Thanksgiving: The Risk and Reward

It’s Thanksgiving season – a time that extends beyond just one day for me. Until the quiet moments of Thanksgiving Night, November constitutes the Thanksgiving season in my heart. While many adore the holiday for its delicious feasts, my affection for Thanksgiving runs deeper than the menu – although I can’t deny the joy that pecan pie brings me.

Thanksgiving, to me, is loaded with treasured memories. Marked by the annual pilgrimage (see what I did there) to my grandmother’s house, it’s filled with the warmth of extended family. I fondly reminisce about days spent with my aunt, uncle, and cousins and the delightful surprises of last-minute in-laws, friends, and cousins of cousins. Thanksgiving is when everyone across the country desires to be with others, wrapped in cozy sweaters.

Visiting my grandmother’s, a tradition in its own right, unfolded with its set of cherished customs. Raking leaves to create the perennial family picture backdrop destined for our upcoming Christmas Card. The dining room table, adorned with grandmother’s silver and fine china, became the stage for the big meal and laughter. Then, there were the rounds of vintage board games from my mother and uncle’s childhood.

As Thanksgiving night descended, we’d converge to witness the illumination of the Rich’s Macy’s Great Tree. And spread across the living room floor, the kids would circle every enticing item in the JC Penney’s catalog, meticulously crafting elaborate wishlists. These uniquely etched memories radiate warmth through my heart, and I hold them dear. When I reflect on these memories, what truly makes them special is the people I share them with.

It’s the image of my siblings and me, tirelessly raking what seemed like a football field of a front yard until a sympathetic neighbor straps a ginormous leaf blower to my brother’s back. It’s my grandmother, following alongside me, patiently instructing me on the proper placement of each spoon, knife, and fork. It’s my uncle imparting the strategic importance of Australia’s global positioning in winning at Risk or my sister managing the Monopoly bank on the ‘honor’ system for a 7-year-old with questionable math skills.

It’s the shared laughter while flipping through the Penny’s catalog on my aunt’s lap, her gently steering my choices toward more cost-effective selections. At the same time, my mother frantically alerts us to pay attention the moment they start to sing “O, Holy Night” to light the tree. Stripping away all the activities, I am most grateful for the memories of these people. They are the heart and soul of my Thanksgiving memories.

As I age (I know some of you may roll your eyes; I’m not that old…), I am increasingly aware of the tremendous blessing and purpose God has given us in people and our community. The first time God ever declared something “not good” in the world He created was when He saw that man was alone (Genesis 2:18). Before sin and iniquity were ever a thing, there was a fundamental deficiency — the absence of community.

Is community always perfect? By no means! Community comes with risks because it exposes us to people. And, well, people are far from perfect. Community, in many ways, demands vulnerability. There is always the possibility of being let down or disappointed. The reality is that community will inevitably bring moments of hurt, just as we may sometimes hurt those in our community. But at the same time, there is always the possibility that the community will heal us, and we, in turn, can be a part of the healing.

In this Thanksgiving season, as we come together in diverse ways and with different communities, let’s reflect on the risks inherent in our gatherings. By showing up, we expose ourselves to potential hurt and heartache, but we also open the door to healing and joy. Life feels more challenging these days, and our culture has evolved in unfamiliar ways. Too often, people prioritize outrage and offense over patience and forgiveness, sacrificing generosity, hospitality, and kindness on the altar of opinions and righteousness.

Yet, when we gather, we must recognize that showing up is an act of generosity, a courageous step into vulnerability. It’s not taken lightly; there’s a genuine risk involved. However, in embracing this risk, we engage in a profound venture — the possibility of gaining one another. This act of showing up is a gift, and for that, I am grateful.

So, this Thanksgiving, my gratitude extends to those who still choose to show up. To those who, despite the potential for harm, lean into community. For every individual who gathers at the table, acknowledging the personal risk involved, yet still making that choice. I am thankful for those who risk showing up for me, recognizing that I have the capacity to misuse and abuse the gift of their presence, and yet they remain. My heart is full of gratitude for the second chances given by those who reject offense and opt for forgiveness. I thank God for those who embody grace and compassion and come together in community, for it is true, “it is not good for man to be alone.”

Missed this past Sunday’s message? Watch Here

Good News! For God’s Glory!

GOOD NEWS! The Gospel brings salvation. The Gospel is for everyone who believes. The Gospel is lived by faith. The Gospel is the power of God.

Last Sunday, we discussed our faith as Christians, highlighting what distinguishes us from other major world religions—the Gospel of Jesus. In John 14:6, Jesus boldly declares, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This statement draws a clear line in the sand, yet it carries an inviting message—the Gospel of Jesus beckons everyone to cross that line.

The Good News of Jesus reveals our true nature: we are people in desperate need of salvation, yet simultaneously deeply loved by a just and merciful God who rescues. And Better News, our rescue isn’t contingent on our efforts but rather flows from the boundless grace and the free gift of God through the completed work of Jesus. Furthermore, the Best News is that, through His generous gift, we now live a life empowered by His Spirit, intimately connected to God.

As Paul writes in Philippians 2:13, “For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to His good pleasure.” In this Good, Better, Best News, what shines through is that every aspect of it is centered on God and devoted to His glory. If God does all the work, then He gets all the glory.

The essence of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus, lies in the transformation from a sinner who once chose a path of death and destruction to a believer and follower of Jesus, who is the Lord and King over death. In His profound love, He traded our death for His life and empowers us, through His Spirit, to live it out with unwavering faith.

To God Be the Glory by Fanny Crosby

To God be the glory, great things He hath done. So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life our redemption to win, and opened the life gate that all may go in.

[Chorus: Praise the Lord, praise the Lord! Let the earth hear His voice.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord! Let the people rejoice.
Oh, come to the Father, through Jesus the Son. And give Him the glory; great things He hath done.]

Oh, perfect redemption, the purchase of blood, to every believer the promise of God.
The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

[Chorus: Praise the Lord, praise the Lord! Let the earth hear His voice.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord! Let the people rejoice.
Oh, come to the Father, through Jesus the Son. And give Him the glory; great things He hath done.]

Great things He hath taught us, great things He hath done. And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son.
But purer, and higher, and greater will be our wonder, our transport when Jesus we see.

[Chorus: Praise the Lord, praise the Lord! Let the earth hear His voice.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord! Let the people rejoice.
Oh, come to the Father, through Jesus the Son. And give Him the glory; great things He hath done.]

Missed Sunday’s message on the Gospel? Watch here…

All Saints Day

You might start your day with a Reese’s cup at breakfast, have a Snickers at lunch, enjoy some Peanut M&Ms to combat the afternoon slump, and finish with a couple of Sour Patch Kids after dinner. This day, and perhaps this week, you might indulge in more “treats” than usual. Whether it’s due to the parental “candy tax” or the lure of grocery store sales, it’s important to remember the significance of today.

November 1st is All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows’ Day. Traditionally, on this day, believers honor and remember all the saints, both the well-known and unsung heroes, who have lived lives of unwavering faith and embodied God’s love and grace. It’s a day to celebrate the unity among followers of Jesus and to reflect on the lives of those who’ve come before us, leaving a legacy of faith, hope, and love.

As you indulge in a Whopper or two, take a moment to think of those who dedicated their lives to spreading the Gospel to unreached nations and peoples worldwide. People like William Carey, the Father of Modern Missions, who proclaimed the Gospel in India and worked on translating the Bible into Bengali. Or Adoniram and Ann Judson, the first American missionaries to serve overseas in Burma, leading thousands to Christ. And Lottie Moon, who served as a single woman in China and raised awareness about global mission efforts in America.

But don’t forget those whose lives played a pivotal role in your own faith journey, even if they seem less “adventurous”. I think of Ms. Billie, the kind old lady at my childhood church whose faithful attendance and never-ending supply of candy from her purse provided a sense of steadfast kindness that I came to associate with the people of God. I recall Mrs. Turner, my 5th-grade assistant teacher, who showed me the patience and love of Jesus, even during my rebellious moments, and encouraged my faith from a young age. And I happily remember my sweet Grandmother, the matriarch of our family, who instilled faith in her children and left a legacy of a family devoted to Jesus in their homes, churches, and communities.

This week, as you enjoy your candy and take advantage of sales, take a moment to reflect on those who’ve come before you. Just as each candy has its unique style and flavor, so do the beloved saints who have their unique stories and legacies. They remind us of the sweetness of faith, the richness of hope, and the enduring love of God. Amid the candy wrappers, remember the lives and teachings of those who have left earthly life and a legacy that continues to inspire and motivate us to love God more. May we find moments to savor and reflect in gratitude and celebration on this All Saints Day, and may we be encouraged to live in a way that leaves a legacy for others to love Jesus.

The Best Resolution I Accidently Made

You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 3:15

It was the first Sunday of the year. I had just turned 12 a few weeks earlier. I remember because I wasn’t yet allowed to sit with my big sister in the unofficial “youth section” during big church. It wasn’t a set rule; it was just something you didn’t do. Instead, I sat with Mrs. McNealy, the lady my mom asked to watch me since she was in the choir. Sitting with Mrs. McNealy was a happy consolation prize, as she’d scratch my back and give me candy during service. But this New Year’s Sunday stands out, as it was the day my words got me into His.

On this day, at the start of the message, the pastor descended the six pale blue carpeted stairs, asking people to share their New Year’s resolutions. Now, you have to understand about a thousand people were in that congregation. But did I care? Apparently not. My hand shot up before I had a second to realize just how many eyes were in the room.

Truth be told, I had no clue what a resolution was, much less did I have one. I mean, come on, I was 12. But you know what I wanted? To talk into that microphone. After a few people went, I concluded a resolution was a lofty goal you told people to impress them. So, I kept waving my hand like I was auditioning for a talk show. And then it happened; the pastor started heading my way.

What began as a dream of being a kid rockstar on that mic turned into instant panic. I was supposed to say something smart, right? And I’m at church, so it needs to be Jesus-y, yea? As he approached, I sensed my sister, over in the cool youth group island, shrinking back with embarrassment, while my mom, sitting in the choir loft, had this “what on earth is my child doing” look on her face.

As the pastor handed me the mic, the weight of it sunk into my tiny hands so quickly that I almost dropped it. Just then, Mrs. McNealy swooped in and held it up for me. Maybe it was that touch of confidence, my messed up need to impress, or perhaps the Holy Spirit (I think a combination of all three). But suddenly, I heard myself declare to all of Tabernacle Baptist Church that I would read through the whole Bible in a year.

Suddenly, the room filled with nods of approval and smiles of admiration at this little whipper-snappers’ most holy proclamation. Take that, cool youth kids! Crowd surfing the wave of self-aggrandizement, I caught the look on my sister’s and mom’s faces – absolute confusion and disbelief. They were both keenly aware of the reality I had detached from; I HATED reading with a passion. And here I was, literally in front of God and everyone, declaring I would read the Bible in a year!?!

It didn’t take long for the high of being a super-pious good little Christian girl to come crashing down. It’s one thing to boast about wanting to do “godly” things. It’s another thing for God to show up and hold you accountable. Later that evening, before bed, I had an encounter with the Lord. God showed up with something to say. It wasn’t a literal voice or vision. But with a firm conviction, I knew I wouldn’t get away with using God’s Word as a cheap snack to feed my ego. At that moment, I knew I had to keep my word and begin to read His.

I searched the house and stumbled across a Bible with a “Read the Bible in a Year” plan in the front. Turning to page one, I began to read, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” and then I kept reading. Did I understand half of it? Heck no. I was 12. But motivated by the fear of the Lord and personal conviction, I was determined to keep my word concerning His. And you know what, after I read and read some more. And after I asked my mom a few awkward questions, like, “What is circumcision?” a few things started to make sense.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t finish reading the entire thing in a year; it took me a little longer. But by sticking with it, I did finish the following year. And when I did, I flipped back and started again, “In the beginning, God created…” And this time, you know what? I understood more than I did the first time. Some questions from before now had answers. But I also found I had new ones. And things that were once strange didn’t seem as confusing this time, except for circumcision. That’s always been weird.

But I stayed with it, and in doing so, I fell in love. With the story, the characters, but most of all, with the Author. God was showing up in those pages, and Jesus revealed Himself in ways I’d never imagined. And since then, every time I reach the last verse in Revelation, “Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen,” I flip back to page one and start again, “In the beginning…”

On that winter Sunday in ’97, did I have any clue I’d one day be called pastor? Could I have foreseen thousands of pages of reading laid ahead in receiving a master’s from seminary with a concentration in Biblical Studies? Could I’ve imagined my greatest joy would be nights spent reading the Bible with other believers, teaching His Word at conferences, or discussing the Scriptures with teenagers and adults? Heck no. But God did. And it has been the best New Year’s resolution I have ever accidentally made.

Generosity, what’s the hold up?

When we consider God’s incredible generosity, it goes beyond providing us with life and meeting our basic needs. We’re talking about an overflow of life brimming with variety, flavors, choices, and blessings. It’s a feast of goodness meant for us to enjoy and share. Being immersed in this generosity would naturally lead us to spread those blessings and live generously, right? But have you ever spent time with a bunch of little kids? If you have, you’ve witnessed it. No one needed to teach them how to snatch a coveted toy from another kid, exclaiming, “Mine!” It’s like we’re instinctively wired to be selfish.

But why do we hold back when surrounded by a world dripping with God’s generosity? What drives us toward selfishness instead of generosity? The answer: fear. Fear of lack, the unknown, and future demands. Fear of missing out. Fear that our giving might be misused or unappreciated. Yet, fear wasn’t meant to motivate us. We’re meant to be guided by God’s Spirit and His abundant faithfulness. Shifting from fear to faith takes time, beginning with remembering who provides for us.

Recently, at the dealership for an oil change, they pitched trading in my car. I love my car, and I have no plans to sell it. But they talked about “savings” and “security,” trying to convince me to upgrade for future protection. In the midst of their quick talk, I blurted, “Oh, that’s not a problem for me. I’m a follower of Jesus. I don’t live in fear of poverty or lack. God’s got me.” To be honest, the response surprised me. But it especially shocked the salesman, who was utterly taken aback. He didn’t quite know how to respond to the “God’s my provider” comeback. You see, he wasn’t aware that I had been working with God to pay off that car as quickly as possible, and in doing so, I had experienced His unwavering abundance. God’s lavish generosity had created a God-fidence (God-confidence) within me, and the fear of lacks grip had weakened its hold in my life.

The truth is, everything we have, skills, time, words, talents, passions, money it’s on loan from our Creator. While God showers us with resources, those following Jesus give them back daily, letting Him direct their use. By grasping the reality that it all belongs to God, fear loses grip. Recall Jesus’ words: “Seek the kingdom of God… all will be provided… Don’t worry about tomorrow.” (Matthew 6:33-34) Generous living for believers is about faith, not fear. We trust God as Provider. If fear holds us, we can’t receive the goodness He has. So, let’s embrace open hearts and hands, knowing God’s in control. When it’s about living generously, let’s wholeheartedly trust God and let go of fear.