Make the Most of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day calls us to reflect and give thanks to God and others. But, many charge through the day without a single thought of gratitude. Missing the point of Thanksgiving Day is tragic. Failure to give thanks stymies us — not just on Thanksgiving Day but every day. 

Here are five things that happen when we fail to give thanks.

  1. We miss out. After healing 10 lepers Jesus asked the one that returned to give thanks, “Were not all ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?  Was no one found to return and give thanks to God?… Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:17-19) All ten were healed physically, but only one received a second and greater blessing — faith that made him well. All ten appeared fully restored, but only one was heart-healed. It’s a tragedy when circumstances improve and yet our hearts remain sick. We miss out on total healing when we fail to give thanks.
  2. We harm relationships. Socially, ingratitude is like horribly bad breath. People avoid complainers whenever possible and endure them only when necessary. Energy drains out of a room when grumblers enter. Nothing alienates like failing to thank others who help along the way. Trust breaks down. Resentment builds. Ingratitude makes a person ugly, shallow and annoying.
  3. We sabotage our joy. Psychologically, thanklessness is self harming. We blame circumstances for stealing contentment but often another thief (ingratitude) was already inside and allowed to loot first. We get mad at others for assaulting our peace but don’t recognize how we may have already subverted it.
  4. We grow extra weary. Physically, ingratitude has the same effects as starvation. Health requires a steady diet of thanksgiving. But when we starve our heart of the nourishment it needs our body feels the effects — tiredness, muscle pain, head aches, clouded thinking and lowered immunity. (Medical studies show that practicing gratitude has many benefits including: heightened immunity, increased alertness, improved sleep, and decreased pain.) 
  5. We endanger our soul. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened…[they] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for [idols]” (Romans 1:21,23)  Godless ingratitude, let unchecked, will consume our soul with darkness and eventually disintegrate our humanity.¹

It’s good to feed your stomach delicious food, but this Thanksgiving commit to feeding your heart gratitude.

  1. Remember Small Blessings: Take time to notice benefits, large and small. Thank God for food, shelter, health, relationships, modern conveniences and pleasant experiences.  By getting specific you’ll realize the innumerable blessings you take for granted. Recounting them will change your perspective from a restless emptiness to a serene fullness.
  2. Don’t Wait to Encourage: Take initiative to tell loved ones and friends at least one thing you appreciate about them.  Lead an “encouragement game” where participants are required to answer thoughtfully about others.  Start with these questions or develop your own:
    • What do you appreciate about _____?
    • How have you seen ______ care for another person?
    • How has ______ grown over the past year?
    • What special memories did you create with _______?
  3. Comfort Pain, Reflect Gain: Invite people to share about the year’s lows and thank them for their honesty. Offer grace by listening. As people share their pain be on the look out for positive character traits (strength, honesty, perseverance, wisdom, grit, grace, humor) and reflect them through encouragement. When you don’t know how to respond admit it.  Tell them you care and ask how you can help.
  4. Pass Forgiveness Forward: In Matthew 18:21, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”  Jesus’ answer was unexpected (He replied seventy times seven times.) He raised the bar and told a story that illustrated the lavish forgiveness of God toward us. The moral of the story was — since God has forgiven you extravagantly, you can (and must) forgive others. Only when you’ve experience forgiveness can you pass it forward.  Thank God for the total forgiveness granted in Jesus Christ and let that melt your heart toward those hard to forgive.
  5. Enjoy Divine Peace“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.” (Philippians 4:6-7) Only Jesus Christ is capable of winning the war with anxiety. Jesus overcame the worst of our broken world. His life proved God’s unending perseverance with you and his power transformed even death. You can trust God. Thankfully anticipating God’s goodness toward you and you will enjoy a divine peace, which surpasses your understanding.¹

Don’t blow another Thanksgiving. Make the most of the day. You won’t regret it and others may even thank you.

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¹Special thanks to Tom Hallman for suggesting I add a fifth danger and blessing.

Journal of Biblical Counseling Must Reads

The Journal of Biblical Counseling has collected their best articles from nearly 30 years and assembled them by topic. I highly recommend the five book set: On Relationships, On Anger, On Suffering, On Parenting, and On Redeeming Psychology.  You can purchase the complete set online at 40% off (Sale price $30) through the Westminster Book Store.

jbc-must-reads-setmPublisher’s Description: David Powlison writes, “These ‘must reads’ represent some of the best of what CCEF has to offer. The Journal of Biblical Counseling is a treasure trove of articles on life and ministry. These books give you a way in. We’ve picked topics relevant to those in ministry, and have selected key articles on each topic. We trust that each volume will be of real help for pastors, counselors, small group leaders, and anyone involved in the lives of others.”


“CCEF is all about giving hope and help with a ‘heart.’ If you want to learn how to effectively use God’s Word in counseling, this is your resource!” — Joni Eareckson Tada, Founder, Joni and Friends International Disability Center

Find Hope for Your Marriage

Revelation 21:1-8 pictures the greatest wedding of all time — God’s wedding. It takes place in the capital city of the new earth. I use this passage when officiating weddings because the bride and groom need a sober vision for marriage and experienced guests often need a hopeful vision.

Beautiful weddings are a sensual experience, touching all five senses. God’s wedding will be no different.

  1. See: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and…I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (21:1) Is there anything more beautiful than a bride on her wedding day? Not from the groom’s perspective! The groom busts with joyful anticipation as he gazes upon her beauty. She has adorned herself for him — not the groomsmen, nor even the guests. God looks at His bride with the same delighted anticipation. He gazes at the most beautiful bride in the world — sinners transformed by love and grace.
  2. Hear“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.” (21.3) Finally, the Father grants the bride (Christians) and groom (Jesus) intimate access to each other. During engagement boundaries exist. The bride is allowed to enjoy messages from God, walks with God and even visits from God. But on the wedding day, the Father will loudly proclaim that the bride may finally dwell with Jesus forever. Their access to each other will be full and forever. What a pleasant sounding proclamation.
  3. Touch“He will wipe every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (21.4) On this broken earth we shed lonely, painful tears. But in heaven, there will be no more sad tears. Wedding day tears will replace them. Precious tears will well up from gazing upon our beloved because we will realize we don’t deserve any of what we’re receiving. In heaven, Jesus will pull our face close to His and gently wipe away every tear that leaks with the joy of laughter.
  4. Taste: “It is done! I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of water of life without payment.” (21:6) Life in this lonely and harsh world leaves us thirsting for more. In heaven, our thirst will be satisfied with the best God has to offer — the spring of life. Even better, we will receive it without paying! Like a wedding, we will feast for free because someone else has already paid for the banquet. He who sits on the throne will say, “It is done.” Everything has been taken care of. God himself has paid the bill! Only an eternal and infinite God could afford such extravagance. He will lavish it upon Jesus, and His bride — a wedding gift that’s merely the deposit of a bigger inheritance.
  5. Smell“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (21:8) Burning sulfur is the worst smell — outranking dead bodies, sewer gas and wet dog. John reserves the last of the five senses to describe hell — the great divorce from God. When officiating weddings, it is tempting to skip this verse. But skipping would make my description of marriage unbelievable, especially in the ears of experienced people. Verse eight keeps it real. The list of sins span the gamut, but they have one thing in common — covenant breaking (cowards, faithless people, the sexually immoral, etc). People mock the idea of hell for the same reason newlyweds mock the idea of divorce. They think they’re too good for it. Their love is too strong. They refuse to entertain the possibility that their marriage could one day become a living hell. But when tested in life, people are more than capable of turning the heaven of their wedding day into a living hell.

Because we are sinners our marriage has the seeds of hell within it. But in Christ our marriage will also have the seeds of heaven in it. Your marriage will increasingly look like heaven or hell over the passing years! Let the mere scent of hell (covenant breaking) snap you awake like smelling salts and turn you back to your spouse in humility and love.

Hope for marriage comes as we recognize Jesus’ perseverance to endure hell for His bride and offer heaven in return. As you embrace your eternal spouse, Jesus Christ, you will be able to absorb the hell your earthly spouse sometimes drags you into and offer them heaven in return. It will feel like death, but as you carry your cross, Jesus will raise you to a new, heavenly love for your spouse. Then the gates of hell will come crashing down in your marriage as you grant forgiveness, offer compassion, speak encouragement and serve patiently.

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Hope Builder #8: Work Thankfully, Rest Regularly

People respond differently to suffering. Some disengage from work and all activities because they find it difficult to do anything that requires effort or focus. They want space to be alone and think. Others cling to their business in an effort to distract themselves from their pain. They don’t want to think. They want to move on but then are frustrated when they can’t.

During the season of suffering both work and rest are beneficial. If your recovery has stalled, reconsider the value of each and then make adjustments.

Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” We often think work is a necessary evil. But work is a gift from God. In paradise God gave humans work so that they could uniquely reflect His work of creating.  Humans image God, and align themselves to paradise, when they work.  When we follow God’s lead and work, we are re-creating. (Notice the same prefix and root for recreation.) Without work, we will never feel renewed or refreshed.  While suffering, our hearts desperately long for recreated hope. Getting back to work will help you recover. Maybe all you can work is an hour a day. Whatever you can do… do it.  

But since humanity’s fall into sin, we must not forget that this good gift of work has been cursed.  Genesis 3:17,19 says, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it, all the days of your life…by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food.”  

Under the curse, work became like silver —precious, but quickly tarnished. If we forget work’s cursed condition, we will either overwork or underwork to our own harm. This is especially true during seasons of suffering.  

Overwork contributes to living in denial. If you use work to distract yourself from your pain, it will not help you long term. Work cannot deliver you. Only God can do that. You must set aside time to struggle with God through the pain. Take hope that you are not alone. God’s special name for his people is Israel. Israel literally means: “you have struggled with God and men and have overcome” (see Genesis 32:28). Make time for God, even when you are really upset with Him.  For beginners, I recommend meditating on Psalm 77. 

Underwork contributes to living in despair. If you abandon the work God has for you and ruminate on your pain, you will not find the rest you seek. It will elude you. Your resting will feel increasingly restless. Nighttime will expand beyond the limits God sets, and wear holes in your day.  

Working rightly contributes to hope. When you start working again you will discover that light can pierce the darkness. Like the silver moon that reflects the sun, your work will reflect God’s glory and refreshing light will overcome the dark night of despair. The waves of your suffering cannot pass the boundaries God has set, but the tide can shift lower when engaging in thankful work.

If you are in doubt about the proper boundaries of work and rest, take your cues from nature. The night is for rest.  The day is for work.  Get out of bed when its time. Take one step, then the next — by faith, not sight. As you do, your pain will not disappear, it will transform into something new and energizing… hope sufficient for that day.

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

The New York Times bestselling author Timothy Keller has written an excellent book yet again. Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering is a must read 51ZvxGrNoYL._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_for all seekers of hope.

Here’s the description from Amazon:

“The question of why God would allow pain and suffering in the world has vexed believers and nonbelievers for millennia. Timothy Keller, whose books have sold millions of copies to both religious and secular readers, takes on this enduring issue and shows that there is meaning and reason behind our pain and suffering, making a forceful and ground-breaking case that this essential part of the human experience can be overcome only by understanding our relationship with God.

As the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, Timothy Keller is known for his unique insights into religion and culture. Keller’s series of books has guided countless readers in their spiritual journeys. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering uses biblical wisdom and personal stories of overcoming adversity to bring a much-needed, fresh viewpoint to this important issue.”

Hope Builder #7: Stop Scrubbing, Let God Clean Up

Humorist Erma Bombeck wrote, “Dirt. It’s what makes your life miserable. There’s dirt on the dishes. There’s dirt in the diaper. There’s dirt on the rug. There’s dirt everywhere. You spend all your time fighting against dirt…and what do you get for all your years of trouble? Six feet of dirt!”  

Cleaning up our lives is harder than we imagine! Cars, floors and clothes don’t clean themselves. After visiting a friend’s home, my wife wondered how they kept it so tidy.  Having once stopped by their home unexpected, I encouraged her with truth, “They’re not that clean!”

Dirt is everywhere. It is an unyielding competitor. Attending a funeral, reminds us dirt will win the championship match.  What’s true of physical dirt, is also true of spiritual dirt. Sin is everywhere. Sin is an unyielding competitor. Sin always ends in death. These are sobering words for any person aiming to clean up their life.

In Haggai 2:11-14 God shares a miserable secret about the power of dirtiness:

“Ask the priest about the law: ‘If someone carries holy meat… and [it] touches…stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’”

The priests answered, “No.” 

“If someone who is unclean… touches any of these, does it become unclean?” 

The priests answered [yes].” 

“So it is with this people. . . every work of their hands and what they offer there is unclean.”

You don’t have to be an expert in the Levitical law to understand the point. Dirty things are more powerfully contagious than clean things. Israel’s efforts to clean up their situation was not working. They were like doctors operating with bacteria infested hands.   

The Bible (not merely Haggai) caustically reflects a reality we hate to admit – all things being equal dirty things win. Sickness will eventually defile health, guilt will stain innocence, aging will rot away beauty (and strength), and death will end life. Try as we might, dirt clings like a relentless malignancy. You may fight it off for a season, but it comes back with a vengeance. Like Sauron’s ring, in The Lord of the Rings, no man can resists its power.

You might ask, “How does such a despairing thought lead to hope? George Bernanos said, “In order to be prepared to hope in what does not deceive, we must first lose hope in everything that deceives.”

Haggai gives us a gift because he detaches us from unrealistic expectations. Not that we despair of cleaning messes in our lives.  We simply expect constant and exhausting scrubbing. Plus we don’t expect cleanliness to last. Haggai forces us to abandon the false hope that we are sufficient to wash away the grime — of our sinful hearts and our sinful world. Haggai forces us back to God. Only God has the power to wash away all forms of dirtiness.

When we touch dirty things — disease, sin and death; the result is contamination. But when God touches dirty things the result is transformation. Jesus touched the Leper and did not become unclean.  Rather, He cleansed the Leper.  Jesus touched the dead and raised them to life. The cross (even as a political symbol) was cleansed of its shame and became a sign of God’s love and power.  

The next time you are frustrated and exhausted by your war against dirt (in all its forms) stop scrubbing so furiously. Instead ask God to cleanse it.

Surprised by your dirt? Confess your pride, jealousy, greed, anger, lust, and bitterness to God. Ask God to forgive you. He will wash away all shame. Jesus’ blood is the only cleansing agent that cuts through the stain caused by sin. Let his lovingkindness and beauty captivate your heart for purity. Let his abiding presence protect you from defiling yourself again.

Grossed out by other’s dirt? Maybe you’re nauseated by a self-absorbed roommate, an apathetic spouse or a hypocritically harsh boss. Ask God to grant you patience and humility. Commit yourself to loving with honesty. But spend less time arguing with them and spend more time asking God to show them their dirt. Trust God’s power to reach into the nooks and crannies of their heart and cleanse them.

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