Book Review – One Thousand Gifts

Thanksgiving is our annual reminder of just how blessed we are, and for how much we can be grateful.  I thought it was a good opportunity to share with you a book about gratitude that has had a huge impact on my life since I first read it three or four years ago.

Ann Voskamp is a Canadian author.  She grew up on a farm, and is now married to a farmer.  Her life has been marked by that lifestyle, as all our lives have been marked by how we were brought up and the experiences that we have gone through.

As a child, she had to endure the loss of a sibling.  Her sister was killed by a delivery truck backing up.  That experience was devastating for Ann and her parents.  It led to major depression for all of them.  For Ann, it eventually led her to attempt suicide as a Bible college student.


One Thousand Gifts is part personal story and testimony, part encouragement, and part challenge to change your perspective on life by shifting to an attitude of gratitude.  The main thrust of the book is based on an exercise that Ann’s counselor asked her to do.  While she struggled with coping, her counselor told her to stop dwelling on what had happened in the past and on what she had lost.  Instead, she should focus on all the blessings that God had given her.  She was assigned homework – every day, list several things for which she was grateful.  She was supposed to do that until she had listed one thousand things for which she was thankful.

This took her on a fascinating journey.  The more she paid attention to the blessings God had given her, the more her way of thinking and dealing with life changed.  It transformed her entire view of God, of herself, of life, and of the world.  She realized that even in the most difficult of times, the smallest things that can reveal the riches of God’s grace.

Her conclusion at the end of her journey?  In this world, if we have eyes to see it, all is grace.

I benefited greatly from this book – I think most people would.  But if you’re dealing with loss and heartache, I would suggest that it could be a transformative read for you.

As you take time to enjoy family and feasting this Thanksgiving, take time to be thankful as well.  One thousand gifts is a lot…but maybe this weekend, you can take a few moments and write down ten things for which you are thankful.  You might be surprised at what that little exercise can do for your mind.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Oh – and if you decide you want to buy the book, the Kindle edition can be purchased here.

I Am Third

I Am Third

In the fall of 1985, as a sophomore at Berry College, I had the privilege of meeting Truett Cathy, the founder and (at the time) President of Chick-fil-A. As part of the WinShape Scholarship Program at Berry, I had several opportunities to see Mr. Cathy, even spending a weekend in his home one time.

Mr. Cathy was a shrewd businessman, a hard worker, a great role model, and a man who was much in demand as a public speaker because of his success. I had many opportunities to hear him speak. He had a few “stand-by” themes or ideas that he would often use. One of the ones that impacted me the most – and one that he came back to time and time again – was his message, “I am third.”

The basic idea of Mr. Cathy’s “I am third” talk was this – our priorities in this life should be God first, others second, and myself third. So…”I am third.” A simple enough concept.

It was one that I saw Mr. Cathy live out before others, both in his personal life and in the culture that he infused into Chick-fil-A. This blog is not intended as a commercial for Chick-fil-A, but I spent close to 8 years of my life working at various Chick-fil-A-s – some as a part-time employee, and some as a full-time manager. One of the messages that was consistent no matter who my boss was or which store I worked in – God needed to be first in my life, the customers and their needs, then others around me second, and then – I was third.

The point of living life with the rule “I am third” is NOT that I am unimportant. Quite the opposite, in fact. The truth is that the only way to consistently live out of an “I am third” mindset is to be secure in who you are and in Whose you are. When you know how much God loves you, it becomes an act of gratitude to put Him first. And when you realize how much He loves others, and how Jesus Himself didn’t come to be served but to serve others, well, then putting others second and yourself third is just the right choice.

There are times I forget this simple little message. There are times I am selfish, times I want what I want, times I put my “needs” ahead of the needs of others. In those times, I am thankful for God’s grace and for the gentle reminders He sends my way. Life isn’t always simple when you choose “I am third” but it IS joyful and fulfilling. And it is honoring of Jesus.

I am third.

How about you?

Fear or Faith?

Everyone who has walked with Jesus for any length of time knows that we’re not supposed to fear anything or anyone.

After all, the Bible is filled with “fear not’s.”

And it seems like every time the disciples were afraid, Jesus asked them why they had so little faith.

The truth is that when the sun is shining and life is going well, it’s easy to “fear not.”  It’s also easy to tell others who are dealing with fear to just straighten up and stop fearing.

But the sun doesn’t always shine in our lives.  And the older you get, the more you realize that life doesn’t always go well.  In fact, the older you get, the more you realize that so many things that you thought had control over are really outside of your grasp.

Life can change in an instant.


On Tuesday, I had to make a trip with one of my best friends.  On our way into Altoona, we found traffic slowed to a crawl on I-99.  It looked like a car had rear-ended a trailer being towed by a pickup truck, knocking the ATV, a generator, gas cans, and other items off of the trailer.  The car was sitting in the median strip, its hood knocked back over the windshield of the car, the front bumper of the car smashed in.  Beside the car, a woman was on a stretcher.  EMT’s were leaning over her, working on her and getting ready to move her to an ambulance.

I don’t know who the woman was or what her story was.  We never saw who the driver of the pickup truck was.  But I’m sure neither of them were planning on being in that accident when they got up that morning.

My friend and I had been talking about how I’m dealing with facing surgery and some other stressors that have been going on in life.  Then we saw the accident.

It was a reminder that life can change in an instant.  And there is so much over which we have no control.

As we talked, he reminded me, however, that we CAN control how we respond.  We CAN control how we face whatever comes our way.  We CAN control where we focus our attention.

We can focus our attention on uncertainty, on the darkness that is at work in this world, on the situations that are beyond our control, on the people that seek to control us, on fear and on all that causes fear.

Or, we can focus our attention on the One Who is unchanging, the One who holds all things in His hands, the One whose hands were pierced on our behalf, the One who is Light in this dark world and who shines in the darkness, the One who works to bring good out of every situation that is beyond our control, the One to whom every knee will one day bow – the One who has conquered death and the grave and fear.  The One who loves us perfectly – the One whose love can drive away all fear, if we will walk in the revelation of that perfect love.

We can choose fear.

It’s easy to choose fear.  All you have to do is look at the news, look at the economy, look at the uncertainty, look at our own frailty, look at the divisiveness around us, look at the dangers that surround us.

Or we can choose faith in the One who walks with us through the deepest valleys, into the darkest shadows – the One who casts all fear away.

It’s easy to choose Jesus.  All you have to do is look to Him.  Look to Him in silence, in solitude, in His Word, in listening to and participating in worship, in obedience, in submission.  Just begin to look – He will give you the strength to look up.

What will you choose today?

If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  The paperback version is NOW AVAILABLE for $6.99 plus postage!  For ordering information, contact me at

Little Things

Last week was a stressful week.

I found out that I definitely had to have my the first real surgery of my life.  Jewel had some major breathing issues that we thought were clearing up but that intensified some over the weekend.  I had to deal with a few difficult phone calls and issues that were stressful for me.  I had to deal with some questions for which I had no answers.  There were other things None of them were earth-shattering, and for some people, it all may seem like no big deal.  In some ways, it wasn’t.  But it felt like junk was accumulating, and it was stressful.

I got up this morning, excited to preach, but feeling the effects of the ongoing energy drain I’ve been experiencing.  I knew today would be full, and it would be a good but tiring start to another stressful and very busy week.

Right after the service, an older gentleman whom I’ve know for several years – a visitor from another state – came up to me and asked about my surgery.  We know one another, but we’re not close.  But he took the time to ask about me, to encourage me, to ask what time my surgery would be so he could pray for me.  Another out-of-town friend, someone I knew much better and had spent more time with, had a similar conversation with me.

I walked away from those conversations thinking about how their taking just a few moments to talk with me left me feeling so encouraged and cared-for.

And it got me thinking:  neither one of those conversations was necessarily a “big thing” – but they meant a lot.  I started to think about other “little things” that had happened recently that I had to be thankful for:

  • A simple conversation on Saturday night with a good friend about the Penguins that helped take my mind off of surgery and related concerns.
  • Another close friend who offered to spend part of a day with me this week to just have some fun together.
  • A couple of friends who texted me with encouraging scripture last week on the day I met with the surgeon.
  • An elder who prayed for me this morning.
  • A couple of friends who want to kayak this week before surgery.

I could list a lot more.  And as I think about it, these are my friends…I haven’t even mentioned how blessed I am by my family.

(I know, I’ve talked a lot about “surgery” in this post.  But have you heard the saying “when it’s you, it’s minor surgery; when it’s me, it’s major surgery”???? I understand that a lot better now!)

So all that to say I am thankful.  I have so much for which to be thankful.  So much more to give thanks for than to be stressed about.

Little things can really be big things.  They can help make a huge difference to someone without you realizing it at the time.  A little thing that you do can make a huge difference to someone else’s attitude – can bless them in ways you don’t realize.

What “little thing” might God ask you to do today for someone else?

If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  The paperback version is NOW AVAILABLE for $6.99 plus postage!  For ordering information, contact me at

No Pain, No Gain

“No pain, no gain” is something I’ve heard repeated by gym teachers, coaches, fitness trainers, and leaders (and all manner of sadists!) throughout my life.

As trite as it sounds, there is truth to it.  In physical exercise and activity, and in sports training, there is a breaking down that has to occur before growth and building up takes place.  In life, we often have to learn from painful experiences and failures before we experience growth and then success.


And the same often holds true in our spiritual lives.  Dying to self daily is not a pleasant experience.  The journey to soul health, sanctification, and deep intimacy with God and with others is a difficult journey.  It involves the pain of exposing our wounds, our hearts, our failures and shortcomings; it means being vulnerable and exposing ourselves to the pain of rejection and judgment by others; and it involves the pain of losing false identities and excuses and other things that we use to cover our true selves…all so that we can experience the transformation of stepping into the freedom of walking in the light as our true selves, with God and with others.

As with so many things in life, our attitude in approaching this can make a huge difference.  Many – perhaps most – approach these opportunities for growth and transformation and allow fear to turn them back.  As a pastor and a leader, I have watched countless times as people have processed truth, a spark in their eyes lights as they get a glimpse of the freedom that’s available to them – and then the realization of what it will cost them sinks in.  Vulnerability.  Honesty.  Letting down the walls that they have erected so carefully over their lifetimes.  Repentance.  Change.  Fear then takes hold.  And then, sadly, like the rich young ruler, they turn away.

I know.  I’ve done the same thing, many times.

But I’ve had to realize that my attitude is my choice.

I can choose to face hard things that I don’t want to face with fear, and back away, and lose the opportunity for transformation.

Or I can choose trust in God’s love and belief in the love of my family and friends, and push ahead through the pain to the long-term gain.

I’ve had this lesson reinforced over the past several months.

As many of you know, I’ve been dealing with anemia and other related physical problems during this time.  I’ve been through a battery of tests, procedures, IV’s and blood draws that have left me just tired of the whole thing.  I’m ready to be done.  (I know, I know.  I’ve dealt with this for 6 months.  Some of you reading this have been dealing with far more painful and debilitating issues for far longer than I have.  But I can’t speak to your journey or your thoughts – just my own.)

I gained some ground for a couple of months, but over the last month, my hemoglobin has been dropping and my symptoms have been getting worse.  I was feeling worse and worse and getting more and more tired trying to hide it from everyone.  And I ran out of simple options.

This Wednesday, I met with a surgeon.  First time for me.  Oh, I had tubes in my ears 5 times as a kid, but that hardly counts.  This was a real-life, honest-to-goodness surgeon.  He talked about what he needed to do, and then used words like “staples” and “stitches” that my wife Jewel has had to deal with but that I’ve never had to deal with myself.  A part of me was glad – hopefully, my issue will be corrected and I can begin the slow process of getting my blood counts back up to where they should be.  But a part of me was filled with fear.  After all, surgery = pain.  And I’m not really that into pain of any kind.

But no pain, no gain.  And I had to have a conversation with myself about my attitude. 

I can face this with fear, or I can face it with trust and positivity.  It’s my choice.

But really, there’s no choice.  I need to deal with the pain so I can experience the gain.  And I can’t afford to live in fear.

Neither can you.

What opportunities for growth are you avoiding because of fear?

To quote my buddy Bernie, “think about it.”

If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  The paperback version is NOW AVAILABLE for $6.99 plus postage!  For ordering information, contact me at

It’s All Up To You

In one of John Maxwell book “Developing the Leader Within”, he quoted the following:

We cannot choose how many years we will live, but

We can choose how much life those years will have.

We cannot control the beauty of our face, but

We can control the expression on it.

We cannot control life’s difficult moments, but

We can choose to make life less difficult.

We cannot control the negative atmosphere of the world, but

We can control the atmosphere of our minds.

Too often, we try to choose and control things we cannot.

Too seldom, we choose to control what we can…our attitude.

How true that is, and how powerful once we understand it.

There are two important truths here:

    • There is not much that I cannot control in life, but
    • I CAN control my own attitude.

I know people – and I’m sure you do – who spend their entire lives trying to control.  Trying to control their spouses and children and grandchildren, trying to control other peoples’ perceptions of them, trying to control other peoples’ actions, trying to control their lives, trying to control what the future will look like.

And it’s all futile. 

The discouraging truth is that we begin life with no control, we gain some control over our lives as we become adults and make our own decisions, but ultimately, aging is a process of increasingly losing control of different aspects of our lives.  Depressing, isn’t it?  And yet, it’s the human condition.  It happens to all of us, and no matter who we are, how influential or powerless we are, how wealthy or poor we are, how spiritual or unspiritual we are, how well we plan or how poorly we plan, it will happen to each one of us.

But the good news is that while I cannot control what happens to me, I can control what happens in me.  No one can choose my attitude but me; no one can control my response to life’s situations but me.

positive thinking or think negative positivity or negativity opt

Viktor Frankl was a Doctor of Neurology and Psychology.  In 1942, he and his wife were forced by the Nazis to abort their first baby.  In 1944, they are sent to Auschwitz, where he is separated from his wife, mother, and brother.  After Auschwitz was liberated by U.S. Troops, he learned that his wife was transported to Bergen-Belsen, where she died at the age of 24; and that his mother and brother were murdered at Auschwitz.  Despite all of these experiences, Frankl went on to write the book “Man’s Search for Meaning” – the book in which he wrote these powerful words:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Wow.  Consider the weight of those words after all that he himself experienced.  No one can take from you the freedom to choose your attitude.

None of us knows what today will hold, what we will face in the coming days or hours.

None of us can control most of what may happen to us.

But every one of us can control our own attitude.  Every one of us can choose how we will face this day, and all that it brings to us.

What attitude will you choose today?

If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  The paperback version is NOW AVAILABLE for $6.99!  For ordering information, contact me at

Your Attitude Can Make the Difference!

One of my favorite passages of Scripture about attitude is located at the beginning of the book of Joshua.  Moses has just died; Joshua has taken over leadership of the nation of Israel – a nation of wandering nomads, who have spent 40 years without a homeland because of their lack of faith and disobedience.  God begins to speak words of encouragement to Joshua, preparing him for the challenge that lies ahead as they face their first hurdles – crossing the Jordan river, and then conquering the city of Jericho, the stronghold at the entrance to the Promised Land.

God encourages Joshua to be strong, to be courageous, to be obedient, to ground himself in the Book of the Law that God had given to Israel through Moses.  And then God gave this command and promise to Joshua:  ”This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  (Joshua 1:9, NLT)


Can You Believe I Posted A Picture of a CAT?????!!!!

Isn’t it interesting that a part of what God was instructing Joshua to do was to protect his heart – to be careful of his attitudes?  Why was that?

I think it’s because Israel originally refused to enter the Promised Land 40 years before this because they let attitudes of fear and discouragement plague their minds.  And so, when faced with the opportunity to trust God’s provision and protection and enter the land, they instead let fear turn them to discouragement.  Without firing a single arrow or slingshot, they gave up – because their own attitudes defeated them.

And so, when we fast-forward 40 years, we find God telling Joshua to pay special attention to his attitude – to be brave and courageous, to be encouraged, to not give in to the temptation to fear or to be overwhelmed by the task before them.

Now, here’s the important thing to understand about attitude.  Attitude didn’t forge any physical weapons for Israel; it didn’t make their warriors any stronger; it didn’t give them greater speed or endurance; and it didn’t give Joshua an advantage in tactics.  It didn’t relieve them of the responsibility to walk into the land and face their enemies.

What attitude DID do for Joshua and for Israel was to give them the will and the ability to go on in the face of overwhelming odds.  Attitude gave them the faith to trust God when circumstances seemed to be against them.

To use an over-worn cliché, attitude was the wind beneath their wings.

And attitude can be the same thing, do the same things, for you and for me today.

What kind of attitude will empower you to get through whatever life throws at you today?  This attitude:  Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

I don’t know what this day will hold, for you or for me.  I don’t know the challenges that we will face, or the blessings that may come our way.

But I know this – no matter what, God is good.  And because of that, you and I can be strong and courageous.  We can face our day with attitudes of faith, and not fear.  We can choose to be encouraged.  Because God will be with us, wherever we are. 

What attitude will you choose as you face today?

If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  The paperback version is NOW AVAILABLE!  For ordering information, contact me at

The Power of Positive Thinking

In the fall of 1984, I began working at Chick-fil-A in Westmoreland Mall, Greensburg, PA for a man named Bill Forster.

Bill and his wonderful wife Teri had a number of significant positive impacts on my life.  For example, Bill challenged me to apply to a new scholarship program that Chick-fil-A had established at Berry College in Rome, Georgia.  Bill and Teri supported me in that whole process, encouraged me to go for it, and didn’t complain when it meant I left the store to move to Georgia.  That set up a whole chain of events in my life, including a change in career direction, significant spiritual growth, amazing opportunities while in college, and even meeting Jewel.  I can honestly say that without Bill and Teri, I would never have met Jewel and married her, and we would never have had Bethany.

That’s a pretty significant impact for a couple to have on someone’s life!  And I know a number of other people who worked with Bill and Teri whose lives were changed positively because of their influence.

But I want to focus in on one significant area of impact that they had on me in today’s blog:  my attitude.


I grew up in Christian home with the world’s greatest Dad and Mom and younger brother.  I was privileged to be taught God’s Word from an early age, to memorize Scripture, to make wise choices (which I didn’t always do!), and to live my life in such a way that I would honor the Lord Jesus.  I was blessed with a lot of truth, and that foundation still stands strong today.

One area that I had never really considered, though, was my attitude.  I’m not sure why; I guess I just never put it together.  But Bill and Teri helped put it together for me.  They modeled it for me every time I saw them, or worked side-by-side with them.  It didn’t matter what they were going through, what the store was going through, or what life brought along – Bill and Teri always, and I mean always, had a positive attitude about life, about their ability to face life with God’s help, and about God’s blessings on their lives.

One night at work, after we had a brief discussion about some of my plans for the future, Bill gave me a copy of a cassette tape (that was a LONG time ago!) by Zig Ziglar on setting and reaching life goals.  That tape was a game-changer for me.  It opened my eyes to a new way of thinking and planning, to new possibilities in my journey with Jesus, and it helped me understand that I had made some assumptions about following Jesus that weren’t true.  I had somehow in my own mind arrived at a place of thinking that setting goals and wanting to be successful was counter to the Kingdom of God.  Zig and Bill and Teri helped me understand that God wants us to be fruitful, and that while fruit looks different in different professions and in different peoples’ lives, there was nothing selfish in wanting to excel wherever I was.  In fact, bettering myself would equip me to help others do the same at a higher level.  For teaching me that and for opening doors in my life and in my thinking, I will be forever grateful to Bill and Teri.

I also learned (again, I don’t know how I missed this, but I did) that I am responsible for my own attitude.  No one else can choose my attitude for me; and I can choose to have a positive, expectant, faith-filled attitude regardless of my circumstances or I can choose to let life and other people dictate my attitude.  It’s my choice.  My mind; I control what I feed it, and what I focus my thoughts on.  Up until that point, I had spent a significant part of my teen years with the attitude that “if I don’t expect much, then I won’t be disappointed.”  As a result, I had a horrible attitude about a lot of things.

I’ve learned since then that a positive attitude is a huge advantage in life.  How I think doesn’t change my circumstances, but it changes my perspective on those circumstances, it changes how I approach those circumstances, it changes how I approach God in the midst of my circumstances, and it changes how I portray Jesus to others in my circumstances!

The Bible actually has a lot to say about how we think and how our thoughts affect our lives, as well as the lives of those we encounter.  Over the next few weeks, I’m planning to dedicate several blogs to the power of positive thinking.  Don’t let the terminology close your mind to what the possibilities that God’s Word can open up to you!

We’ll dive in on Wednesday’s blog.  In the meantime, I’d like to leave you with 3 questions to consider.  Feel free to comment below, if you’d like to dialogue:

  • Who has had the greatest impact on your attitude in life?
  • How would describe your overall attitude about life – positive?  Negative?  Neutral?
  • How would the person who knows you best describe your attitude about life?  (Sometimes others can see things in us and about us that we become blind to over time.)

I’m looking forward to sharing with you some of the things I’ve learned, and am learning.  In the meantime, remember that you and I can “do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV)!

If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  The paperback version is NOW AVAILABLE!  For ordering information, contact me at