Last Sunday, November 27, was the first Sunday of Advent. For us who live in the US, Thanksgiving and Christmas overlap, which, if we’re mindful, is a good thing. Gratitude provides us with the capacity, the ability, and endurance to wait.
In the case of Advent, we wait for Messiah. We wait to celebrate the birth of God’s son. We wait for the earthly beginning of a life that ultimately was given for us. We wait in hope that this Advent (which means arrival) will bring about change in us, for us, and around us, which includes all that are close to us.
My encouragement is this, practice gratitude, embrace the waiting, and allow the hope of Advent to fill the voids that really only God can fill.
Happy Thanksgiving! I am grateful for you and everyone that makes up our dear church family, locally and abroad. I trust that you will have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends. All I have is a simple encouragement to share with you this week.
When you gather with family and friends for Thanksgiving, take a moment for yourself and sit off to the side, but in view of where everyone is gathered. Pause, and with a few deep breaths, take in what you see with a heart of gratitude.
“Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are generous, your whole body also is full of light.” – Jesus, Luke 11:34, NIV
Let the transformative power of gratitude can give you a fresh perspective on the moment as you breathe in God’s love and grace for you today.
I know it wasn’t much, but it rained in the SF Bay area this week! For me, rain is a significant image. It speaks to me of God’s presence and blessing. The thought of autumn rains got me thinking about some passages in the Old Testament, but all I could remember was the word “rains.” You know what it’s like. There’s a song that you heard a long time ago. You remember that you liked it. You even remember a few words of the chorus, but that’s about it. That’s how it was with me and rains this week. So I looked up “rains” in my Bible app. I found the passage I remembered. (I think!) This led me to other related passages, even one in the letter written by James.
Let us acknowledge the Lord;
let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises, he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
like the spring rains that water the earth.”
(Hosea 6:3, NIV)
This passage in Hosea speaks about God’s faithfulness, especially the faithfulness of God coming to us. We can trust that God will come when we call. There are times that we need God’s help, but are not aware that God is right here. The Lord’s appearing happens when we acknowledge the presence of God. The sun rises and sets. The seasonal rains come and go. It’s not much of a surprise for us, but then there are the moments when we appreciate a gorgeous sunset or stand out in the rain, just to soak up the refreshing environment. It just takes a moment to turn our hearts to the Lord, who is always here, and in that moment God appears!
This June (20-28) I am traveling to Antigua, Guatemala, with two eldest children, Lydia and Clayton. This is our third trip together. When we are there, all of our service projects, from start to finish, are done with children in mind. The stoves we install protect children from smoke inhalation and burns. The concrete floors we install protect children from intestinal parasites that infect them through their feet. We also provide children’s clothes and shoes, child sponsorship, and a Vacation Bible School. To do this for just one child is more than worth the cost of going to them! For me, though, these trips are an opportunity for Autumn and I to provide for our children the opportunity to see how children in the two-thirds world live and let them love and serve these children, who, when it comes right down to it, are just like them, beautiful and worthy of every opportunity to grow up happy, healthy, and whole.
Jesus said, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.” (Mark 10:14, CEB)
These service trips are sponsored by a Christian non-profit, Now Is The Time Missions, and a church, Valley Life Church. Christians of all stripes regard themselves as the body of Christ, a perpetual extension of the ministry of Jesus Christ. My heart, as well as all I get to serve with in Guatemala, is to be Christ to these children. Since they can’t possibly come to us, we will go to them!
Seeing my children play with these children in the villages we visit is so precious to me! My children are as much of a motivation to go to Guatemala as the children we get to serve.
In order to make this possible for my children and me, we need to raise $1700 each. That’s $5100 for the three of us. This cost is beyond our resources to fund. Would you consider partnering with us? Donating money for us to go not only covers our airfare, food, and lodging, but nearly half of the $1700 goes to funding the service projects that we will be doing. No money goes to either organization sponsoring this service trip. Everyone involved are volunteers and raise their own support, even the directors. This is a very good use of your money!
By donating money to help us cover our fees, we get to be an extension of your ministry to these children. We get to be Christ to them for you. This is an opportunity we don’t take lightly. We deeply appreciate your support!
Last Wednesday I was at Cub Scouts with my son who is nearly seven years old. The Cub Master asked the group of boys what holiday is next. My son’s hand shot up, and he was called on. He answered Christmas. The Cub Master in good form replied, “Yes, Christmas is coming soon, but there is still one more holiday before that one.” My son then answered Thanksgiving. The Cub Master, expecting a specific answer, asked, “What happens at Thanksgiving?” My son answered, “We thank God.” Cub Master, “Wow! That’s right! And, what else do we do?” My son, “Eat good food!” This last answer was the segue the Cub Master was looking for to make an announcement. If you can’t tell, my heart was bursting with pride and beaming with gratitude. He caught the true meaning of Thanksgiving.
Therefore, imitate God like dearly loved children. Live your life with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us. He was a sacrificial offering that smelled sweet to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)
I am always amazed at the innocent imitation of children. With their limited context they simply do what they see and hear. In the above passage, Paul is instructing the Ephesians to be like children in this way, imitating God by following Jesus’ example. In the wholeheartedness of children is the willingness to love unreservedly. As Thanksgiving approaches, let’s look to love one another like children, imitating the ways of Jesus, and may our gratitude be as genuine as the thanks is of little ones we care for.
In preparation for this Sunday’s Thanksgiving Together worship gathering at VLC, I felt that we need to have the opportunity to express exuberant praise to God. This thought came to me as I was taking mental inventory of many of the popular “thanksgiving” songs. They generally have a slow to moderate tempo and express deep heartfelt gratitude, which is entirely appropriate. But, think about it. When we receive a gift or experience a blessing, our first response is usually one of excitement and, for lack of a better word, praise. We extol the gift; we exalt the giver; we blurt out excited thank you’s. Then as we settle down a bit, thankfulness settles into our heart, and we’re able to articulate our gratitude. It is a God given process.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. (Psalm 100)
Each of the above stanzas of this Psalm begin with praise and conclude with an articulation of what we can be thankful for.
I hope this is helpful for you as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday.
Earlier this week I commented to some friends that the Lord has me on a journey toward thankfulness. I believe this stems from becoming distracted from the things that matter most, finding satisfaction in the Lord, family, friends, and basic necessities, all of which I have in abundance. Really, I lost perspective.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. (Psalm 100:4-5)
In the Bible, when referring to the gates it was often understood as the place of decisions and governance. The courts referred to the presence of the king. When our perspective is misaligned from the Lord, it is hard to give him praise. Allow me to slightly change the emphasis of the first two lines of the above passage.
If we enter his gates with thanksgiving, then we will enter his courts with praise.
If we choose gratitude in the midst and through out our daily lives, then the joy we find in praising God is not far off. How to choose gratitude is as unique as the individual. For me, I had to abandon the things that distracted me from being present in the moment with those who are most important to me. For you it may be different, but if your goal is to regain a sense of gratitude, then God’s faithfulness will meet you along the way.
Last week I shared on finding joy through expressing gratitude. This is completely backwards to our way of thinking. We usually give thanks for the things that make us happy. This happiness/joy experience is generally viewed as magical or serendipitous. Something we have no control over. My point in sharing this last week was two-fold. The first is that we are responsible for our own joy. The second is that genuine joy brings glory to God.
What does this have to do with dying daily?
Well, since I posted this last week, I have been personally challenged to be more grateful. And, through the testing I’ve learned that in choosing gratitude I needed to let go of something within, usually pride, in order to focus on someone else (spouse, child, co-worker, God). When Jesus calls us to be his disciple he is calling us to embrace the cross. Jesus died our death and rose to life that we might die his death and rise to life in him.
As I opened my iPhone Bible reading app this morning, I was greeted with this Verse of the Day:
This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)
My prayer for us (myself included) is that we will continue learning to love one another as Jesus loves us.