Giving Thanks Always

As I type this, it is Saturday morning, raining, and we are preparing for tonight’s Thanksgiving dinner. I am Canadian, so we have our Thanksgiving one month before.

When I think about this year, I suppose I have a lot to be thankful for. Family comes to mind. That is always on my mind. I am thankful for the closeness we have, the joy we experience together and the peace. That is important. Peace. Even with the health scare we went through with my son, I know it brought us closer, and that is all that matters to me.

My wife had an automobile accident recently, too. She walked away from it, but it could have been worse. I am thankful for the insurance company and of how quickly we were able to put in the claim. They were so readily available to help us get back on our feet. Yet, I cannot say it was entirely in their hands, as I know God was there protecting my wife and working out everything for his glory. I am so thankful for that.

Then there are all the little things that took place this year. I cannot list them all, even if I tried. I just know that I am so grateful for everything. None of it, really, is because of anything I did. It was all God and his wanting to extend his grace on me and my family.

I am thinking about the Apostle Paul right now, and what he wrote to the Corinthians, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4 ESV).

The Corinthians were going through a lot of problems at the time (1 Cor. 5:1). Paul was even wondering if he ought to have written such a sharp letter to them to correct them of their behavior (2 Cor. 2:4). But in all things, in spite of the trials he faced with that church, regardless of the anguish he felt when writing words of reproof and correction, through the tears, and with Jesus’ spirit within him that strengthened him, he was thankful.

I am now realizing, as the years go on, my appreciation for trials has increased. As strange as that sounds, trials make me a better person. I wish it were not so, but it is true.

I guess what I am trying to say is this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for God taking the time to make me a better me.

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New Beginnings

I am pleased to announce my latest book When Forgiveness Is Enough: Making Sense of God’s Calling will go on sale October 24.

In some ways, this book is a representation of everything I have gone through these past two years, and the joy I have felt acknowledging Jesus as the one true savior by whom God redeems the world from sin.

Even more so, this book release comes at a time when my family and I are working through a great trial God has blessed us with, to which we are learning patience, kindness and self-control. I do not think the words in this book would have carried the weight of God’s glory had we not gone through the events of last month, and learned from those events.

As I sit writing this, I cannot help but think how different my life is from two years ago when God began working with me. I used to write about zombies, horror and all sorts of dark themes. My life revolved around the latest undead news, theories and resolutions. My books were sitting at the top of the charts alongside the likes of Stephen King. Who in their right mind would give up such a life in pursuit of God, of all things?

Yet, when I began to read the bible cover to cover in January 2015, completing the task in December that same year, I did not realize God’s word was changing me. Without prodding from anyone, I was praying more, studying more, and meditating more on the things I read.

It did not end there. The biggest change is that I was praying for my enemies. I no longer wanted bad things to happen to those who I felt had wronged me. I was asking God to bless them in every way possible. I prayed for their families. I prayed for their employment. And most of all, I prayed that one day they would also come to the knowledge of Jesus and have faith that he will save all who believe in him.

I cannot express just how thankful I am to have completed this book with forgiveness as its central theme. It is my desire that whoever reads this book will go on to forgive others also.

Be Strong and Courageous

With summer being over and fall slowly showing its colors, I have had a trying month. I realize God does things for a reason, therefore I am not bothered when trials happen. If I am to partake in Jesus’ glory, why should I not partake in his suffering?

So when my son landed in the hospital for a week, and my wife and I took turns to stay by his bedside while the doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with him, I prayed. I knew God was doing something great in our lives, but I did not know what it was.

Thankfully, we did end up finding out what was wrong with him, and we did end up taking measures to fix the problem.

Now that I have had the chance to think back on everything, I know for sure God was there every step of the way, guiding doctors and nurses to provide the utmost care my son needed in the short time he was there.

I remember reading when Joshua succeeded Moses, and Israel was about to enter the land of Canaan. Moses said to the assembly, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deut. 31:6 ESV).

For Moses to have said that, Israel had to have been in a dark place. From their perspective, Moses was old in age and about to die, they had Joshua as their successor, but still, could they prosper as God had said under his new leadership? Then there was the incident where forty years earlier God had promised the land of Canaan to the previous generation, but because of their disobedience, he had caused that entire generation to die. Who was to say God would not do the same to them?

Yet instead of allowing the darkness to penetrate their fortitude, Israel turned around and took those words Moses spoke to heart. They gathered their courage, followed Joshua and entered the land of Canaan, fully trusting God that he would vanquish their enemies.

I did not know how God would resolve my situation with my son, but I did know that whatever happened, it would be his will and it would all work for the greater good.

I am grateful for God’s intervention last week. I do not think I could have made it through without those words of encouragement spoken by Moses thousands of years ago.

If you, too, feel discouraged at times, fear not. For God will never leave you or forsake you.

How Do You Enjoy Life?

Before I begin, I cannot say how thrilled I am to welcome summer. Because of this, I will be taking the next several months off and will be coming back in the fall with all-new articles. Until then, you can catch me on Twitter where I am updating my “Year of Thanks” tweets, and on Instagram where I am posting photos of life as it happens.

In the meantime, this is what is on my mind this week:

What is it that makes some people jolly and others miserable? In fact, let me turn the question on its head. Does money buy happiness? After all, is that not what everyone looks to when thinking about being satisfied?

I am sure that if you think about it for a moment, money is the furthest thought on your mind when it comes to happiness. Right? We all want love, joy, peace, comfort, none of which we can attain without first understanding what happiness is.

Ah, but I hear someone say, “Money will certainly buy me comfort—a new sofa, a new bed, a new car, house, wardrobe.”

Yes, I agree, but for how long? Once the newness fades, then what? I can see why some folks end up in a cycle of going to work, buying stuff, paying the bills for the stuff they bought, and going out to buy other stuff to protect their stuff. Meanwhile, as the home becomes fuller, life becomes emptier.

This is why I would like you to think about this next question. Take your time and really think about it. If you want, you can leave a comment—or not. It is entirely up to you. This is all about you, and you really do not have to share a thing.

So here is my question:

How do you enjoy life?

Again, take your time to think about it. It all has to do with the perception of happiness. What do you perceive happiness being?

I will start it off. For me, happiness is spending time with my family, sharing experiences with friends, and praying and listening to God. Add to that good food, travel, and fulfillment with everything else that I do, there you have a perfect composite of me enjoying life.

Now, what about you?

How to Practice the Golden Rule

When I asked my friends the other day, what they thought the golden rule was they looked at me bewildered. I do not believe I was speaking another language, so yes I was surprised to discover they really had no clue what I was talking about.

The golden rule states:

“Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31 NIV).

Where I grew up though, it was more like, do it to others before they do it to you. A rough neighborhood and kids being kids, we did not have any sense of what was right and wrong.

All joking aside, another translation is: do to others as you would have them do to yourself.

But what if you hate yourself? What then? Does this mean you ought to hate others as you hate yourself?

The golden rule is not talking about that. It is not saying, first take care of your self-esteem then look after everyone else. Because it would be easy to duck responsibility, to sit in a dark hole somewhere and wallow in misery while life passes us by. On the contrary, the golden rule promotes active participation in the lives of others, and a byproduct of that participation is happiness.

A lack of self-esteem comes from guilt. Guilt causes depression, which then leads to thoughts of doing unimaginable things to the self. The fallen angel of light knows this and wants God’s children to live useless lives contemplating on the sins they have committed.

However, we do not need to worry about any of that. God has sacrificed his son Jesus so that we do not have to pay for our own sins (John 3:16). Now when we commit sin, we experience short-term guilt, which leads to repentance (2 Cor. 7:8-10). And that is an awesome thing. No longer is worthiness an issue. Nothing we can do can earn us salvation. God has given it to us freely through his grace (Eph. 1:7).

Knowing this, practicing the golden rule then becomes part of our nature.

It would be easy for us to share of our blanket with someone who is cold. We would not have a problem rationing half of our dinner with someone who is hungry. And we would be happy to provide a portion of our drink to someone who thirsts.

The homeless would have homes. The sick would be well. And the poor would have a share to give. For as we see others in their time of need, we would see ourselves.

Small acts of kindness change people. If everyone practiced the golden rule, the world would be a changed place.

How to Recognize God’s Favor

Luana and I recently celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. With it being the huge milestone that it was, we wanted to do something special. We also needed to stay close to home because Luana was still finishing off her RHN designation in holistic nutrition, and with exams and assignments due, we had to get back quickly.

We decided to drive to Toronto for several days and enjoy the comfort of a five-star hotel. Since it was a special occasion, we wanted to splurge a little. I mean, we scrimp and save so much throughout the year, even using coupons when we can, that with this being an once-in-a-lifetime event, we expected a lot. So six months prior, I booked an upscale 500-square-foot room in the heart of the city with plans to have dinner at the rotating restaurant at the top of the CN Tower while the sun was setting.

When the day finally came, it was raining. Suffice it to say, I was disappointed. We would not be able to see the sunset as I had hoped. Being the optimist that she was, Luana said, “Think about it, Jack. No kids. No responsibilities. I am so looking forward to soaking in a hot bath and enjoying the silence.”

Little did I realize God was setting us up for a huge blessing.

The night before, I had received an email from the hotel confirming the reservation. But something did not look right. Instead of $476 per-night that I was quoted when I had made the booking, the notification said the room would be $299 instead. The hotel gave us a free upgrade. I could not believe it.

But it did not end there. When God blesses, he blesses big.

Arriving at check-in, the concierge welcomed us, and we proceeded to complete the details for our stay. We exchanged pleasantries and then I asked about the tub.

“Is it a Jacuzzi or a soaker?”

“Neither. A shower.” He said. “A King bed and a shower.”

“Any chance of getting a tub?”

“Let me see what is available.”

As he typed away, Luana and I chatted about the Victorian décor and the elegant look to the lobby. We could not help but appreciate the rich architecture all around us.

“I have another room that may work for you.” The concierge said. “It is in our renovated wing. It is a step up from the original room. It has a tub and two Queen beds.”

Luana is practical, so she nixed the idea with one of those what-are-we-going-to-do-with-two-queen-beds look.

“This is the reason we have been married for twenty-five years.” I said. ”The original room will be fine.”

He laughed, and then went back to typing on his terminal. And for a while, there was silence. It was a good five minutes before he said anything else. “I have one more option. The room has a King bed and a tub. It also has a sitting room adjacent the bedroom. A bit more spacious than the room with the two Queens. Is that something you might be interested in?”

Was he kidding? Of course! When the concierge gave us our pass cards to the room, he also handed us two gift certificates. One was for two sparkling wines and the other was for a dessert of our choice at the hotel’s lounge that evening. We were at a loss for words. We did thank him eventually, but it took some time to realize God’s favor was on us and the best had yet to come.

After we reached the top floor of the hotel, Luana and I made our way to our room. By this time, we had had so many surprises spring up on us that we thought there could not be any more.

We were wrong. Our pass cards had two room numbers, which I thought was odd. We could enter our room through two doors from opposite ends of the hall.

Once inside, we dropped our bags, stunned. There was a King bed, bath, TV, sitting area in one room—yes, one room—and in the adjacent room was another bath, TV and sitting area. The hotel had given us a 1,000-square-foot room, which was almost $1,000 a night for $299.

The first thing we said to each other was, “This is God’s favor.”

We recognized it. We knew it. It was an extraordinary doing in an ordinary setting. No way could we have pulled off anything like this on our own. This was meticulously planned and perfectly executed. God’s hand was all over this one.

Later that evening we did end up having dinner at the top of the CN Tower. It was rainy, but Luana and I did not mind. We were together, and that is all that mattered.

We went back to the hotel for dessert.

How to Stay Focused

We have developed the attention span of a hamster. It should not surprise anyone. After all, a typical movie at the theater cuts to a new angle or scene in roughly 0.5 seconds. Is it a wonder not all of us suffer from ADHD.

Yet, our short attention span does affect us, such that it prevents us from concentrating effectively.

How can we remain focused without sacrificing our time while doing it? How can we not feel threatened by the passing of time and accomplish our goals?

Put blinders on.

Ignore everything that goes on around us. We may be on a train or a bus reading our favorite novel, when someone sits next to us who is blaring music from his or her headset. As hard as it seems, we can either move to another seat or simply ignore the interference.

It does take some practice, but it is possible to sit next to someone who is incredibly disruptive while working through a goal.

Is there a secret?

“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful” (Col. 3:12-14 NLT throughout).

Follow the plan.

Obstacles have a way of showing up at the most inopportune time. Our main concern, though, should be about how we respond to the challenge. Do we complain to those around us? Or do we pick up from where we fell and move on?

Once a plan is in place that points to a specific goal, we ought to forget everything else in order to achieve that goal. Of course, in some cases, this is not possible. Circumstances beyond our control will cause delays. That is life. And that is okay. However, as long as we keep to the plan, we will achieve whatever we set out to do:

“Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise” (Prov. 6:6).

Despite its enemies, an ant will continue to accumulate food during the summer and autumn months as a means to survive during the winter.

That is what an ant does. Consider the ant.

Imagine the reward.

When all else fails, an image of receiving the reward, after we have achieved what we set out to do, is a great incentive to remain focused.

We can think of the journey being over. We can think of the relief, that after all the hard work, all the diligent study, all the trials we had to endure, all the sarcastic remarks from others, if any, all the late nights, all the early mornings, all the long treks, we can finally say we have successfully completed the work. Imagine what it would feel like if it took place tomorrow or the next day. Would that not be the most incredible feeling ever?

Hold on to that feeling. Keep it close to the heart.

“Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win” (1 Cor. 9:24).

There is one more thing.

With God on our side who can be against us? Every hero has an enemy. Moses had Pharaoh. Samson had the Philistines. David had Goliath. In every case, though, God was there making the way clear, fulfilling his promises and showing his love for those who followed his lead.

As long as we remain focused on the reward, we can achieve anything.

And with God on our side, the fight will be forever in our favor.