The choice you need to make this Thanksgiving

Every family has traditions. Even if you aren’t a traditional family or even if you don’t have a lot of traditions, you still have things you do as a family that nobody else does. It’s part of your family culture. And one of the biggest family days in the year happens tomorrow.

Today is the day before Thanksgiving. Maybe that day doesn’t mean a lot to some, but if you come from an old-fashioned type family where you serve a great big meal (traditional or not) on Thanksgiving day, the Wednesday before is more than just a day. It’s the day you spend in the kitchen.

Some families do their cooking/baking on Thursday mornings, but in our family we usually eat pretty early on Thanksgiving day. So most of the prep work has to be done the day before. Even when we’re not serving a traditional meal, we still have quite a bit of preparation to do ahead of time.

But what happens when the prep work and the planning gets to be more important than the purpose for the day itself?

2EW0RA30JPToday’s verses are Luke 10:38-42.

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.

This is one of those Bible stories you hear a lot, but it’s one I need to pay more attention to. I have a tendency to be like Martha, especially during the holidays. I get busy. I rush around, crazy and wild, trying to get as much done as I possibly can, and I do it because I want things to be perfect for guests and other family members. I love having people in my house. I love preparing meals for other people, whether it’s in my house or at their house, or just working together with someone to serve someone else. I love it. But it takes a lot of work and a lot of planning, and if nobody does it, it won’t get done.

So my busy little spirit can understand Martha’s irritation with her sister. And it’s not that Martha was wrong exactly. She just got her focus off of what really mattered. The meal wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things. She had Jesus in her living room. And, yes, she wanted to serve Him. Yes, she wanted to use her gifts to bless Him. And that’s exactly what she should have done, but she let the stress of that amazing opportunity turn her into someone she wasn’t. She let the pressure to perform make her say things she didn’t mean.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but has anyone else ever been there during the holidays? You know it’s not about the food or the presents or the decorations, but you let the pressure of the holiday season wear on you until you get grumpy because things aren’t working out the way you want.

News flash. Things rarely ever work out the way you want. So you’ve got a choice to make.

Thanksgiving, and other holidays, are an important time to be together. Maybe you’re with family. Maybe you’re with friends. Regardless, it’s specific time set aside for a specific purpose–to be thankful, to recognize that there are things in life more important than work or money or possessions. More important than whether you have turkey or ham or if you get a slice of pumpkin pie or if have to sit at the kid’s table or not.

When you start feeling stressed out or irritated (and you probably will), ask yourself what’s really important. Don’t get so caught up in putting on a good show or providing a good meal that you forget why you’re doing it in the first place.

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Turkey at the Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS

I’ll bring the pie

Thanksgiving wasn’t an official holiday until President Lincoln made it that way in 1863. Americans have a lot to be thankful for, even though the state of our country isn’t perfect. But beyond the borders of country lines, Christ-followers have a lot to be thankful for. No matter where we are today, no matter what country we’re living in now, one thing that so amazes and excites me is that everyone who follows Christ has a permanent home in heaven, where all of us have our true citizenship.

So, Christ-follower, no matter what kind of situation you’re dealing with right now, just remember that you have God’s grace in your life. Take a moment to celebrate, even if it’s just a few seconds to acknowledge who God is and what He’s done for you. He deserves it. He’s worth it.

May everyone have a truly blessed Thanksgiving, whether you’re American or not. And one day we’ll all be able to have a giant feast of thanksgiving together in eternity.

I’ll bring the pie. =)

Psalm 100

Turkey at the Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Turkey at the Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

Black rhino at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

You never know … but God does

Life doesn’t always go the way you want it to. Sometimes, it goes the opposite direction. Sometimes you end up stuck in situations you would never have chosen, and you didn’t do anything to deserve it. You didn’t break the rules or do something stupid. Life just happened, and boom! You’re stuck.

When was the last time you thanked God because you were stuck? When was the last time you thanked God because something bad happened in your life? Those occasions don’t usually call for a praise service. It’s escaping those circumstances that normally bring on the adulations and exultations. But the Bible says over and over and over again throughout the Bible that we are to be thankful and that we are to thank God for our circumstances, good or bad, when we’re through them or when we’re in them.

Why is that? Is it just for the sake of our perspective? I do think that plays a role. When you wake up and you choose to be thankful no matter what, it does something to your attitude. But is there more to it than that?

Black rhino at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Black rhino at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Isaiah 55:8-11.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
The rain and snow come down from the heavens
    and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow,
    producing seed for the farmer
    and bread for the hungry.
It is the same with my word.
    I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
    and it will prosper everywhere I send it.”

Who gets God? Who understands Him? Who can wrap their mind around the way He thinks? Anyone?

I don’t know anyone who can claim that. Granted, I know people who do claim it without really saying that they claim it. But no one really understands God in the same way that people understand people. Why? Well, there’s no one like God. No one else even comes close. So why do we think that we can think they same way He does? Why do we think we can put words in His mouth?

Now, I do believe Christ-followers have insight into why God does what He does, and maybe even a glimpse into His plan through the power of the Holy Spirit. But there’s a difference knowing God’s heart and knowing His thoughts.

Here’s the thing about bad circumstances or unhappy situations: they might just happen sometimes but they don’t ever happen in a vacuum. When something bad happens to you, the way you react to it will set the tone of the circumstance as a whole. You can treat it like a curse, like a problem, like a punishment. Or you can treat it like an opportunity to get to know God better. The way you tackle trials in your life makes all the difference in the world.

But I still think this concept goes deeper than just perspective. I honestly think there’s a very practical reason why God tells us to be thankful for every part of our lives, including the bad parts. Simply because we don’t always know what’s good for us and what’s bad for us. Sometimes we see things in our lives, and we think they’re bad. But God allowed those bad things to cross our paths because He planned to make something good out of it. Sometimes we look at a bad problem as a punishment, when it’s really just God preventing something worse from happening in our lives.

This is a corny example but how many times have I gotten on the road later than intended? For whatever reason. Cats underfoot. Garage door broken. Can’t find my pants. I could get upset in those moments and take my frustration out on God, but what would have happened that day if I had made it out the door on time? I might have run across a wreck, a wreck I missed because I was running late.

There have been so many other examples like this, but you get the point. It’s quite practical.

Bad things happen. Horrible things happen in life, things that tear you up inside and rip you apart and leave you a shell of who you were. But just because a situation looks bad now doesn’t mean that it will always be bad.

That’s what’s so amazing about God is that He can take those bad situations and turn them into something we’re thankful for down the road. In some instances that doesn’t seem possible. How can the dark, horrible parts of my life ever be something I’m happy for? I used to think that; now I’ve lived it.

What bad thing has happened to you? What terrible trouble is hovering over your head? Stop looking at it like it’s bad. Yes, it may be bad, but just because it’s bad now doesn’t mean it will always be bad. God has a habit of redeeming the bad and making it better than good. Who knows? The bad in your life right now might be what’s keeping you from running into something worse.

You never know, but God does.

Irises in bloom at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Searching for grace

Thanksgiving is this week, and it’s normally this time of year when everyone starts talking about the things they’re thankful for. And as much crap as I give people about the 30 Days of Thankfulness routine on Facebook, I will admit that it’s pretty cool to see and read. And it really does make a difference if you let it. If you wake up and you’re thankful immediately, it does tend to change the way you look at the rest of your day.

I don’t want to wax uber-spiritual, but when I think about what I’m thankful for, the very first thing that comes to mind is grace.

Irises in bloom at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Irises in bloom at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 12:8-9.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.

This is one of those verses that you can find all sorts of different opinions. What was Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”? I’ve heard just about everything you can imagine and probably some you can’t, but whatever it was, it brought Paul a lot of trouble. It upset him and tormented him and made him beg for God to take it away, but God only replied that His grace was sufficient and that His power worked best in Paul’s weakness.

Grace is a terribly misunderstood gift, I think. We sing about God’s grace in church, and we talk about it in our Bible studies. But do we really grasp it? Grace. What is grace?

Grace is understanding that you can’t do anything to make God love you more or less than He already does. Grace is God’s presence in our lives helping us get through a day that just won’t stop pounding us. Grace is seeing how badly a situation could have gone and rejoicing when we see that it turned out better than we feared. Grace is the courage to face the impossible with courage and faith. It’s the certainty in the uncertainty. It isn’t something you can put your arms around exactly, but it’s something none of us could live without.

Did something go right for you today? That’s grace. Remember, our world is broken. Nothing works the way it’s supposed to, so if anything in your life works out, that’s grace.

Did something go wrong today? Grace kept it from being worse. And no matter how bad it is, it can always be worse.

I’m not a bad person. I never even really went through a rebellious phase in my life; I’m still waiting for that to hit, I guess. Most people would probably call me a “good” Christian, although I’m not quite sure what that means. But at the end of the day, I’m just another person like everyone else trying to make it in our screwed up world. And if my eternity depended on me, there’d be no future joy to look forward to. No, I’m not a bad person, but I’m not perfect. And perfect is what I need to be–so I’m thankful for God’s grace in sending Christ for me so I don’t have to be perfect.

Without God’s grace, I couldn’t make it through a day. And it shows up in so many places, places I’d never expect to see it, and it overwhelms me every time. I’m not surprised exactly; I’m just amazed that God could love us so much when we’ve given Him nothing, when we can give Him nothing in return. Not really.

Take a moment today, even if it’s just a few seconds, to identify the grace God has in your life. If you’re at work, don’t think too long on it, or you’ll end up in tears. That’s what happens to me. I just start thinking about how awesome God is, and pretty soon I’m bawling. I didn’t used to be so emotional … but then I didn’t used to understand exactly how much God has forgiven in me, how much He gave to purchase me, how much He had to love me to do it.

Sometimes His grace can be hard to see, especially in the dark times, but it’s at those moments when we need to seek it more. It’s in those difficult moments when we don’t know what the next step is or where we’re going or how to handle the tidal wave of trouble that is intent on knocking us over–it’s then that we need to be aware of His grace more than ever. The irony is that His grace isn’t hard to find; we just have to open our eyes to see it.

So look for God’s grace today. I promise it’s not far away. And while you’re looking, listen to this song by Matt Redmond. It’s my new favorite.

Twisted branches of the old apricot tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Live more, learn more, love more

I haven’t lived a lot of life. Some days I feel like I have, but in comparison to other people I know, I’m still one of the new kids on the block. I still have trouble considering myself as an adult, let alone that I have any sort of experience to share on how to live. But one thing that I have learned is that the longer I live, the more I understand how amazing God is and how undeserving I am of His grace.

Twisted branches of the old apricot tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Twisted branches of the old apricot tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Colossians 2:6-7.

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.

I made the decision to believe in Jesus when I was seven years old. I remember walking the aisle of Inwood Baptist Church in Houston. I remember stepping out in front of the whole congregation. And while I knew the choice I had made and it had been my choice alone, I didn’t feel any different.

How many sins can a seven year old commit? This was pre-1990. This was pre-internet, pre-cell phone. The era of mostly wholesome kid’s cartoons and classic Disney. So when I would hear in church or read in the Bible that I was supposed to be thankful that God had saved me from my sins, I was, but I didn’t understand it. I couldn’t quite grasp what that meant because even though I certainly wasn’t a perfect child, my life didn’t change overnight. I didn’t really become a different person, even though spiritually I became a new person.

I was thankful, but I didn’t know what I was thankful for.

Well, let’s fast forward 24 years. Isn’t it funny how living a little bit can change your perspective on so many things? I’m not old, but I’ve lived enough to make mistakes. I’ve lived long enough to be able to look back and wish I’d listened more closely to what God was telling me as a child.

The simple truth of the matter is that the longer we live, the more we have to be thankful for. Sometimes just waking up is something to be thankful for. Sometimes it’s just having enough to eat or having a car to drive or having a friend to talk to. When you’re young, you don’t have those things to miss. But there’s a big difference between having things to be thankful for and actually being thankful; it’s like the difference between having a car and having a car you drive. Being thankful takes living to another level.

I think it’s interesting that the passage for today connects our faith growing strong with thankfulness. Those two things don’t normally go together, if you think about it from our perspective. When your faith grows strong, it’s usually through testing, which means it’s usually a time of trouble or difficulty of some kind. So this verse is saying that the troubles in our lives will result in us overflowing with thankfulness.

How does that work? Because from our point of view, trouble is really just trouble. Difficulty and challenges are just frustrations that life throws at us. But remember as Christ-followers, we’re not supposed to live by our point of view. We’re not supposed to rely on our perspective. We are to look at the world the way Christ does. We’re to live like Christ lived. We’re to follow Him every step of the way, and when you look at trouble from God’s perspective, it doesn’t look like trouble. It simply look like an opportunity to grow stronger.

As a seven year old, I wasn’t really looking for those opportunities, and I didn’t really understand them when they came. But as I got older and I got to know God better, I realized that the troubles and challenges I faced in my life weren’t merely obstacles. They were a chance to help me get to know God better than I already did. They gave me the chance to dig in and search out who God is and what He wants from me and what He offers me as His daughter. And when you think about it that way, how can you not overflow with gratitude?

This is God we’re talking about here. The God. Through His Son’s sacrifice, I can come to Him and ask for anything. I can have a relationship with God through Jesus, and the more I get to know God and Jesus, the more I love them.

Stop viewing the difficulties in your life as obstacles. Try changing your mind about them. Try seeing them as opportunities to get to know God better, and He might surprise you. Build the foundation of your life on the truth from God’s Word and watch what happens. Even when the hard times come, even when you’re surrounded by trouble and hollowed out by heartache, if you’re living your life in God and for God, you’ll see life differently. And in spite of the darkness around you, you will bubble over with gratitude toward God because even though life is tough, God has chosen to be there.

Wheat ready for harvest at sunset - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving 2012, and we all have a lot to be thankful for. I was thinking about trying to make a list, but I have too much to write down. When I sit down to think about it, I’m overwhelmed with all the amazing things God has done for me and for my family and for the people I love.

This post isn’t long today, mainly because I’ve got to get downstairs and start cooking. But I needed to focus first thing this morning, and nothing helps me get my perspective right better than a statement from David. Not a Psalm, but close enough to it.

Think on this for a little while before you eat, and I guarantee that it’ll give you a different perspective on your turkey and dressing.

Wheat ready for harvest at sunset - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat ready for harvest at sunset – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s passage is 1 Chronicles 29:10-18.

 Then David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly:

“O Lord, the God of our ancestor Israel, may you be praised forever and ever! Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.

“O our God, we thank you and praise your glorious name! But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we give you only what you first gave us! We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace.

“O Lord our God, even this material we have gathered to build a Temple to honor your holy name comes from you! It all belongs to you! I know, my God, that you examine our hearts and rejoice when you find integrity there. You know I have done all this with good motives, and I have watched your people offer their gifts willingly and joyously.

“O Lord, the God of our ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, make your people always want to obey you. See to it that their love for you never changes.

Before you gobble, gobble, take time to remember

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I hope you have a warm, bright day full of laughter and lots of family time (and far too much pumpkin pie than is probably healthy).

And as we celebrate our plenty, I hope none of us forget to be thankful. Truly thankful. And not just for the food and the family or anything else that’s obvious.

We need to be thankful for something more important than all of it. Colossians 2:6-7 says:

6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

If you’ve chosen to follow Jesus, you have something to be thankful for today that is more precious than too much to eat. You have a life with Him and a relationship with God, open access to the creator of the universe. And it’s not just that, but it’s strength to live your life. Christ provides us with a foundation to survive the craziness of the world we broke.

So when you sit down enjoy your thanksgiving feast today, don’t forget to thank God for all that He’s done.

Thank Him. Mean it.

And dig in.

Happy Thanksgiving, ya’ll!