Happy Thanksgiving, 2019!

I was reflecting that here in the US, we celebrate Thanksgiving before we celebrate Christmas. I don’t think many people have really given this much thought, but if we think about it, it makes sense for us on this side of the Cross to take time to pause and consider how grateful we are, not only for all the earthly blessings that God bestows on us every day, but also on the heavenly blessing that he has given us for all time in the person of his Son, who was born, died and rose again to absolve us of our sins.
This is a great mystery. Why would the God of Heaven step down from his throne into a world that has been tainted and warped by sin? Why would he become like one of us, even though he never sinned? What does this tell us about the character of God the Father and of his Son?
Surely this means, as 1 John 4:8b reminds us, that God is love. And surely this tells us that we are the objects of his love, even though we do not and cannot deserve it.
Jesus' brother James wrote that "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:17 ESV). The Father of Lights sent his only begotten Son into this dark and imperfect world to rescue us from death by giving his life in exchange for ours at the Cross. Jesus defeated death so that we could enjoy eternal life. That is an immeasurable gift, and God gave the life of his heavenly Son, so that he could give eternal life to his earthly children.
Every gift that we possess in talents and anointings - a beautiful singing voice, a love of numbers, a compassionate heart, athletic ability, skill in writing or public speaking - all come from God.
All of the earthly things that we enjoy - family, health, wealth, freedom, happiness, love and peace, a sunrise after a long dark night, a cool breeze at the end of a hot afternoon, a quick nap, a bird in flight, the love of a pet, the laugh of a child - originate in God.
And the things we need to sustain our bodies - air, water, food, clothing, shelter - come to us through our heavenly Father. We have many things to be grateful for. But without the main thing, none of these has any meaning.
The 'good gifts' that God gives us are his earthly treasures, all the things we enjoy and need that are good for us and keep body and soul together. And the 'perfect gifts' he gives us are his heavenly treasures, the breath of life, the bread of life, the water of life, the oil of anointing: His Son, his Word, and his Spirit. 
As Christmas, Hanukkah and the New Year race toward us and our holiday honey-do lists get longer and longer...let's begin by being grateful. Yes, for all of the earthly gifts that God has blessed us with, but most of all for his mighty gifts of grace - the perfect gifts that our Father sends down from heaven - the saving presence of his Son, the truth in his Word and the guidance of his Holy Spirit. 
As this year draws to a close, let's remember to invite God into our homes, our hearts and our families as we gather together to celebrate his blessings. And then, let's remember to take those blessings back out into the world as his ministers and ambassadors, so that in being blessed, we may also be a blessing. 
That, Beloved Friends, is how we give back to God. As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, "You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through [your generosity] will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God" (1 Corinthians 9:11-12 ESV).
May you have peace and joy in Christ during this holiday season, and may God bless you and your families in every good and perfect way, and keep you safe.
Happy Thanksgiving, with much love from the Speak Comfort team!





When Forgiveness is Difficult.

Have you ever wondered why sometimes it’s so hard to forgive? We know that we ought to forgive and we know that forgiving is good for us, so why does it sometimes seem impossible?
Beloveds, many times it’s because when someone we love betrays our trust, the pain we feel is so intense, all we want is to lash out because we feel so helpless.
Listen to how David lamented about being betrayed by a close friend in Psalm 55:12-14,
“For it is not an enemy who taunts me—
then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—
    then I could hide from him.
 But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend.
 We used to take sweet counsel together;
    within God's house we walked in the throng” (ESV).
If it had been an enemy who had betrayed him, David could have handled it. But this was a close friend, a counselor, someone with whom he had shared the secrets of his heart. That kind of betrayal is so very painful! Why? Because when we’ve opened our hearts and given our trust and that trust is broken, there’s no place to hide from the pain.
Have you ever stubbed your toe on a table, and you’re jumping around holding your foot  when the other person in the room says something like, “What happened?” and you feel like you want to bite their head off? (I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s ever experienced this!) There’s something about the intensity of the pain combined with feeling like that table leg just jumped out and blindsided us that makes conversation impossible!
You may say, “But, Suzanne, when my toe stops hurting, I can talk to my friend again. And I don’t have to forgive the table leg, I’m the one who stubbed my own toe!” And you’d be quite right! But that sensation of pain and feeling like something hit us from out of nowhere is what makes us want to lash out, and forgiveness is the farthest thing from our minds.
When we stub our toe, or fall out of a tree, hit our thumb with a hammer, or bump our head on a shelf, it’s obvious that we have been physically wounded. We can put some ice on it, go see a doctor, take an aspirin, certainly pray over it, and in a little while we’ll feel better.
But when someone hurts us emotionally or spiritually the wounds are very painful, and they go very deep. What’s more, they’re invisible and we don’t have any way to bandage them up.
To make things worse, we not only feel excruciating pain, but we can also be shocked, embarrassed, confused, and angry. Sometimes we feel so angry, we forget that before we got angry, first we got hurt.
If we jump straight from pain to anger we don’t realize that we’ve been wounded, and while we’re feeling the anger, our wound is going untreated.
If a person falls out of a tree and breaks their leg, they don’t stay up at night planning ways to get revenge on the tree. They treat the wounded leg.
Likewise, when we are hurt emotionally or spiritually, the first thing we should do is treat the wound, not look for someone to blame. When we’ve been hurt, first we must tend to the hurt, then we can deal with the issues behind it.
That, Beloveds, is where forgiveness comes in.
Where we get confused is where we think what we’re dealing with is anger, but what we’re really dealing with is pain. We think that forgiveness is a way to let the person who hurt us “off the hook,” so they’ll never have to take responsibility for their actions. And because we’re angry, that’s the last thing we think will satisfy us.
But here’s how it really works…
Forgiveness is the medicine, the healing balm that we apply to the situation, that heals the painful wound.
The equation is: Forgiveness = Healing = Freedom.
This means that as soon as we are wounded, instead of leaping over the pain straight to anger, we stop, and realize our condition: “I am hurt!”
Where there is loss, there is pain and there is grief. It is important that we acknowledge this and not run away. When we feel the loss, the pain, and the grief, our hearts remain soft and open. When we run from them, our hearts become hard and we turn to rage and blame.
In Ephesians 4:32, Paul reminds us to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (ESV).”
To be kind to one another, first we must be tenderhearted. To be tenderhearted, we must stay present with what we’re feeling and not close off our hearts. To forgive, we must remember that we have been forgiven.
When we remember that we have been forgiven, we also remember that we are not alone. When we remember that Christ’s Holy Spirit lives within us, to help us, guide us and comfort us, we turn away from anger and we turn toward our Savior.
We need the help of our Savior because forgiving is difficult, and often we can’t do it on our own.
But look what Isaiah prophesied about Jesus, as paraphrased in The Message translation:
He was looked down on and passed over,
    a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
    We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
    our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
    that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
    that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
    Through his bruises we get healed (Isaiah 53:4-5).
The English Standard Version says, “…and with his wounds we are healed” (53:5b).
Jesus was wounded for our sins. Our sins, and all the suffering they cause, were placed on him. And he suffered our punishment.
Yet he said, “…Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34a ESV).
When we find it difficult to forgive, we must stop - realize that we’ve been wounded, and be present with the pain. Then we can turn to Jesus immediately, because he knows what it means to be wounded by sin. By his wounds, and through his forgiveness, we are healed, and with his help we can forgive, as we have been forgiven.
Remember, we are not alone. As God said to Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 ESV).
Is there anyone in your life, including yourself, that you haven’t been able to forgive? If so, you’ve been wounded, and your wounds need healing! Please stop chasing after the person who hurt you and turn to the one who died to save you. He will teach you to forgive, and his love will set you free.
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36 ESV).