Have faith. Have faith.

John Leavy LockeRamblings from my head – from January 22, 2016, the day that would have been John Leavy Locke’s 43rd birthday.

When I was 4, I used to sit on the sidewalk in front of my house & watch the 3 boys across the street play in their front yard. And I thought they were so lucky because they had brothers that were old enough to play with. And all I had was a 1-year old little brother, Johnny, that wasn’t good for much except crying & refusing to eat his peas & carrots. One day, my dad came out & sat next to me on the curb while I watched the neighbors playing, again, & he told me, “Before you know it, Johnny will be big & he’ll be able to play & you guys will have so much fun. And he will grow up to be your best friend.” I can remember thinking in my head, “Maybe. But that time is SO FAR away…”

But it happened. Johnny grew up. And we DID become best friends – we spent our childhood playing baseball & football from dawn til dusk in the backyard. One of my favorite things was to teach Johnny how to do something – we had a baseball tee in the backyard, & he was trying to hit the ball off the tee, without success. He said, “Help me Louie!?” And I did. And I loved it.

Sometimes the games carried into the house, with the predictable destructive results to the house – & also to Johnny – I remember trying to teach him what form tackling was in the living room. I was on my knees to make it fair – & he ran the football towards the end zone (aka the fireplace) & I launched myself at him & sent him sprawling. I was so proud of my form tackle that I didn’t notice him get up & run as fast as he could to the back of the house. I yelled at him, “Come back here you chicken. You have to tackle me now.” He didn’t come back… turns out when he fell he hit his forearm on a screw sticking out of an open door – & his forearm was sliced open, clean as a whistle, no blood at all, from his wrist to his elbow. Good times.

We did everything together – early morning paper routes, collecting baseball cards, cheering for the hapless SF Giants, feeding the dogs & chickens… although somehow he found ways to be missing when it was time to clean the chicken coops. Johnny was a great athlete, probably the best out of the four of us boys, & worked incredibly hard at everything he did. When I was 12, my Little League manager pulled Johnny up from the Farm division & promoted him to Majors. We got to play ½ a season together… & it was obvious that while I still had the upper hand, he was going to be much, much better than I was at baseball. I remember one of my teammates asking me if I was mad that my brother was on our team now… I said, “Nope. He’s good.”

The older we got, the better friends we became…And the more intense our fights got. I’d wake him up in the morning & he’d welcome me with a baseball aimed at my head. We’d wrestle & somehow I’d end up with a bloody nose because Johnny had ‘accidentally” kneed or elbowed me in the face… again. Our conversations shifted towards topics fitting our teen years… Sports. Girls. Music. His interest in “New Wave” fashion – he was a fashion-ista & rocked board shorts, surfer t-shirt & black/white/red Air Jordans as easily as he did cool pegged jeans, top-siders, & pastel button ups. Goodness, he was confident – so sure of himself, much more so than I ever was. I appreciated his strength, his sarcasm, his ability to show compassion, his loyalty, as well as the killer instinct on a football/baseball field. He was my best friend.

The memories whirl around me like I’m in the eye of a hurricane, & they’re flying around me, so vividly faint that I feel overcome… & I don’t want them to stop.


When Johnny was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, everything in our family got turned upside down. My strong, independent brother became fragile & dependent on others for the most basic of tasks. He spent quite a bit of his last months in San Francisco receiving experimental treatments in the hope that his body would rebound. I didn’t know how to deal with the hurt, pain, grief, & other negative emotions I felt, so I did what I knew: I poured myself into work, hoping beyond hope that when I finally lifted my nose off the grindstone, everything would be back to normal. It never happened.

And through it all, I watched my little brother Johnny grow as he experienced the closeness of a God who would never leave or forsake him, even when he was walking through the Valley of the shadow of death. In many ways, my faith in Christ had been theoretical – never before tested; then, right in front of my eyes, I got to see what it looked like to persevere in the face of adversity, to find joy & peace in times of despair & chaos. I got to see & hear the response of a 17 year old who was asked, “So, do you want to die in the hospital or at home?” He said, “I’m going home. And if I die, I will bring God glory. And if I live, I will bring Him glory. Either way, I win.” And he meant it.

In his last days, Johnny received assurances from heaven in the form of dreams. He didn’t go into a whole lot of detail about them, but there was a calm, a peace, a sort of anticipation present in his eyes & his countenance. He was in & out of consciousness quite a bit – one of the last things he said to my parents was, “Have faith. Have faith.” And he meant it.

Saturday night, June 16, 1990, Joni & I visited my parents home & Johnny in the downstairs – he was mostly out of it, but we hung out for a while & talked to him. We got up to leave & I told him I loved him. As I walked up the stairs, I can remember him faintly saying, “Love you Louie.”

We got a call from my mom early the next morning – Johnny had gone to be with Jesus at 4:34 a.m. Sunday, June 17, 1990. Father’s Day. His last words: “Help me Louie!?”

I’m still trying to “help him” everyday…


Within this last year, my two sons have gotten married; myWeez, my little princess, got engaged. So many things like this I wish I could share with my brother. So many things I wish my kids would have gotten to know about him, & having him involved in their lives. I feel like his physcial presence would more readily explain the passion with which my son Johnny attacks life; the fiercely compassionate temperament of my son Joey; the wit, sense of humor, & smile of theWeez. They’re a lot like him & don’t even know it.

I see Johnny in each of them, & I’m so glad that these parts of Johnny living on into the next generation.

So, in his honor, & to the glory of God I say to you today, “Have faith. Have faith.”

Happy birthday Johnny.

Through the valley…in the fire…

Yesterday I had the privilege of sitting with dear friends, a couple that’s been married over 50 years. The wife is recovering from cancer surgery… recovering well. We’ve believed for a good prognosis & post-surgery update. It turns out the doctor’s report said the cancer they went in to get was “got…” but… There were other cancer cells that they found somewhere else. And they weren’t contained. And the doctors were in the process of putting together a plan of attack, a plan for treatment. The room swam in front of us.

My friends are faith-filled. Hopeful. Tired. Sad. The whole gamut of emotions. Wanting to hear what the doctors will say, & at the same time knowing that the doctor’s prognosis isn’t the final word.


I had a flashback. Cancer. My brother Johnny – he had an (at the time) experimental treatment in the attempt to eradicate the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that had ravaged his body… the bone marrow transplant. I remember hearing the all-too-simple sum up of what this procedure entailed: 1st, the docs harvest the bone marrow from the hip; 2nd they bombard him with enough chemo to kill the cancer & hopefully not him; 3rd, they reintroduce the bone marrow & hope that it acts like a ‘reset button’ allowing him to recover & heal, sans the cancer. Post-procedure, the news came in… it didn’t work. And there were more cancer cells, in other places. Not contained. One nurse callously asked him, “So, you want to die here or at home?” I could’ve punched her.

Johnny & I talked once about this upon his arrival at home – I asked him what he was thinking, especially about the prognosis he’d been given. He said, “I feel like Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego. You know when they were threatened with the fiery furnace if they didn’t worship the golden image (you can read the story HERE.) This is my fiery furnace… & just like they said, ‘my God is able to deliver me from this… but even if He doesn’t, I’m still not gonna bow down.’”


That was the same general feeling/spirit in my office yesterday – no matter what, we will hold onto the fact that God is in charge, & that He is the one with the final say on our lives & when we go home to be with Him. And in the meantime, we will live with determination, persevering in our trust in Christ. With the knowledge that this faith in Christ really shines in the midst of our difficult times. He’s our Rock. Fortress. Deliverer. Healer. Salvation. The One who is with us, even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

 

Monday afternoon musings…

This morning I observed the normal hustle & bustle of our start to the week – thePastyGangster dropped Mason on his way to work so that Auntie Weezie could take him to preschool. He entered the kitchen in a whirlwind of energy & didn’t slow down. Frank came bounding down the stairs so theBean could take him to school… then rushed back upstairs at least 2 more times because he forgot something. (For such a little guy he sure makes a lot of noise.) iDoey was up & at ’em making breakfast… everyone was headed in different directions at 100 m.p.h. Still, it was a good morning.

The flurry of activity common to our weekday mornings stands in stark contrast to our Sunday afternoons/evenings.  The afternoons are peaceful, quiet, & restful, with only the occasional football game related noise (cries of anguish for 49er fans like me,) breaking the silence It’s a time for rest, catching up on a good book, eating a favorite snack, or just hanging out. The evenings we gather around the dinner table (or counter,) usually with family & friends for a good meal, even better discussion, & time together to be savored. I love it.


I’m really enjoying our current series, “The Jesus Way,” a study through the gospel of John. The thing that really stands out to me is Jesus’ use of the words/imagery of LIGHT & LIFE in describing what He came to bring for any/all who would put their trust in & follow Him. In my studies, I came across the Didache(a.k.a. the teachings of the 12 Apostles,) a document most likely put together in the 2nd century. Like its name suggests, it shares teachings of the early church on topics such as water baptism, communion/the Eucharist, prayer & fasting, etc…

An area that really jumped out to me was the section called “the 2 ways.” In a nutshell, it says there are 2 Ways – one that leads to LIFE (trusting & following Christ) & one that leads to DEATH (anything else.)  It reminds me of Jesus’ declaration from Matthew 7:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide & the way is easy that leads to destruction, & those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow & the way is hard that leads to life, & those who find it are few.


I have been on a ‘soup’ kick for the last few months. Seems like I just can’t get enough. My current favorite is made with grilled onions & garlic, cumin, green chiles, diced jalapenos, black & white beans, chicken stock, & the meat of a Costco rotisserie chicken. Lots of flavor & a little bit of spice. I think I’ve been eating it an average of 2x/day.


In the mornings when Mason comes over, I’ll hear him call out, “Hey Grammy.” And I look, expecting to see a grandmother… & I see theBean. Sometimes this doesn’t quite feel like real life, like somehow I have been transported into a future that isn’t my own. And then I look around for my little kids & instead I see 3 adults… 2 grown men with grown man jobs, & a grown woman who’s working really hard & setting herself up for the next chapter of her life. And I wonder, “Is this real life?”

And then Mason says, “Whatcha doing Poppy? Can I have a doughnut?”

And I remember, “Ah, yes. This is real life.”


Just signed up to be a part of a spiritual direction program for the next 9 months. It’s a 1x/month meeting via Skype & I have no idea what to expect, except that I am expecting good things.


 

I’m convinced that whatever you look for in somebody, you’ll find.  If you’re looking for the good, for the areas that God is at work in & through, you’ll be able to uncover it, even if it’s small. And if you look for the negative, the bad, the ugly part of us that everyone has, you’ll find that too.

On that note, there’s always something in life to be complaining about, but really? Why? Why complain about life circumstances, another person who isn’t meeting your expectations about how they’re living their life, etc… ? It doesn’t help, & it makes it not very fun to be around you. Trust me. I’ve been that guy – & one of the best days of my life was when someone told me, “You are SO negative, & you complain about SO many things. It’s tiresome.” I was forced to look in the mirror of my soul & I found a lot of discontent – stuff that was for me to address about myself… & the complaining & negativity were just symptoms, a distraction maybe, that oriented me towards living as a pessimist/realist/negative Nancy. a real downer who was very critical of myself & others. No fun. Don’t want to go back to that.

Here’s to a great day.


 

 

 

Entering God’s rest…

In  the middle of life’s busyness & hectic pace, have you ever had the thought, “I wish I was on a quiet beach somewhere with no noise, no demands. Just the sun, a good book, & a loved one? THAT is where I’ll finally be able to get rest.”  I have… & I’ve been thinking more & more about what theBean & I going to do on our sabbatical when this quiet beach becomes our reality.

But I know me. It will do me no good at all to get away for 8 weeks, no matter how incredible the beach is or how isolated, quiet, & perfect the surroundings if I don’t REST. In my head… you know, find the relief, the mental & emotional tranquility that brings a refreshment to the depths of your soul. I know that the last thing I want to do is be laying on beach next to theBean, all the while going 100 miles an hour in my brain, preoccupied, distracted, worried, & stressed.

And so I’m trying to prepare myself, in advance… wrestling through Scriptures on Sabbath & rest, wrestling with God in thought & prayer, determining to find those “unforced rhythms of grace” that Jesus talked about in Matthew 11:28-30


 

One passage that I’ve been spending time in is Hebrews 3 & 4 – & I have really been digging into  Hebrews 4:1-13 & the specific wording about entering God’s rest & what it means. The authors of Hebrews talk about how Israel was unable to enter God’s rest (a.k.a. the Promised Land, the place promised to God’s people) due to their disobedience to His word & instructions. So, as I see it, there is a direct tie in between entering God’s rest & obedience – hearing God’s word, the Good News & receiving it (acting on it.) And there is a Sabbath rest promised to us…

…there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

For the word of God is living & active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul & of spirit, of joints & of marrow, & discerning the thoughts & intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked & exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.        

Hebrews 4:9-13 English Standard Version


As I’ve been pondering the question, “What do I have to do to enter God’s rest & to really experience the Sabbath rest this talks about?”, I keep coming back to verses 12 & 13 above. You know, the part about the power of the word of God – & its ability to cut through to the very core of our being, even weighing our thoughts, motives, & intents of our heart… & it makes me think that entering God’s rest (& finding true rest for my soul) is tied to time with Jesus… meditating on His words… allowing Scripture take root deep in my heart. Because it doesn’t seem to be about doing something – its about transformation of heart & mind… not striving… learning to BE & BE dependent on His word.

It reminds me of what Jesus said when He was tempted by the devil in Matthew 4:

“Man doesn’t live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

That’s my goal. That’s how I want to be becoming, more & more. And I’m gonna find rest.

Do I ever REALLY stop? & other musings…

Just looked at the calendar. Five Mondays from today, theBean & I will be on our first day of sabbatical. I’m trying to prepare for this time away, with the purpose of being as intentional as possible about what we’re doing. So, I’m revisiting some studies that I began about 10 years ago on the Sabbath & Sabbath rest. I’ll be blogging some of my thoughts, discoveries, wonderings, & questions here over the next several weeks…(If you’re interested, you can read more about WHY we’re taking a sabbatical HERE)


 

A couple of my favorite ways to study something in the Scriptures are to

  1. find the word in the original language, along with a working definition of the word;
  2. do a word-search & find the first place in the Bible the word is found…
  3. ‘popcorn’ around to other places the word is found, referenced, discussed, etc…

I looked up Sabbath & found the first time the word itself is used is in Exodus 16:23  & it shows up quite a few more times, most notably in Exodus 20:8 – the place in Scripture where God gives Moses the commandments (of the most famous “10 commandments,” the command to remember the Sabbath & keep it holy is #4. But I digress. Fun rabbit trail though.) The definition of Sabbath is “to stop; rest; come to rest; cease.” The more I dug, I discovered that though the word first showed up in Exodus, the first time the concept or practice of Sabbath appears in the Bible is in Genesis 2:1-3 as a part of the creation narrative. It says:

Heaven & Earth were finished, down to the last detail. By the seventh day God had finished His work. On the seventh day He rested from all His work. God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day, because on that day He rested from His work, all the creating God had done. The Message

Think about it. The final ‘act’ of creation was God creating Sabbath, Holy Time –This was so important that He built it into the fabric of creation by working six days, then on the seventh day, He STOPPED. And then He RESTED.


The more I roll this around in my head, the more I see how tied together the two are: you cannot rest until you stop. So I think about what it takes to stop, to REALLY stop. And I think about myself & my own life patterns & pace of life. I reflect on our cultural norms, behaviors & attitudes that are normal, at least until they are held up to the mirror of God’s Word. And I ask myself, “Do you ever really stop? Do WE?”


We live in a 24/7 city – in a country that celebrates busyness, activity, & multi-tasking. We rarely think about let alone embrace the fact that we have limits – on our time, our physical/mental/emotional capacity, & on what we can do & do well. We often push ourselves & our schedules to the limit, cramming as much activity into our days & weeks as possible. We usually don’t get enough sleep & survive/re-engage with life because of coffee/energy drinks. (An interesting fact – in 2006 when I began my studies on Sabbath, I researched the caffeine, how much was consumed in the US, & how much money was spent on it. Here’s what I found: In 2006, more than $12 Billion was spent on coffee, & another $1.1 Billion was spent on energy drinks, most of which were consumed by people in the 18-25 year old range. Fast forward to 2014 – close to $40 Billion was spent on coffee last year & a staggering $13.5 Billion was spent on energy drinks, a figure which is estimated to rise to at last $21.5 Billion by the year 2017. And the reason more than 60% said they drank coffee/energy drinks? In essence it was, “I need it to get going & keep going. Can’t do what I do without it.”)

When we have time off, we use it to get everything done that we couldn’t finish during the work week, &/or we pack our free time with all sorts of activities. Technology doesn’t help us out here – the modern conveniences of ‘staying connected’ through our smart-phones, computers, omni-present wifi, mp3 players keeps a constant barrage of stimulation & noise bouncing around our brains.

No wonder silence seems strange.


 

Do I ever REALLY stop? When was the last time I took a day, set apart as Holy Time, & didn’t work… didn’t get preoccupied/distracted with something… just intentionally set myself up to BE?

The defense mechanisms kick in quickly. Countless reasons for WHY I do what I do, & WHY taking much time (let alone a day) is just about impossible with all the things that fill my busy schedule come to mind.

And then I think about what I read last week from Matthew 11:25-30, especially the part about finding God’s rhythms of grace for life… & I contrast that to the driven, life-sucking pace & practices that lurk around me… And I want that rhythm, God’s rhythm for me. And so I invite Him in to the mess of me… & I trust He will FINISH what He starts.

Ready? Set? LISTEN…

At Hillside, we just finished up our most recent series, “Who am I REALLY?” (You can listen HERE & HERE if you’re interested.)  It was an exploration of WHO God says we are, in Him, & WHAT the ramifications of that are in our lives. I really enjoyed it, & got to hear lots of feedback from others on the things that they were learning & hearing from God as He did work in helping them grow in Him.


My process for deciding where we go next involves prayer, planning, looking at the calendar, & thinking… all of which usually happen (& are completed) in advance of needing to start another series. Not this time. Finished the series yesterday – no idea where we were going next… that is a bit of a feeling of desperation, exacerbated by the fact that theBean & I are starting a sabbatical June 22 at the strong ‘urging‘ of my district supervisor, Ron. In a nutshell, here’s how it went down:

Last Summer, theBean & I had a conversation with Ron, & he asked very specific questions about our lives & about our time in Reno. And when we affirmed that we were celebrating year 15 in our city, he said, “It’s time for you to take a sabbatical.” I knew what those were… And my mind raced. And he continued: “And it needs to be at least 6 weeks. Preferably more. Make it happen.”

And when one’s supervisor says such things, you does them.

BTW: Here’s a SUM UP of what a sabbatical is (it’s wikipedia – don’t sue me:)  – & here’s some INFO on why sabbaticals are helpful to pastors:  – & here’s MORE.  


I had to take a 2 hour drive this morning (1 hour each way.) Time in the car + a car with a broken antennae = lot’s of quiet time. My time was filled with prayer (open eyes… I didn’t ask Jesus to take the wheel) & pondering something deep in my gut. It was a couple of verses that I have a lot of history with:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with Me & you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me & work with Me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me & you’ll learn to live freely & lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 The Message

And it hit me – a strong nudge from God – “I want to you come to Me & recover your life, & as you prepare for your sabbatical, bring Hillside along in the process.”


 

This might sound to you like a no-brainer – if the pastor’s going to be gone for several weeks, wouldn’t it be a good idea to talk quite a bit about it & to prepare the community for it as well? I would say, “Yes. Yes it does.” And, to be fair, I have talked about it. A little. And so I repented. Asked God for forgiveness for getting caught up in the speed & race of life. And for dis-remembering what it means to live life at God’s unforced rhythm of grace. Cause a sabbath (& a sabbatical) are not just meant to be a recovery time so that we can jump back, helter-skelter, into the out of control mess of life. Rather, they are to form a pattern for how life is lived the rest of the week/month/year, etc… a life lived at God’s pace, with His values, purposes, & goals directing every step. It’s counter-intuitive to the world-system (& even church-system) & requires both LEARNING to walk at God’s pace & REMAINING dependent upon Him for what comes next… Here we go!

 

Faith, expectation, the New Year, & other musings…

This Sunday at Hillside we are wrapping up our “Jesus REVOLUTION” series – it’s also our last Sunday gathering of 2014. The normally hectic pace of life has significantly increased in this Christmas season, & in some ways, I feel like I’ve had to be more & more intentional about stopping, reflecting, & evaluating life, its happenings, my priorities, & what I give my time to. Specifically, over the last couple of weeks, I have been trying to take time to reflect on the questions:

  • What could/would it look like if Jesus did a revolution in my life?
  • What am I expecting/hoping for Jesus to do in me?
  • What am I wiling to put on the table?

Don’t get me wrong. I love my life. The time spent with my family & friends. Watching my kids turn into great adults who love Jesus & are making strides forward in their own lives. The work I am privileged to do. The life & growth in Christ I’m seeing within our church family. And still…


 

I wonder what areas Jesus wants to cut away so that I can grow, develop, deepen. What thought patterns & meditations of my heart He wants to transform. What ways I interact with & respond to others. How I can better take care of myself (body, mind, & spirit.)

I guess what I am expecting is that He is doing something NEW in me. That He is in the process of awakening parts of my life, my soul, that have been dormant or stagnant. That He is going to be refining me – So can will continue to be growing more & more like Him.

So the answer to the last question, “What am I willing to put on the table?” is ME. It feels a little scary – which means that my prayer heading into 2015 & beyond is: “Increase my faith, Lord. Because “…we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” Hebrews 10:39

Blessings, grace, peace, & FAITH to you

Rediscovering Thanksgiving…

I have a confession. Up until about 6 years ago, I didn’t like Thanksgiving. As in dreaded it. Couldn’t wait for it to be DONE. OVER. PAST.

While you pick your chin up off the floor, & scratch your heads, wondering, “How could a guy not like Thanksgiving?,” let me answer a couple of the inevitable questions that follow such a declaration about one of the United States’ most significant holidays:

  • Football is one of my favorite things
  • I am an American & have been for as long as I can remember
  • Why, yes, I am a Foursquare pastor who loves Jesus
  • And no, I don’t kick little dogs just for entertainment

Why did I have such a hard time with Thanksgiving?

Every year around November 1, an almost tangible dark cloud settled over me, often remaining until December was in sight. My attitude was negative, my forecast was gloomy, & the dread of enduring a day that was supposed to be about remembering God’s faithfulness, the people & things we’re thankful for, & making memories was overwhelming. My wife, Joni, who I affectionately call TheBean, even tried to lift my spirits by allowing the Thanksgiving menu to include MY favorite food, BBQ beef ribs, & by exempting me from any turkey consumption. But I digress…

Then Julia came to visit.

Julia (pronounced YOO-leee-ahhhh!) is a young woman in her early 20s from a small town in southwestern Germany called Achern. I’d met her, her family, & her pastor on one of the many trips I had taken to Germany to visit the Foursquare churches (& our sister church in Frankfurt.)

Julia had always wanted to visit the States, & experience American culture up close & personal by staying in someone’s home. I talked with theBean about it, & we made the necessary arrangements for Julia to come stay with us for 6 months, starting in September 2008.

While Julia spoke English, our Western American dialect was totally foreign to her, & her puzzled expression while she tried to figure out the meaning, significance, & nuances of such Americanisms as “Dude!,” “Awesome!,” & “Sweet We loved the new perspective that Julia brought us as we got to see ourselves (& our lives) through her eyes.

She started asking questions about Thanksgiving some time in October. Evidently, she’d been told by one of her friends about this “Significant American Holiday,” & she wanted to make sure she was ready for it. I tried giving her the standard, elementary school take on the origins of Thanksgiving, complete with tall tales about the Pilgrims & Squanto. That wasn’t enough for her; she wanted to know more. WHAT? WHY? HOW? WHEN? Julia’s questions came in a deluge.

About a week before Thanksgiving, I finally told her: “Julia, I don’t like Thanksgiving & I can’t wait for it to be over & done.”

She looked at me with a bewildered look “So, it’s about family, being together, thankfulness to God, & good food, & you don’t like it? It seems AWESOME,” She said.

I responded, “I know it does. But not for me.”

In my desperation, I cried out to the LORD. This was something that I’d done many times before, but this particular time, there was a response:

Look at what Scripture says about thanksgiving.

So I did. I broke out my Bible software & I searched, researched, & studied thanksgiving, giving thanks, thankfulness (& all possible permutations of the word.) I pored over the plethora of verses and Psalm 100:4, 5 filled my heart.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving, & His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His Name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, & His faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100:4,5 ESV

As I meditated on this passage, I felt a ‘peeling away’, almost like my soul was experiencing a “power-washing” like the do-it-yourself-ers do to their home in preparation for painting it. The layers that were exposed contained elements of thoughts, feelings, & emotions that I readily recognized:

Frustration. Anger. Fear. Anxiety. Ungratefulness. Negativity. Unforgiveness. Unbelief. Bitterness. Grief.

I don’t know where they all came from, but there they were. I can remember numbly saying, “Well, God, I’m a mess. A big one. Please help me.”

The following Scripture came to my mind:

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. 1Peter 5:5-7 ESV

I took it as a holy nudge, & knelt down as a sign of humility. I asked the LORD to search my heart, to clean it, & to heal me. Words poured from my mouth almost faster than I could mentally grasp them; words of confession, repentance, sorrow, declaration, & petition for His grace.

Something changed.

Thanksgiving Day arrived, complete with lots of food, family, fun, laughter, & of course, football. Before dinner, we gathered to pray a blessing, & each of us took a second to share something that we were thankful for. I participated. And meant it.

When it came to Julia, she asked if she could pray a prayer of thanks. She prayed, first in English/American (she even said AWESOME!) then in German. As she flowed into her mother tongue, tears of gratefulness poured down her cheeks; I didn’t understand all of the words she spoke, but I firmly grasped the spirit of thanksgiving that filled the room.

I wept; tangible thanks filled my soul with life & with the oil of joy sealed up the cracks in my soul with a healing salve.

And all I could think of was how thankful I was. And still am.

Thank you YOO-leee-ahhhh! And thank you, Jesus.

 

 

 

Thankfulness as a response to mercy & grace…

One of the things that has stood out to me through my studies for our current series, “The Gratitude Experiment,” is that our attitude of thanksgiving & living with a grateful approach to life actually flows as a response to God for His mercies, grace, care, salvation, & provision in our lives.

The Psalms (the church’s songbook for a couple thousand years) has dozens of examples of this – with the writer encouraging God’s people to “Give thanks to the Lord because He is…” & follows that with different reasons to be thankful – He is good, gracious, compassionate, our Rock, fortress, & deliverer, slow to anger, rich in mercy & love, never changing, never abandoning us. And the list goes on.

One of our text for this week, Romans 12:1-3, continues in this vein. In it, the Apostle Paul challenges his readers to respond to God’s grace & mercy by offering God every aspect of our lives. Doing this helps us not to become so well-adjusted to our own culture that we don’t see & don’t question where it has headed into the direction opposite to God’s way (see our scripture from last week, 1John 2:15-17.)

Then, as we fix our full attention on God, we see what it means to follow Him… & as we do that, we are changed & transformed from the inside out.

My great hope is that this little 3-week series has brought thanksgiving & gratitude to the forefront of our minds, & long after this holiday season is past, we are still expressing thanks to God & to others, & are living like Jesus would be if He were walking in our shoes.

The pursuit of happiness & the gratitude experiment…

The preamble to the Declaration of Independence states a belief that the Creator has given us certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness. Even if we haven’t been in a civics or government class in a while, we know, as Americans, these things are our birthright.

It’s interesting to me that Jefferson (& his editors) included the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” – & it makes me ask the questions, “What would it take for us to BE happy?” And “If I’m pursuing happiness, what does it look like when I CATCH it?”

Think about it: what would make you happy… for a long time? Think big. Winning the lottery? Being able to live in a tropical paradise? Your favorite sports team winning the Super Bowl/World Series/etc…?

It seems like that would do the trick – surprisingly, however, statistics say something different. For example, a study of lottery winners showed an initial spike in happiness immediately following their winning the big bucks. However, within 9-12 months of the win, lottery winners reported that they felt no more “happy” than they had before they won all the money.

People adapt to their life circumstances – & in order to “be happy” we need to do something/try something new. Which works for a while – until we adapt again. It’s like being on a “pursuit of happiness treadmill,” always chasing, but never quite attaining it permanently. (The scientific name for this phenomena is “the hedonic treadmill.” Read about it HERE.)


So what can a person do to increase their longer-lasting feelings of happiness? Again statistics reveal that people who regularly express gratitude & thankfulness to those in their lives have a significantly higher sense of happiness. I think that the reason for this is expressing gratitude involves being mindful of our life circumstances, & actively looking for the areas where we have been blessed, loved, & cared for. Check out this brief VIDEO for some really great info on the ‘gratitude/happiness’ corollation’

Over the next couple of weeks at Hillside, we’ll be in a series called, “The Gratitude Experiment.” I’d like to encourage you to take time to write some lists of the people, places, & things that you are thankful for. Then, write a brief note to/call the people in your life that you’re thankful for & blessed by & share that with them.