Category Archives: Thanksgiving Devotionals

Love God…Thank God

A reprint from 2007 becomes

Grace Challenge Day 26

“YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

This is at the same time the easiest and the hardest part of Christianity. When you love something, no effort is needed to express that love.Being “in love” consumes us.Our every waking hour is devoted to thinking about the object of our love.We find ourselves struggling to focus on other things.We have to force ourselves to work, eat, sleep – or we do all these things with that person in and on our mind. Remember?When we love God on this plane, obedience and service and study and worship become effortless.My yoke is easy, my burden is light is realized in the context of absolute mad love.When we look at the verse as a whole, resisting the temptation to break it down into parts (What does it mean to love God with my heart or mind?) we see that the command is all encompassing. Love God with every part of you:the inside, the outside, the tangible, the intangible, the major, the minor, the significant and insignificant.In every way, with everything, LOVE GOD.

This leads us to the first problem:this is a command.If we are honest with ourselves we would recognize that the above statement is not descriptive of our natural tendency toward God.How do you force yourself to love someone or something?We have the idea that loving someone happens naturally, hence the term:“falling in love.”It just happens.It just keeps going.Well for most of us, this is not the way it is. We may have a sense that it just happened, but keeping it going has proved to be more of an effort – more like climbing than falling.

As I have contemplated this, here is an incomplete list of things to do to increase and build your love for God.

  1. Recognize the depth of your sin and the huge need you have to be forgiven (Luke 7:36-50). The one who has been forgiven much, loves much.
  2. Recognize that all that you have, everything, comes from God (James 1:17).Everything.Everything.Big things, small things, seemingly insignificant things, the things you love the most in this world, they all come from God.Try disliking someone who daily gives you a gift.If I were to take you out to lunch every day, pick up the tab and give you a present, after a while – you would look for me.You would love me.God showers us with gifts every moment, multiple times over.Think about your every breath, it is a gift from God.Start counting.
  3. Recognize, behold the beauty of God (Psalm 27:4). Beauty triggered our love affair with our girl.Beauty makes love easy.And God has surrounded us with beauty – Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name (Psalm 29:2).Beauty triggers love in us.
  4. Verbalize the value (Psalm 9:1-2).I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart, for every good and perfect gift. I will tell of all Your wonders and brag about Your beauty.Speaking is a powerful tool.It affirms the truth we believe.It discerns and points out our inconsistencies. To speak the words, “I love you Lord,” affirms and builds in us the emotion of love.It acknowledges and gives credit to God when you verbally thank Him, which affirms in you that the gift is a gift. It makes it harder to take for granted.
  5. Spend time in proximity to God (James 4:8). The promise is that if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us.When you spend a lot of time with generous, good, beautiful people, your tendency to love them will increase commensurately.God is the ultimate good, the most magnanimous, the unmatched beauty of the universe – when you see Him, you will love Him.He rewards those who seek Him.

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I am Thankful for Church

We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.   Paul to the Thessalonians, book 1, chapter 1, verses 2-8.

I am thankful for my church.

It is the place I have been fellowshipping and serving for the last 21 years.  Like Paul, I have been practicing thanksgiving for the church for 21 years.  God is at work in the church.  He is cultivating faith, love and hope in Christ Jesus.  The people are beloved of God and chosen by God.  I have witnessed growth and the imitation of Christ repeatedly.

Are you thankful for your church?  If not, I would recommend a change of attitude.  Here are some reasons to be thankful for your church.

It is a place of faith.  One of the primary graces of God to you and your brothers and sisters in Christ is the gift of faith.  In the church we find people of faith and since faith results in faithfulness, trustworthiness, and loyalty you can find people who will be faithful to you, that you can trust.  Everyone needs those kinds of relationships and they are to be found in the church.

It is a place of love. God is love.  If we love God we will love one another.  The church is a place of love.  Everyone needs people to love them.  The church is a safe place where love rules.

It is a place of hope.  God is in the business of replacing despair with hope.  No matter what the circumstances around us we can find hope in the worship and promise of the church.  God is in charge.  He works all things together for good, He will never leave or forsake us.

In over 50 years of belonging to the church I have found this to be true, and I am thankful for the church.

If you have a different experience, here is my advice:  start being thankful for the church.  Start small.  Be consistent in thanksgiving and then look for people who need a dose of faith, hope or love and start giving it out to them.  Instead of looking for others to love you, build up your faith and give you some hope, be the person who loves, offers a leg up to someone who needs a boost of faith, and find someone who is more desperate than you and inject some hope into their lives.  I guarantee it will change your experience of the gathering on Sunday that we call church.  If you become a reason for someone else to be thankful, you will start to like being a part of the church too.

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Lexicon of Gratitude

Yesterday’s post was simply a posting of Psalm 100.  It is a simple Psalm of Thanksgiving.  Here are some of the key words in the Psalm.

Joy:  the highest mood of worship is joy.  Shouting with joy accompanied the sacrifices because they brought about forgiveness (Leviticus 9:24).  Shouting with joy accompanied the presence of God (Isaiah 12:6).

Praise: sincerely exalting the character, nature, and activity of another, specifically God. Praise is a confession or declaration of who God is and what he does.

Thanksgiving: express one’s public proclamation or declaration (confession) of God’s attributes and his works. This concept is at the heart of the meaning of praise.

Bless:  Bless the Lord is an odd phrase.  Usually the blessing goes from the greater to the lesser, and in this case we are called to “bless the Lord.”  Its answer may be found in noting that the root of the word is “kneel.”  Just as Thanksgiving is a necessarily reciprocal activity (Thanksgiving has a subject and an object, you can’t be “thankful” without someone to be thankful to) blessing may have the same reciprocal characteristic.  In order to receive God’s blessings, we must bless/kneel to Him in praise and Thanksgiving.

Grace Challenge Day 24 leads us into the final weekend. Fill tomorrow’s worship with shouts and songs of Joy, Praise and Thanksgiving, and bend then knee in worship so that you might experience the blessing of God.

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Psalm 100

A Psalm for Thanksgiving.
Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth.
Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing.
Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations.

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Thanksgiving Proclamation

Every year the President of the United States makes a proclamation of a day of Thanksgiving.  It wasn’t until 1942 that the fourth Thursday of November was the “regular” day for Thanksgiving.  In the early days Thanksgiving was often celebrated in December.  This proclamation by Franklin Delano Roosevelt was given the last year of WW2.  It is a good read!  I also enjoyed his suggestion that people read the Scriptures between Thanksgiving and Christmas “to the end that we may bear more earnest witness to our gratitude to Almighty God…”

THANKSGIVING DAY, 1944
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA – A PROCLAMATION
In this year of liberation, which has seen so many millions freed from tyrannical rule, it is fitting that we give thanks with special fervor to our Heavenly Father for the mercies we have received individually and as a nation and for the blessings He has restored, through the victories of our arms and those of our allies, to His children in other lands.
For the preservation of our way of life from the threat of destruction; for the unity of spirit which has kept our Nation strong; for our abiding faith in freedom; and for the promise of an enduring peace, we should lift up our hearts in thanksgiving.
For the harvest that has sustained us and, in its fullness, brought succor to other peoples; for the bounty of our soil, which has produced the sinews of war for the protection of our liberties; and for a multitude of private blessings, known only in our hearts, we should give united thanks to God.
To the end that we may bear more earnest witness to our gratitude to Almighty God, I suggest a nationwide reading of the Holy Scriptures during the period from Thanksgiving Day to Christmas. Let every man of every creed go to his own version of the Scriptures for a renewed and strengthening contact with those eternal truths and majestic principles which have inspired such measure of true greatness as this nation has achieved.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, President of the United States of America, in consonance with the joint resolution of the Congress approved December 26, 1941, do hereby proclaim Thursday the twenty-third day of November 1944 a day of national thanksgiving; and I call upon the people of the United States to observe it by bending every effort to hasten the day of final victory and by offering to God our devout gratitude for His goodness to us and to our fellow men.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States of America to be affixed.
DONE at the City of Washington this first day of November in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and forty-four and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and sixty-ninth.
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT

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The Shape of Pain

My wife Kelly is our guest blogger on this

Day 21 of the Grace Challenge

My life has been shaped by pain.

I was 11 when it became a daily companion. At first it was restricted to my feet and back, and meant adaptive P.E. Classes, physical therapy, and occasionally crutches. As time passed, I got better at adapting. About 10 years ago, the pain became more widespread and more challenging to manage. This month has been particularly bad.

If you read the Grace Challenge post on the 20th, you will remember that Steve ended the post by saying we need to flesh out our gratitude, and one simple way to do that is to pray a simple prayer, thanking God for how He has made us. I’m sure there have been times in all of our lives when that is a difficult prayer to pray. For me, it’s the laying in bed at 2 in the morning unable to sleep because of the pain, but over the years, I’ve learned to be very thankful for how I was made and that I serve a God who is in the business of redeeming.

God redeems, He takes what is broken, twisted, imperfect, and works with it to bring about good. In His hands we can all be used to bring Him glory. I find great comfort in that fact. Comfort in knowing that God can redeem and use pain, to transform me, to understand another, to bring Him glory.

We may struggle to give thanks in all things, but we can always give thanks that we serve a God who can take those struggles and make them good. And as we do that, as our gratitude becomes focused not on what we are giving thanks for…but on who we are giving thanks to, we are transformed.

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How Blessed Are You?

I find it amazing that I can find things to complain about even when things are going well.  Do you do the same thing?  It has become popular to label some of the things that we complain about as “First World Problems,” meaning that they really aren’t problems at all in comparison to someone who lives in an impoverished country.

For instance.  I am really upset that the microphone on my Android Tablet doesn’t work so I can’t Skype or Hangout on Google or use the voice to text feature.  Arhhhggggh! (My spell checker isn’t working either).

That is a first world problem.  As I sit here in Starbucks with my Black Tea Lemonade (I don’t drink coffee) ready to complain that the AC is too low and the music too loud and the chair is too hard…well, you get my point.  This is not to say that people who have “much” can’t suffer or have real problems.  It is to say that we need to guard what we consider a legitimate gripe or complaint.

A real first world problem is that we have a superabundance of material blessings for which to be grateful. (Check out the Global Rich List to see where you rank among the world’s wealthy) And we should be grateful.  But the lesson is that no amount of physical and material wealth and blessing will bring true satisfaction and this base dissatisfaction will drive us to greed, consumerism, materialism, the constant pursuit of wealth above everything else, and , ultimately, a lack of contentment.  There are different arenas in which we give thanks.  We give thanks for things.  We give thanks for people/relationships. We give thanks for beauty.  We give thanks for spiritual things.  Those things are all proper and good.

But there is another area of thanks that is necessary and more basic than all the rest, that  is thankfulness for personal creation.  It is this area of gratitude that will make sure that you will be a thankful person no matter the circumstances external to you.

Are you thankful for how God has put you together?  

Before we finish the Grace Challenge and so that it isn’t just a passing activity that we involve ourselves in, this feature of Grace-Gratitude-Graciousness demands exploration.  This is how we move from Gratitude simply being something that we do and make it into something that we are:  truly Gracious people.

So here is a Grace Challenge Prayer that needs to be fleshed out by you, but let’s start with a simple phrase to pray:

“Father, thank you for making me the way you did.”

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The Grace Challenge Works

As we walk through the Grace Challenge together the habits of our life and the assumptions we make are put to the test.  One of the challenges shared with me is summed up by this question:  “So, I got a ticket the other day, how am I supposed to be thankful in that situation?”  The room exploded with suggestions:

  • Thank God that you missed a potential bad situation.
  • Thank God for your ability to drive, your car etc.
  • Ignore the ticket and thank God for one of the other many blessings you experienced that day.

What struck me was the amount of alternatives that the room came up with (some pretty wacky) and it struck me that people were changing over the course of the month as a result of the challenge.  The important thing about the challenge is not simply the change of behavior, rather a change of perspective. Be careful that it doesn’t become another thing that you “do”, but something that you “become.”

 

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The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

9 And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:
10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11 “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
12 ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’
13 “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’
14 “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

The villain in this parable is the “thankful” one.

Building on the idea that Jolene shared with us Friday (Tone is EVERYTHING), that tone is as important as the words we use, this parable intimates that we can be thankful for the wrong things, or be thankful in the wrong way.  Thanksgiving can become another ugly “religious” posture that we take.

In this parable the Pharisee expresses thanks, but it is self-centered and self-oriented.  The thanks he expresses takes credit for the gift given and uses it to look down his nose at others.  The way that we avoid the practice of thanksgiving devolving into “ugly” is by maintaining our twofold focus.  We are in the middle of the equation:  Grace – Gratitude – Graciousness.  Our part is to give thanks.  Gratitude is flanked by two others: God and people.  God is the grace giver.  People are the recipients of our graciousness.  It is a parallel to to the greatest commandments:  Love God, Love others.

When our thanksgiving is focused correctly we avoid the ugly religious “thankfulness” of the Pharisee.

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Gratitude leads to Rest

Grace Challenge, Day 17

Traditionally in Jewish culture, Saturday is the Sabbath – a day of rest.  

Rooted in creation and the Ten Commandments, Sabbath was a calendared reminder of the sovereignty of God and of His blessing.  It served as a reminder of God’s grace, His promise to overcome sin.  In the Sabbath we have the promise of the cessation of work, a reward for labor.  

The book of Hebrews looks at this from the negative standpoint:  The Israelites in the wilderness provoked God, hardened their hearts and failed to enter the rest of God, the promised land. It serves as a vivid warning as the Psalmist and the author to Hebrews express that illustration with these words:

Today if you hear His voice,

Do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked me. (Psalm 95:7; Hebrews 4:15)

The hardening describes people who were not happy with what God provided (water in this case, Exodus 17) and grumbled.  It would make sense that gratitude would be the opposite of hardening, thanksgiving the opposite of grumbling.  So, if you want rest – give thanks.

Today is Saturday; it might be a good practice to make every Saturday Thanksgiving.

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