Happy Thanksgiving

As we head into Thanksgiving, it’s helpful to remember that gratitude is not a feeling. It’s a choice. At its core, thankfulness is not an emotional response to our circumstances, it’s a considered response to God. Gratitude is less something we stumble into and more something we lead our hearts into experiencing. Gratitude is less about what’s going on in our lives and more about our outlook on all of life.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

James 1:17

When we choose to be thankful, we are intentionally reminding ourselves that our lives are a gift of God’s grace. From spouses, to kids, to warm beds, good coffee, and crisp fall mornings. It’s all a gift. And, ultimately, the greatest gift God gives us is Himself.

Thanksgiving is possible not because everything goes perfectly but because God is present. The Spirit of God is within us— nearer to us than our own breath. It is a discipline to choose to stitch our days together with the thread of gratitude. But the decision to do so is guaranteed to stitch us closer to God.

Adele Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us

Some of us are headed into a holiday that will make it especially easy to be grateful – family, friends, football, and a huge meal. You’re basically living a Hallmark movie these next few days. Great! You shouldn’t feel bad about that. You also shouldn’t settle for it. Reach for something better – a heart that is tuned to the melody of gift and grace.

Some of us are headed into a holiday that will make it a little harder to be grateful – grieving lost loved ones, working on the holiday, being alone, or confronting the painful realities of family. I get it and I’m sorry. But you don’t need to write off Thanksgiving. Ironically, you might be most likely to discover the thread of true gratitude.

My prayer for all of us is that we walk into this holiday with intentionality. What a gift to have space to contemplate the love, power, and presence of God in our lives. May the Lord be near and lead us all to a deeper awareness of just how much we have to be thankful for in this season.

Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash

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.”

Happy Thanksgiving

thanksgiving

In 1863, when our country was ravaged by civil war, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring a national day of Thanksgiving on the 4th Thursday of November.  He ended his statement with these words:

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

I’m praying today will be about more than parades, turkey and football.  May it be about the grace of the God who sustains us all.  May it be about the praise of the Father from whom all blessings flow.  And may it be about healing the wounds of our nation today, in this season of strife.  Humble us, Father, under Your Almighty Hand.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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!