A Thanksgiving That Will Really Make You Happy

Thanksgiving 2018

Happy Thanksgiving!

Usually that’s our way of saying we hope everything goes well as someone celebrates this holiday.  We hope our family and friends are able to navigate the holiday with minimal unpleasantness: no burnt turkeys, drunk uncles, fights over dinner, or traffic.  It’s our way of saying we hope you have fun, get to relax, and maybe even get a nap at some point over the weekend.  There’s nothing wrong with any of that but it misses the deeper reality of that greeting – being thankful actually makes us happy!

By the way, that’s not sentimentality.  It’s science.  Study after study has confirmed that being thankful makes us happier.  When we take time to reflect on the things that make us grateful and express that gratitude, it actually changes us on a neurobiological level.  Being thankful causes our brains to release both dopamine and serotonin.  Dopamine is the chemical that makes us happy, optimistic, sociable, and goal-oriented.  Serotonin is an anti-depressant that increases will power and motivation.   So, if we do this thanksgiving thing correctly, it should literally make us happier!

The Apostle Paul didn’t understand the neurobiology of gratitude but he knew the experiential reality of it.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9

That’s my prayer for you this Thanksgiving.  May the peace of God guard your heart as you allow gratitude to mingle with your need in a way that drives away anxiety.  May the joy of Christ be yours as you meditate on the goodness, mercy, and provision of God in your life.  May you be more focused on the blessings you celebrate than the details of your celebration.

So, Happy Thanksgiving.  Or maybe I should say, “Thanksgiving Will Make You Happy.”

Thank You, Restoration City

thanksgiving-2016

Thanksgiving is always a little convicting for me.  But in a really good way.  When I slow down and reflect, I realize just how much I have to be thankful for in life.  My wife, my kids, our families.  Health.  Friends.  God’s provision in our lives.  A job that I love in a city that I love.  So, how in the world do I spend so much of the rest of the year grumbling and complaining?  It seems hard to believe.  And then I add in the blessing of knowing Jesus, the freedom of being forgiven, the certainty of heaven and my ingratitude becomes downright wickedness.

Ingratitude is the fruit of pride – I’ve earned what I have.  It’s the fruit of envy – I think I deserve more.  It’s the fruit of a heart that isn’t abiding in Jesus – if God loved me, He would be doing more for me.  It’s the fruit of a soul that isn’t a rest – as Bono would sing, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.  And it’s the fruit of not pausing to say thank you.

It’s the last one that I want to deal with today.

When I think about Restoration City, I’m overwhelmed by how much I have to be grateful for this year.  I genuinely love (and like!) our staff, elder and leadership teams.  God has done things for and through us as a church in the last 12 months that are extraordinary.   And I can go on and on.  But what’s really on my mind today is the extraordinary kindness so many of you have shown Laura and I in the last month since Emma was born.

In the last four weeks, we’ve had friends drop off meals, take our boys to the park, clean our house, fold laundry, take our boys to church, send notes, drop off incredibly thoughtful gifts for Laura and send a constant flow of encouraging text messages.  I can’t tell you the number of times Laura and I have said, “I can’t imagine having a baby outside of the local church.”  I’m honestly not sure how new parents do it without a strong community around them.

Thank you, Restoration City.

You are such a gift to me and my family.  When Laura and I were dreaming about planting a church, we were dreaming about a community that would love and serve one another the way you have loved and served us this past month.  We dreamed of a community that would make Jesus visible by the way we cared for one another.  I know we still have a long way to go but the glimpses we’ve seen this past month have been even more beautiful than we imagined.

I’m praying 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10 for us as a church, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more”  It’s a gift to be a part of what God is doing in this little expression of His church.  He’s teaching us to love one another.  Let’s be bold enough to ask Him for the grace to do it “more and more.” Who wouldn’t want to be part of a community that excels at loving one another?

I love you, Restoration City, and am so grateful to have you in my life and for the privilege of being in yours.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Gratitude For Grown Ups

Grateful For Hard Things

I’m slowly learning to think differently about gratitude.

When I was a kid, I was grateful for all of the good things in my life. Gratitude was my response to unexpected trips to the beach, staying up late or going out to eat. I had a lot to be grateful for as a kid and thankfulness came pretty easily. But as I got older, life started to get harder. Carefree summer days were replaced with summer jobs. School got harder, there was pressure to get into college and there was pressure to pay for college. All of the sudden, the world seemed to offer me less and demanded more from me.

I needed to rethink gratitude. So, I figured out how to become grateful in spite of hard things. I decided I wanted to be a glass half full kind of a guy and focus on the good things happening in my life. So, I would deal with break-ups, financial uncertainty and rouge friends. I was determined not to let the pain of life take away my gratitude for the good things in life.

The older I get and the longer I walk with Jesus, the more I’m learning to be grateful for hard things. I’m figuring out the road to the best things in life requires risk, sacrifice, suffering and faith. It’s the hard things that become the best things. That’s the story of 2015 for our family – Aidan’s birth, the church’s growth and fresh insights into marriage, family and Jesus. None of them came easy. All of them required stretching, believing and sacrificing more than I wanted. But they are so worth it.

I don’t know that I’m fully there yet – I still get pretty frustrated when things don’t go my way. But I’m learning what grown-up gratitude looks like.

It’s not just thankfulness for the good things.

It’s not even thankfulness in spite of hard things.

It’s thankfulness for the hard things.

Now the trick is remembering that the next time life gets hard.

You’ve Gotta Say It

I came home from work the other day and started filling Laura in on everything that had happened since we last connected in the morning.  In the course of our conversation, I started talking about a member of our church and said something along the lines of, “I really love that guy and am so grateful for him.”  Laura’s response was so typically female and so incredibly convicting, “Did you tell him that?”

Umm….no!  What’s wrong with you?  Guys don’t talk that way, babe!

Rather than say all that, I just mumbled something like, “no, but I’m sure I will” and quickly changed the subject.  But Laura’s point was right on.  Secret gratitude doesn’t do much good.  But the words “thank you” have tremendous potential to lift, encourage and honor other people.  So many times, I make the mistake of assuming people know I love them or appreciate them.  Don’t fall into that trap.  Be vocal, genuine and generous with your love and your gratitude.

The Apostle Paul (who is not the most touchy-feely guy in the Bible!) did this so well in his letter.  Look at what he says about the church in Philippi in a letter addressed to them, “For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:7-8)  Talk about swinging for the emotional fences!

You don’t have to be as eloquent as Paul to encourage someone today.  So, let me ask you; Who do you need to text, call or look in the eye and thank?  Who are you assuming knows how much they matter?  Take some time to reach out today and tell them!

Thanks For A Great Two Weeks

These past two weeks have been some of the best in my life.  Laura and I have both said these weeks around Jack’s birth are in the same category as the two weeks around our wedding.  Both were life shaping, filled with more blessings than we ever dared pray for and better than we ever imagined.

So, I’m grateful this morning.  I’m in awe of God, His kindness and His grace.  I’m so aware of just how amazing my wife is.  I’m so grateful the beautiful little boy napping by the fire while I write this is my son.

And I’m grateful for the staff team at Frontline and The Gathering, especially our campus pastors.  Will, Nate and Mike have stepped up in huge ways to preach, to lead and to keep everything moving while I’ve taken a step back these past two weeks.  They are three of the best guys I know and I’m blessed to serve with them.  Yes, they’re friends and I’m biased but, Frontliners, you should know you have some of the best campus pastors imaginable.

When you pray for your campus pastor, I hope you are filled with the same sense of gratitude for them that I am.