“…in everything give thanks ; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”
(1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Thanksgiving Day in America. Feasting, watching football, hanging out with family, and for many, getting ready for the Olympic event known as Black Friday. In a country of affluence and convenience, privilege and entitlement, sometimes we lose sight of our need to be grateful. We take SO MUCH for granted on a daily basis. If we could for a moment walk in the footsteps of others who are desperate, even fighting for their lives. I think of Palestinian families in Gaza who are in anguish right now because of their precious children who were killed earlier this week. Then there’s the Democratic Republic of Congo which is about to break out into civil war yet again. My thoughts are in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District where 5,000 homeless people wander the streets, helpless and forgotten. I see pictures of church members who have lost family members this year and will face the first holidays without them.
We can so easily thank God when things are going well. But, can we still lift our hands in surrender and praise even when the situations are terrible? When it feels like the whole world is against? And everyone has forgotten us. Paul says that this is what God wants for us…His will for me…that we ALWAYS have gratitude.
Paul knew what it meant to surrender, to sacrifice, to submit. He knew abundance and want. He knew applause and rejection. He knew favor and condemnation. But yet, even from a Roman jail cell, he exhorts people to give thanks in everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly. No matter what life brings, God still reigns supreme. He doesn’t change and is forever watching over us.
I look back on this year, despite a lot of frustration, and find so much to give thanks…
- For my family (siblings especially) who constantly encourage and support me, even in ways they don’t know. They are a constant refuge, those whom I can retreat to and be myself. I have noting to prove. I’m grateful for their lives and their health.
- That my sister, Natasha, is still with us. She has faced cancer three times in the last 11 years. Each time, she has emerged with a greater faith and love for Christ. Her only prayer is that her life would glorify Christ. Even with recent developments of congestive heart failure, crazy meds, and the installation of a pacemaker, I so sense peace, contentment, and joy that I wish I had access to.
- That through my own struggles, God has led me through and given me hope for each new day. After all the tests, my heart is healthy and I’ve been given a clean bill of health by my doctor. I’ve started to figure out what God is doing and how I get to jump in and be a part of it.
- For Inspire Urbana. What an amazing display of God’s love, care, and compassion to a hurting community. This ongoing outreach has helped me to find my place again.
- For our staff and church. I count it a privilege to serve with these men and women of God. Different, quirky, and challenging, and I love everyone one of them. I remember a very vivid moment last June as I finished preaching on a Sunday morning. We sought to honor a single mom who herself was struggling but selflessly served others. We wanted to help her celebrate her Habitat for Humanity House so we got her flowers, rented her a limo and took her for a great meal at a local restaurant. When I saw her burst into tears, I said under my breath, God thank you for this church. It’s my home. Then I think of the 1,000 families who are probably enjoying their Thanksgiving dinner because some complete strangers made it possible for them to understand today…and embrace hope.
- And I thank God that despite my past, mistakes, faults, sins, failures, mess-ups, and foolish decisions…He has been good to me, infinite and generous in grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. He is my Lord and Savior, Father and Creator, the very reason I live and exist.
I hope this will be my attitude tomorrow, next week, next month, and throughout this next year. Thanksgiving…may it not be a day but a lifestyle.