Day 21 – 23 Days of Thanksgiving – Chaos at Thanksgiving

We’ve been doing Thanksgiving at my parents home for quite a many years. Lots of people crammed into a smaller home. Kids and adults alike, it can be a bit chaotic, but I love that chaos. Nothing like having family together, even when we have different political beliefs, different stages of our lives, different religious beliefs, we are family, but we’re different. But the tie that brings us all together is we are family. We love each other and we come together to celebrate in our own chaotic fashion.

God calls us his children. We can be a bit chaotic in the grand scheme of things. We all have different cultures, beliefs, politics and lives. We come and we go, but the one thing that brings order out of that chaos, is the assurance of God’s love for us. No matter how far we stray, or how much chaos we have in our lives, the steady presence of God is always there for those that seek Him out. He is never more than a breath away. His love can over shadow any hurt we may be feeling. He brings order out of chaos.

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Day 20 – 23 Days of Thanksgiving – Doing Life

I love our small group. We started off as a group of three couples with a total of 8 children a little over two years ago. While we are all in the same community, we go to different churches. Since then we’ve grown to 5 couples and 14 children of the regular attenders. We come together to worship, to praise, to pray, to study and to eat. We’ve shared praises and we’ve shared sorrows. We’re doing life together.

The good and ugly, that’s what we share as we do life. We lift each other up, we encourage each other, we hold each other accountable and we serve the community together. I believe it’s what God intended for his church. The early Christians did exactly this. They met in each other’s homes, broke bread and worshiped.

To a certain degree the American church got away from this. We have become a nation of large churches and big productions. The small town churches are starting to fade as the years go by and the younger generation has moved to the larger churches. Shoot, I go to a fairly large church and I love it, but a big part of our Christian life is what happens outside of that one hour on a Sunday morning.

The small group, gives us an opportunity to get back to our roots as Christians, not to replace being fed in our churches, but to relate on a more personal level to other Christians in our community. As we meet, we our a group of Christians from different backgrounds, different denominations, different upbringings, but we all come together just as Christians.

I said this before, but I love our small group. Doing life with other Christians is what God intended for us. If you can, get yourself in one or start one. It will change you deeply.

Day 19 – 23 Days of Thanksgiving – Become Like Little Children

Having missed a few Sunday’s at church, I’ve been trying to catch up on the sermons. This morning I chose one entitled ‘Neighborhoods that Connect’. Please watch it as it’s quite good, but I will give some of the highlights and my thoughts in this post, all credits for the original material go to the pastor.

The basic premise is this;

If you want your neighborhood to connect, move in like a child.

God sent the savior of the world, not in like a general as many in the Jewish world wanted and was looking for (and perhaps many are still waiting for), but as a child. Jesus entered this world, not as a conqueror, but as a baby, just as we all came into this world. God’s answer to a fallen and corrupt world, was to send a child. He moved into our “neighborhood” as a child. What can we learn from this.

The Word became flesh and blood, and made his dwelling among us – John 1:14

When asked who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus answered with this;

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” -Matthew 18:2

So, if we want our neighborhood or our community to connect and we are called to be missionaries in our community, maybe we can learn something from looking at the children and see if we are becoming more like “little children.”

The sermon goes on to list three things about children and encourages us to think about how we are doing in becoming more child-like in our community.

Little kids actually believe their parents can handle it.

When our children are young, they truly believe that we as parents have it all under control (yes this does change as they get older — enjoy it while it lasts). Children never worry about bills or where their next meal is coming from. They just suspect that their parents will provide. My children used to automatically grab my hand when crossing the street. Why? They knew that as long as they held my hand, they were protected, so they never had to worry about crossing the street.

My adult daughter recently after working a 12-hour shift came home and told me, this adulthood stuff is awful. Not because she is lazy and doesn’t want to work, in fact she can be one of the hardest workers I know. But because she worries about working enough to pay her car-payment, to put gas in her car and pay the insurance. She worries about saving some money back so she can have a safety net in case her hours drop. She works hard at work so she can get ahead and be promoted and make her self more invaluable to her employer.

These are all things she never had to worry about when she was a child. Never thought about a car payment, mom and dad took care of that. Never had to worry about food, we did what we had to, to make sure our children were fed. We were always there to hold her hand and wipe away a tear.

Do we live a life where we believe our heavenly father can handle it? Do we live this way? The way of a child?

Little kids don’t know how to be fake or official.

Are we turning people away because we are “over” religious? Many people are turned away from the gospel, because it sounds too “religious.” When we come across as over spiritual or as “super religious” people tend to look at us as “those people.” God wants an authentic relationship with us. Pastor Lantz shows us some illustrations of the prayers of children.

Listen to the prayers of adults and how we talk with God and do a comparison. Who has the more REAL relationship with God? When we talk REAL with God, then we can do better at talking real with our community. A true authentic faith with God allows us to be real and authentic with our neighbors. This can bring about real change

Kids pray just by talking to God. Do we have a REAL relationship with God.

When was the last time we were that real with God? When we are that authentic with God, we can be that authentic with people in our neighborhood.

Little kids don’t care what your job is. They just want to play.

They don’t care about your position, your title, they just want to play. Kids don’t lead with what their title is, they just lead with who they are.

God doesn’t accept us for what we are, because of our title, because of what we do. He accepts because of what Jesus did on the cross.

Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. Matthew 18:4-5

Can we accept others as Christ accepted us? Those that are on the margins of society? Or the homeless? Or the unsaved? Do we accept and welcome them in our neighborhood?

My mother told this story of when my older sisters were very little in the late 60s, before I was born, my mother was walking downtown with her young girls in tow, and across the street were another family with small children who happened to be of another race. My mother asked, thinking to teach a lesson in the differences in people and how they were still much the same as us, “What is different about that family over there?” My one sister promptly stated, “They have ice cream cones and we don’t.”

Children don’t see the difference in people, they don’t see color or status. They just see people.

Day 18 – 23 Days of Thanksgiving – Friends of Outcasts

So as I’m preparing for a small group Bible study I’m leading at our house this weekend, I come across the story of Zacchaeus the Tax Collector as told in Luke 19. Some thoughts came to mind in how these verses play well into the theme I have going on in this series and I’d explore it a bit more here in this post. And this story convicted me today, because I know there are many ways I need to be more like Zacchaeus and like Jesus as portrayed here and I’m not even close at times.

Is Jesus passing by?

Let’s get started with verses 1 and 2 of Luke 19.

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.

Jesus had just performed a miracle by healing a blind man on the road to Jericho and he intended to pass through on his way to Bethany which was near Jerusalem. Jericho, being one of the chosen places of the priests. Jesus passed over their houses. To have a rabbi stay in your home would have been a great honor for any of them and they would have risen high in the ranks of prestige.

But no Jesus passed by and this story is about Zacchaeus, not only a tax collector, but the chief tax collector. Tax collectors were hated in that day and he being the chief would have been collecting the taxes from all the other tax collectors to hand off to the Romans. He made himself rich, probably from skimming off the top and overcharging people on their taxes. Tax collectors in the day were seen as little more than criminals.

Act in faith

He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming this way. -Luke 19:3-4

He had heard about this Jesus and wanted to see what he was all about. The word of Jesus’ miracles was getting around and people were starting to wonder what He was all about. Most likely, when the blind man was healed on the road to Jericho, people ran ahead and told the story and it spread like wild-fire. So there was a great crowd awaiting Jesus and Zacchaeus wanted to see him so he did what he had to do, he climbed a tree to look above the crowd.

How we talk about Jesus, can be enough to have someone catch a glimpse of him. As we live our lives, we are showing the fruit of the Gospel by our actions. That alone, could be enough to have someone come to see Jesus, without us saying a word.

So too, faith by itself, if it is not complemented by action, is dead. -James 2:17

We are called to go and spread the gospel. But that does not mean we are all missionaries overseas or a pastor or standing on a street corner or going door to door handing out Bible tracts. No we are spreading the Gospel everyday in how we live, how we treat the least of us, how we speak to others, how we handle ourselves in different situations. We are doing good (or damaging) the gospel everyday without saying a word.

Welcome Jesus gladly

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. -Luke 19:5-6

We don’t know if Jesus had any prior personal knowledge of Zacchaeus or not. But I contend what Jesus did know was the higher knowledge of seeing him in his inner nature, in his heart, that Zacchaeus was seeking out Jesus. He knew that Zacchaeus was looking to see what this Jesus was all about and had an open heart willing to learn. And when Jesus spoke, Zacchaeus acted at once.

Not only did Zacchaeus obey at once, he did so gladly. This seems to indicate a desire to commune with Jesus. To learn more about his teaching. Zacchaeus was thirsty for this saving knowledge. His heart was ready to receive Jesus. So he demonstrated his faith, but seeking Jesus and then welcoming him gladly when Jesus called to him.

Be a friend of outcasts!

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” -Luke 19:7

There is a story about a new pastor to a church, where on the Sunday that we was to be introduced to the congregation, disguised himself as a homeless man. He walked around the church before the service began and only a handful of people out of thousands even said hello to him. When he asked for some change to buy food, no one gave him anything.

He went into the main sanctuary and sat down in the front row. The ushers came and asked him to move to the back. He greeted people, only to be greeted with stares and dirty looks. As he sat in the back, the elders of the church were on stage and announced the new pastor. The congregation excitedly clapped and looked around with anticipation. When the homeless man stood up and began walking to the front, the clapping stopped. He took the stage and recited this verse from Matthew 25;

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The king will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ -Matthew 25:34-40

Are we like that? Do we leave church on a Sunday only to pass by a homeless man? Do we look down on those that are poor or sick or in prison? Jesus stayed in the home of a criminal, a deplorable person in the eyes of the Jews. Are we sharing the true gospel of Jesus or are we just passing by?

Give it away

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount. -Luke 19:8

I like to think that Zacchaeus’ faith took over at this point. That in a spontaneous act of work born out of his faith, he gave half of his wealth away. Out of the other half he would repay all those he had cheated four times over. This seems to drastic to just be a ploy to look good in the eyes of Jesus in the moment. I feel it was something that wasn’t planned.

We have never been great budgeters of our money. That is a discussion for a different time, as I think and wish we were better at it. But I love the joy of spontaneous giving. Those moments when we can give, not because it’s budgeted to give, but because of the promptings of God. Sometimes being in the presence of God will open up our hearts to give to those in need.

We must be careful that we don’t fall into the trap of being in the presence of a human, in power or up on a pulpit who is asking us to give, because we don’t know what their motives are. But the gentle promptings that God puts on our hearts are often unmistakable for what they are and they often come at odd times and strange places.

But not only should we give of our wealth, but of ourselves. God asks for the first fruits of all our crops.

Honor the Lord from your wealth and from the first of all your produce. -Proverbs 3:9

Our time, our talents and gifts, our possessions; all these things we should give freely of to those in need.

Deliverance from sin

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” -Luke 19:9-10

Jesus credited Zacchaeus salvation, not because of his lineage (apparently non-Jewish) nor because of his works alone, but because he had the faith of Abraham. The faith that he had to seek out Jesus and then when in the presence of Jesus, welcomed him in and his life was never the same afterward.

Not only did Jesus provide salvation from the penalty of sin, but also deliverance from the habit and the power of sin that Zacchaeus was in. Zacchaeus would not have given away over half of everything, only to go back to his sinful nature when Jesus was gone. He was a changed person.

Not only are we saved from damnation when we receive Christ, but we also change in our habits as well. They may not manifest as suddenly as they did in Zacchaeus, but they will manifest in you.

The faith that Zacchaeus had when seeking Jesus, the love of Jesus for welcoming a sinner, a criminal, a deplorable person in and then the example of Zacchaeus in his generosity and the usage of his possessions (ill-gained or God given) are an example for us all this Thanksgiving season and really all year round.

Day 17 – 23 Days of Thanksgiving – Yes we are Thankful

So here we are, less than a week to Thanksgiving and 17 days into my series on Thanksgiving. You may have noticed I’ve not mentioned Thanksgiving a ton in this series. While that was not intentional by me, I feel it was intentional by God. When I was planning out this series, I had notes for posts that tied in different Thanksgiving traditions. I planned on making this a series bringing together the holiday and the Word. However, most of those topics are still sitting in my planning folder without much written on them.

Most days when I would sit down to write the next post, I would look through my list and ask myself, which one would fit best. Invariably, I would create a brand new post, because God had put something on my heart and in my mind and the words would flow out of me. I can usually tell when a post is the correct post to write because the words come naturally to me and not forced. They come out and onto the virtual paper without any effort at all.

So today, as I sit down to write this post, I had nothing. Nothing from my list nor anything that I felt God was leading me to write. But I started to think about this series as a whole, because I was worried that I had went down a different path than I originally set out to go.

But isn’t that how this relationship between us humans and God usually goes? We feel called by God to do something, we agree with that, then essentially tell God, “I got it from here!” And then we go our own way and potentially make a mess of things.

This series is no different. I felt God leading me to write this series during Thanksgiving and I said, “Good idea! Here are all the great posts I want to write.” I feel God looked at me and said, “Nope, I’ve got a better plan, HERE are the posts you will write.” And I could do nothing but comply, because when I tried to write what I wanted, the words wouldn’t come to me and it was a struggle, but when I followed God’s plan, the came naturally.

And as I write this post and reflect back on the first 16 days of this series, I realize that while they didn’t follow my originally plan of linking Thanksgiving to the Word, they do talk a lot about things that we can be thankful for.

Thankful that we have a great God that puts those opportunities to do the small things that make a huge impact in people’s lives.

Thankful that we can come to him in prayer and that those prayers are heard and effective, even if we don’t understand how.

Thankful that we can come to Jesus and have a little talk.

Thankful that when we stumble (and we will), we are still loved.

Thankful that we have a God that loves. Enough so that he died on the cross for us, even before we loved Him.

So yes, this series has everything to do with the spirit of Thanksgiving.

Day 16 – 23 Days of Thanksgiving – Do you check out?

It can be so easy to keep our faith on the inside. Religion is an inherently private affair. It’s a personal relationship between God and us. It’s easy to avoid the conversation, because it can be awkward at times or people may become hostile towards you. When you try to avoid those situations we can tend to turn inward and essentially “check out” so we don’t have to deal with the conflict.

It’s natural, it’s human nature to try to avoid these situations. But we are called to share the faith with the world. But if we’re too bold and forward, we can be accused of “shoving our beliefs down their throats,” but some will accuse us of that anyways. I, don’t enjoy those awkward moments and have a tendency to try and avoid situations that may put me in them…but that also prevents me at times from being God’s hands and feet in the world and I can miss those opportunities that abound to do the little things for God. And if he can’t trust me in the little things, how can he trust me with big ones.

So how can I avoid “checking out” from the Christian faith, yet still be responsive to God’s opportunities?

Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity – Colossians 4:5

Who are these outsiders?
Practically speaking, the outsiders are those that don’t have a relationship with Christ. These nonbelievers are more interested in how we live than how we talk. While it’s still important to confess Christ with our lips, but our walk should match up with our talk. If we profess to be Christians on the weekends, then treat our spouses poorly in public, that does not match up with what Christ is about.

Edgar Guest once said, “I’d rather see a sermon, than hear one, any day.” Our words are ineffective if our actions don’t match up. Do our religious beliefs affect our daily lives? They should. If we’re one way on Sunday morning, but a different person come Monday morning.

So how do we correct this? Daily exercise in spiritual things. Read the Bible, pray and commune with God, praise and thank Him throughout the day.

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. – 1 Peter 2:12

Be wise among them
When dealing with secular society, believers should probably be cautious and tactful so as not to alienate our non-believing neighbors.

And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. – 1 Timothy 3:7

Not often will someone be truly convinced of something if they are badgered over and over with it. But as God acted towards us, with love, patience and understanding, we can act towards the non-believer. It’s not just a ploy to win them to our side, it’s a true love, like Christ loved us.

Don’t squander an opportunity
You never know when an opportunity will present itself to share Christ with someone. As we grow older, we come to realize that time is non-renewable, it’s slips quickly and quietly by. Each moment is invested with something, whether godliness, idleness or sinfulness. Once it’s invested, it’s gone.

Strive to use as much time as possible to honor God, to praise him and to thank him for being who He is. Use the time we have to make known to the world through our actions or speech the gospel of Christ. The opportunity we have comes in a moment and then it’s gone, perhaps to never come again.

I’ve coached American football over the years and one thing I always told the players, is “Don’t walk off that field, thinking I could have done a little more. I could have ran just a bit faster, or worked just a little harder. Once you walk off that field, the opportunity to do that is gone. You’ve invested your effort and the result was given. Walk off that field with no regrets.”

Life is a lot like that. People come and go from our lives. Opportunities to help, to server, or to just say hello. Let’s not walk off this “field of life” saying, “I could have done just a little more.”

Day 15 – 23 Days of Thanksgiving – Why Give Thanks to God?

During this time of Thanksgiving, we often list why we are thankful. So many things, but one I think we as Christians have in common, is giving thanks for a loving God.

Typically we give thanks to someone who has giving us something or done something for us. And certainly God has given and done many good things for us, so it’s right for us to do so. We give God thanks for good health, for awesome weather, for giving us a family we love. We give God thanks for the wonderful creation and he deserves that credit.

But giving thanks to God goes beyond that.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good -Psalm 136:1

God IS good. His very nature is good. Good is the essence of what God is. So when we give thanks to God, it’s not just for all that He’s done for us, but for who He is. When we are saying “Thank you” to God, it’s confessing his grace, his beauty and his greatness. It’s reflecting God’s very nature.

God IS good!