrong. Scripture commands us to honor our parents and love one another.  Even if our parents have let us down we still can ask God to help us love and pray for them.
We should study God’s Word as often God speaks to us through His Word, the Bible. The Word of God is living and powerful. Pray and ask God to lead you.  Ask Him to help you hear His Voice.  And do not ignore the Holy Spirit who is there desiring to lead you.
Scripture tells us that if we think we have received “a word from the Lord” not to reject or accept it immediately without asking God to speak to your heart about it.  We are supposed to test all things and hold fast to what is good.  (1 Thessalonians 5:21) The Holy Spirit will give us a peace in doing what He has called us to do.  If we do not have that peace then we might wait and pray until we get more assurance.
Once some friends of ours believed that God wanted them to adopt a child.  They had children of their own and didn’t want to adopt a child.  But because they thought God would want them to do it, they were going ahead begrudgingly out of a sense of duty. Our pastor suggested that they wait and pray until they were at peace in doing it.  He told them that if it was of the Lord that they would feel an urging and a desire to do it. Jesus tells us that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. (Matthew 11:30) This couple waited and prayed and never felt at peace about adopting.  So, they gave up the idea.
God opens and closes doors in our lives. As you depend on Him for every step, He gets you to where you need to go. It is an exciting adventure. God doesn’t keep His will a secret that we must struggle to find it out, but He wants us to seek and ask Him for His will.  Scripture says: “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.”  (Isaiah 30:21) Let’s walk through life listening for that Word behind us!
Some of the thoughts in this blog were taken from Stormie Omari tan’s book, “Lead Me, Holy Spirit”

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


This is the time of year when we celebrate Thanksgiving and stop to give thanks to God for all His faithfulness and His care and gifts.  But do we remember to be thankful only once a year?  Or are we in the habit of being thankful to God all year round?
Fussing and finding fault seems to come naturally to me.  Learning to have a thankful spirit is the only thing I can do to stop my complaining spirit. So, I often must try to stop my old habit of complaining by learning a new habit of thanksgiving.  And of thanking and praising God. Thanking Him for His faithfulness and love and thanking Him for all His good gifts!
Scripture says: “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.”   (1Thessalonians 5:18) This is one of hundreds of verses where our heavenly Father asks us to have thankful hearts to Him.  Scripture tells us that our grateful heart means so much to God. Gratitude is a way of living and a way of seeing our world.  You could call it “thanks living”. 
Something happens! It’s a mystery but there is power released in thanksgiving and praise to God!  Power in giving God the glory! Power in the humility to not think that we did it all by ourselves! Praise creates an opening in the spiritual atmosphere where people can better hear the Word and hold onto it through faith.
We can also remember to thank the people around us – our loved ones and our neighbors and friends. We can make gratitude a way of living.  And a way of seeing.  Always looking for the good in others and giving thanks. We might be surprised at how much love others are showing us if we start looking for it. 
When a family member or friend doesn’t take time to thank us for a gift we have given them, it can take some of the joy out of our giving gifts to that one in the future.  And when we only find fault and seldom remember the good in a family member or a friend, it also takes some of the joy out of the relationship. God meant for our close relationships to bring us joy. But we can kill that joy if we don’t keep an attitude of gratitude.
A story is told in the Bible of Jesus healing ten lepers. (Luke 17:11-19) Ten people dying of a painful dreaded disease.  A disease that was contagious.  So contagious that lepers in that day had to live outside of the town and away from their loved ones. All ten lepers left Jesus rejoicing that they had been miraculously healed!
 But only one of the ten lepers came back to Jesus to thank Him.  This one healed man fell at Jesus’ feet and loudly thanked Him and praised God for his healing.  “Where are the other nine?” Jesus asked.   When the healed leper finished thanking Jesus and was leaving, Jesus told him: “Your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:19) When Jesus said that, did He mean that the healed leper’s thankful spirit had something to do with his faith?  Does our faith in God grow when we learn to thank Him for His goodness?  
This story, as well as many others in Scripture, remind us that God desires that we be thankful people.  He waits for our praise and our thanksgiving.  Jesus was glad when the one leper returned to give thanks, but He missed the other nine when they were too busy or forgot.  Do we thank God each day for His blessings to us or are we too busy to be thankful?
So many people are living with depression today.  We have so many troubles that sometimes we can feel depressed and overwhelmed.  We try to take care of our problems on our own and often fail.  It can feel like it is all too much for us to handle.
But when we stop and give our problems to God and praise and thank Him for the help that He is giving us, hope and joy in God replaces our depression.  Singing and praising God with thanks can break the power of fear off us and help us to get rid of unbelief and doubt.  Praising and thanking God is not only powerful, but it is warfare!
My grandmother was only 30 years old when her husband, my grandfather, died of meningitis.   Grief stricken, lonely and depressed. She told me she didn’t want to live. Frightened because she had so little money, she worried that she would never be able to raise her two small children by herself.
 Then one Sunday in her little church the Lord spoke to her.  They were singing the old hymn, “Count Your Blessings.”   The words go: “Count your blessings name them one by one.  Count your blessings, see what God has done.  Count your blessings.  Name them one by one.  Count your many blessings see what God has done.”   The Lord spoke to my Grandmother and told her to start counting all that He was doing for her. She started counting her blessings and she kept on counting and thanking God. And she found the strength to move on and run her farm by herself and successfully raise her two children. She was a great strength in my life because she was a woman of joy and faith and thanksgiving to God. 
If learning to count her blessings could help my Grandmother years ago in her darkest hour, it could help you and me too.  Let’s learn to be more thankful all year round.  Scripture says: “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say, rejoice.”  (Philippians 4:4)