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?

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

Curse God or Bless God?

Yesterday, I came across a Facebook post from one of my friends that said this:  Why are people so scared to curse God when something tragic happens, yet praise him when something wonderful happens?”  That’s a question that a lot of people have been asking, in similar or different words, for a very long time.  In fact, I think it’s a great question, because it’s so real and raw and honest.


For me, the answer is that I’m NOT scared to curse God.  I know He’s big enough to handle that.  I know that on the cross, Jesus took on the curses of sin, sickness, and death for me.  So I’m not scared to curse God – it’s not that I would curse Him except I’m terrified of a lightning bolt from the sky or the ground opening up to swallow me if I did curse Him.  The issue for me is that I don’t WANT to curse Him.

You see, I know that all the problems, tragedies, and terrible stuff in my life is NOT from God.  So why would I curse Him, when He isn’t the source?  He is good, and every thing comes only from Him.  He is not the source of tragedies and problems and diseases and horrific events.  He is good; He is the very definition of love.  He cannot be the source of, or give, something that He does not have.

There are actually 3 very simple sources of all the problems, tragedies, and horrific things in this world:

  1. We live in a world that has been broken by sin.  Therefore, we live in an environment that is broken.  Because of this, there will always be tragedies and horrific events and diseases until Jesus returns and “re-sets” everything by making all things new.  There will be accidents with no one at fault and there will be natural disasters and we will age and our bodies will deteriorate and we will become diseased and broken, because that is the nature of the world we live in right now.
  2. We live in a world that is populated by people who have been broken by sin.  We are all born with a sinful nature.  We all make poor choices at times, we all sin at times.  And our sins and poor choices have consequences – sometimes for us, sometimes for others, sometimes both.  Murder, rape, genocide, wars, terrorist attacks – these are not because of God, but because people have chosen to indulge their own hatred, selfishness, and evil desires.
  3. We live in a world that is experiencing an ongoing, full-out, devastating war.  We miss that fact because it is a spiritual battle.  But there is an enemy whose sole purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy.  He is a powerful spiritual enemy that we cannot see, but that makes him no less real.  He is the voice that whispers “go ahead and do it” when the behavior is destructive.  He is the one who tells us “this is God’s fault” when, in fact, God gives only good things.  He is the one who stirs nations to battle and conquest, who lies about the very nature of our world and of God, and who knows that if you are a follower of Jesus, he cannot take you to hell and so he will do everything he can right now to make your life a living hell.  He is the one who wants to get your eyes off of Jesus and onto yourself and your problems.

So…I’m not scared to curse God.  But there is no need to curse Him.  He is not the source of my problems.  He is love, and He loves me no matter what, and He loves you no matter what. 

Can I just be raw for a moment?  My family and I are in a season where we feel like the hits keep coming.  My wife hasn’t worked in a year and a half because she has had to have 2 surgeries on her neck, and the recovery process has been long and tedious and interrupted by setbacks.  My daughter has experienced having to deal with loss and moving home and starting over.  I have something very wrong with my body.  Some days, I don’t even want to get up, or feel like I can do what I have on my schedule.  I expected answers last week, and all I got were more questions.  There’s a problem in my body somewhere, but I don’t know where it is or what it is, and that’s pretty scary.  I’m stuck waiting for test results, for next steps, for future tests.  In the midst of this, my uncle, who is just a few years older than me, is on life support in Pittsburgh with a very poor prognosis.  He may never regain consciousness.  Uncertainty and waiting is our life right now.

But I’m not complaining, and I’m not angry with God.  I know people who are going through far more than me, and have been dealing with things for far longer than me.  I look at what I’m dealing with, and then I look at what I still have – God loves me, God is with me, and God is for me.  My family loves me, and we’re in this together.  I have amazing friends who love me and check on me and pray for me.  My church family is patient with me, prays for me, and loves my family and I.  So I look at all that, and I don’t have any desire to curse God.  He’s not my problem, and He’s not the source of my problems.  I will continue to bless Him, and I will continue to press in to Him.  Because I need Him more than ever.

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.  A paperback version will soon be available.

Giving Thanks

This week, we’ve looked at some practical ideas for ways to be sure we are spending time with Jesus and that we are reminding ourselves of His Presence with us throughout the day.  My plan was to wrap that up with a post today about a great tool that sounds legalistic and overwhelming but is actually very simple and helpful.  But as I sketched out what I wanted to say, I realized that I needed a little more time to think through what I wanted to say, and how I wanted to say it.  So, I’m going to be tackling that next week.

Which means my blog plan for today was disrupted.

Disrupted plans is becoming the theme for the Hunters’ 2016 Holiday Season!  My Mom ended up spending Thanksgiving in the hospital due to a boil beside her eye that wasn’t responding to treatment.  Our plans for Thanksgiving involved surprising her and my Dad with the fact that my brother and his family were going to be with us for Thanksgiving.  Instead, she surprised us by ending up in the hospital.

And then there’s Christmas.  Our plan was to travel to Greenville and spend Christmas Day with Dad and Mom.  But that was before we found out that Jewel is going to have surgery on her neck about a week and a half before Christmas, which makes a two-hour drive an uncomfortable endeavor and means we likely won’t be going to Greenville on Christmas Day.

As I was thinking about this, I realized that Jesus never got flustered by interruptions, distractions, or disrupted plans.  He just went with the flow.  He didn’t let people dictate his direction, but He also was compassionate when unexpected things came up.  And come up they did.  It seems like He was always being followed by crowds, pulled at by people wanting something from Him, requested by this person or that person to come and lay hands on someone and heal them.  He just took those things in stride and, rather than viewing them as unwanted intrusions, saw them as opportunities provided by His Father.

That’s a great challenge for me – learning to see interruptions as opportunities rather than interruptions or disruptions.  Remembering to give thanks for what God is doing and can do, rather than complaining about what He isn’t doing or has allowed to cross my path.

So here’s what I’m going to do this weekend.  I’m going to sit down with my journal tomorrow, or Sunday afternoon, and write down 5 things that upset me or derailed my plans or disrupted my life; and then I’m going think about what I have to be thankful for in each of those cases.  1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NLT) says, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”  That’s what I’m going to do this Thanksgiving weekend.

How about you?

Let me close with one unexpected blessing for which I’m very grateful this weekend.

I get to perform a wedding ceremony for two special friends of ours, Nate Shaffer and Rachel Buehler.  That’s a blessing in itself!

Wednesday night after the rehearsal, they pulled me aside and handed me a gift-wrapped package as a thank-you for officiating at their wedding.  They asked me to open it, which I was happy to do! 

What I found inside was one of the coolest and most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received.

Here’s the backstory:  this year, I wrote my first book, a devotional on walking with Jesus.  Rachel put more work into the book than I did, creating a front cover, creating a back cover and inside flaps in case I ever wanted to print a physical copy, and formatting the actual files into an acceptable format for publishing on Kindle.  We got to publish it early this fall, and that was both a goal reached and a dream realized for me.  (Many more books to come, I’m hoping!)  I have to admit it was pretty cool to go to Amazon and see my book on the Kindle store.  (If this sounds like bragging, I apologize – it’s not.  It’s intended to be me just sharing something very personal.)

So Rachel had all the files for my Kindle book.

And for my present, she and Nate had taken those files and had a hardback copy of my book printed, and they presented me with an actual printed copy of my book.  I can’t describe how it felt to unwrap that package and find myself holding a copy of the book I had written.

As cool as it felt to publish on Kindle, there was something about holding a physical book in my hands that made it more real.

It was very moving for me.  I felt like God had used Nate and Rachel to encourage me in going for my goals and dreams, and to remind me that He has surprises for all of us on the journey.  I felt honored and appreciated.


I am so blessed to have the opportunity to be connected with so many wonderful people.  And it’s all because God is good, so good.

It was also a reminder of how much I have for which to be thankful – thoughtful and encouraging friends and family, opportunities, freedom – and so many other blessings that God gives me every day.  Blessings that, unfortunately, I take for granted far too often.

So this Thanksgiving, despite disruptions and unplanned issues and all kinds of other things, I am so very thankful.

I hope as you take some time to think through your past few weeks that you find much for which to be grateful as well!

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.