And so it begins. Actually, it already has begun. In fact, it has been going on for weeks. The ‘it’ is Christmas and, sadly, today’s ‘Black Friday’ shopping spree seems to be the highlight of the season for millions. Of course it’s wonderful to give gifts and smart to save money. But how many people put as much of their time and energy into preparing for the mystery of Jesus’ birth as they do buying stuff? That’s a tough question. In fact, it may be a tough question for you. If so, you have the opportunity to go beyond Black Friday. Not so much by stopping what you’re already doing. But by starting to get your heart, mind and life ready to celebrate the miracle that is Christmas – how God became fully human to share the fullness of God’s real love in real life with real people.
Thanksgiving is filled with great traditions, delicious food, and precious time with family and friends. Frankly, however, it’s a holiday you probably need to take a whole lot more seriously exactly because you live in a world of ever-growing crises, experience uncertainty about what the future holds, and possess a glut of stuff that fills your life and home. But how? Think your thanks - as you become more and more aware of how much you truly have to be thankful for. Give your thanks - to God for all your blessings, but more importantly for God’s love that reaches out to embrace you in every single thing you experience in life. Live your thanks - be gracious, generous, compassionate, joyful, hopeful and deeply committed to loving God and your neighbor in everything you do. So think, give and live your thanks because Thanksgiving isn’t just a once-a-year holiday, it’s how God has created you to live with every breath you take!
God never stops loving you. Which means God often experiences deep heartache – as hard as that may be to comprehend since God is the creator of all that is. The reason is the very nature of love itself. Since love embodies great vulnerability, passion and self-giving, there is always the potential for great pain. They simply go together. This means God hurts deeply when you turn away, harm others or fail to embrace God’s dreams for you. The point is not to try to fix God’s broken heart, because you can’t. It is simply to do something far more powerful than you can ever begin to imagine. Reach out to God, share yourself completely with God, and love God more and more and more. And then, do one more thing. Make these haunting lyrics the song of your heart, “… break my heart for what breaks Yours”.
God knows every possible thing about you. Which means, of course, God knows your failures, selfishness, greed, insensitivity and when you turn your back on God. Yet, in spite of all of this, God keeps loving you. Absolutely. Personally. And more than you can ever imagine. It doesn’t matter how many times you ignore God - God keeps loving you. It doesn’t matter how many horrible things you do - God keeps loving you. It doesn’t even matter whether you’re mad at God - God keeps loving you. And when God keeps loving you, grace is unleashed and amazing things begin to happen. God heals your hurts, takes your pain and uses it for good, and transforms you from the inside-out so you don’t stay stuck where you are. So remember this truth every time you feel rotten, lonely, depressed, unlovable or hopeless: God keeps loving you!
The world’s problems are endless – terrorism, poverty, pandemics, domestic violence, racism, and hunger. And no one seems to be able to fix them. Not governments, foundations, education, businesses or religion. Yet God is audacious enough to say to you, “You can make a difference.” And, believe it or not, you can. You can speak a word of love in the face of hate, sanity in the midst of insanity and hope in times of absolute despair. You can mentor a child, spend time with a homebound senior or help fight childhood hunger. You can pray with someone and share how God has made a difference in your life. This is not just some nice-sounding faith cliché about how things might be one day. It’s something you can actually do today. And it’s something you need to do today. Because if you don’t, who will?
Thanksgiving is almost here.
And I’ve got to be honest. It’s easy to overlook it in the rush to Christmas. Or give thanks for unimportant things. Or utter insincere words.
But something’s resonating deep within my soul. So much so, I’ve just got to give thanks. Not just any thanks. But thanks that gets to the heart of all that ultimately matters – You.
This expresses who I really am, even when I’m not my best me. Enables me to love You more fully, even when my love falls short. And changes how I live, even when I do it imperfectly.
And along the way I discover something so awesome words are completely inadequate to describe it. You use my inadequate attempts to thank You as opportunities to transform me from the inside-out. Until I’m left with nothing to do but thank You with everything I’ve got.
So, Lord, thank You. For the gift of life. For…
You’ve got a long list of things to do, lots on your mind and problems that don’t seem to go away. So it seems logical to get to work as quickly as possible so you can start dealing with it all. Right? Wrong! Because that moment when you’re ready to get to work is often exactly when you need to call a timeout to spend time with God. You can use this time in all kinds of ways – venting because you can’t take it any longer, letting God be your sounding board or even telling God what you think God needs to do. But once you’ve finished, it’s then time to get down to your most important work - resting in the palm of God’s hand so God’s love fills you to overflowing. When you do, you’ll discover the most amazing thing. You’re suddenly far better equipped to deal with everything going on in your life.
Life is complicated. Oh so complicated. Yet you still get to decide how you’re going to live even when life’s at its most complicated. That’s because you get to decide who’s in charge – you or God. It’s a real choice. And God really will respect your decision, even if you choose to leave God out of your life. But every choice has consequences. So you will struggle if this is your choice because you’ll never experience the fullness of God’s life, love and hope. However, if you are really ready to do your best to let God be in charge, you’ll be astounded by all the ways God brings out your best even when life is at its worst. You won’t be perfect. And your life won’t be perfect. But you’ll discover perfect love. And that’s a win every single time.
Here’s the honest - as well as confusing - truth about your relationship with God. It’s complicated. Not because God makes it complicated. But because you do whenever you think you have to find God, don’t feel worthy of God’s love or are convinced you constantly have to prove yourself to God. That’s because these things result in playing hide-and-seek, putting up all kinds of barriers and trying to take control of your relationship with God. But you can change all of this by doing just one thing. Focus less on you and more on God’s simple love. How God simply loves you just the way you are and nothing can ever change that. How God simply takes the initiative to come to you so your can personally experience the depth of God’s love. And how God simply keeps making the most amazing difference in your life every single day.
You know someone going through a difficult time. While you really want to do something, you don’t want to be intrusive, act on incorrect assumptions or do the wrong thing. So you concoct a list of ‘good’ reasons for doing nothing, turn it over to God to handle or just do something because that always seems better than doing nothing. But there is another way – invite God to help you figure out that thing you can do right now no one else can do. Of course, this means you’re going to have to be willing to make a serious investment of heart, soul and mind. But it’s an investment that will pay off because it can change someone’s life. Perhaps even yours. Because that’s what always seems to happen when you focus your life on loving God and loving neighbor with everything you’ve got.
Today could be the greatest day of your life. Or the toughest. Or, most likely, something in-between. In other words, it’s going to be another ‘real life day’. So what can you expect? The good, the bad and the ugly. Well-executed plans and unexpected detours. And moments on the mountaintop along with time mired in the valley. But here’s the thing about this – and every other – real life day. First and foremost, it is God’s day. And since it is, God intends to shower you with just the grace you need in exactly the way you need at the perfect time you need. Now that may seem like a lot to ask of God. But, remember, it is not about you asking. It is all about God giving. And that means you can know with a certainty there will be some special grace coming your way!