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This is a safe place, right? Well here’s the deal: I genuinely want to jump into Thanksgiving with an overflowing heart of gratefulness. I really do. But one friend just buried her brother, another got laid off three days before Thanksgiving, and another is facing an unwanted divorce. Not to mention, I HATE how certain family members won’t be joining us for turkey and pie yet again this year, because life is just too short.

Then there’s the Texas and Vegas shootings still lingering in my mind, as well as the high-strung political climate that’s saturating our nation (and the media). Even managing our own blessings can be embarrassingly overwhelming at times, with bottomless laundry, scattered schedules, and you know—life.

The truth is, we don’t always feel thankful.

 

But as Lysa Terkeurst says (and it’s always stuck with me), “Feelings are indicators, not dictators.” I recognize it would be straight ridiculous to trade a grateful-packed Thanksgiving for one of anxiousness, fear, and frustration. I’m no businesswoman, but that’s definitely not a good deal. And certainly not what God wants for us! So how do we dig up thankfulness when we don’t feel thankful? How do we cultivate a heart of gratitude without it being forged or forced?

Thankfulness is a choice, not a feeling.

 

Even if you don’t feel thankful at this very moment, good news: YOU CAN STILL BE THANKFUL. Thankfulness is a choice, not a feeling. Choosing to be grateful doesn’t mean we’re no longer hurting, confused, or worried. In fact, thankfulness is often found and praises usually offered in the confines of bittersweet spaces.

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

All throughout history, God’s people have found a way to worship Him despite their circumstances. Offering praises to our Creator God isn’t contengient on good or bad days, fertility or infertility, job or no job, the stock market being up or down—not even life or death. The verses below were written by David, when he was stuck in the wilderness of Judah:

“Your unfailing love is better than life itself; how I praise you! I will praise you as long as I live, lifting my hands to you in prayer. You satisfy me more than the riches feast. I will praise you with songs of joy.” Psalms 63:3-5

We can be thankful because God is faithful, even when we are not. We can be thankful because of the unending mercy and grace He pours out on sinners, like me, who put their trust in Him. We can pause long enough to give thanks for the timeless and life-changing Word of God, as well as loving families, real friends, warm houses, tasty food, freedom to worship openly in our churches and homes, the future resurrection of our loved ones in Christ, the breath literally spiraling through our lungs at this very moment, amazing teachers/mentors, God’s provision, and the list goes on and on and on.

(I would encourage you to take five minutes and scribble down a list of at least twenty-five things you’re thankful for. I did this and was surprised by all that came to mind once I started writing. Also, listen to THIS.)

We don’t always feel thankful, but we can still be thankful.

 

We can surrender our hardships and disappointments over to God—the unshakable One—and choose to praise Him for who He is, despite our pain. Maybe even in our pain.

“Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshipping Him with holy fear and awe.” Hebrews 12:28

Happy Thanksgiving, from my family to yours.

And as for me, I’m choosing thankfulness.

 

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These words are for the person who’s ready for Christmas to begin, and for the one who’s ready for it to be over.

These words are for someone who woke up this morning like, “Whoa. CHRISTMAS IS IN THREE DAYS. I still need to grocery shop, clean the house, wrap four more presents, finish a work project, bake something edible for an upcoming gathering, move the elf for the millionth time, pack, and not-so-patiently wait for the UPS man/lady to show up on my doorstep with that last-minute order from Amazon Prime. STAT.”

These words are for the guy or gal who loves Christmas, loves Jesus, loves remembering His humble and miraculous birth those many years ago. But you’re sick of the streamlined hustle, tired from running on coffee, and desperate for business as usual to recommence on December 26th (or at least by the new year).

We could all just use a deep breath.

The wide, crowded road to holiday happiness beckons from a thousand hollow directions. It’s landscaped with sparkly bows, shiny presents, and an overloaded to-do list. But another subtle whisper in the pit of our souls calls to us from the backroads—from off the beaten path. It’s a simpler kind of Christmas, yet desperately refreshing.

We’re reminded of that starry night when heaven crashed into earth in the form of a baby. The true story that’s been remarkably preserved and passed down over 2,000 years. The start of a new, redemptive chapter in the middle of our broken story. The Christmas Story. Most of us have read it or heard about it for years upon end, but I love trying to drop my imagination right into the thick of it and discover what has fallen beneath the surface.

There are many fascinating angles regarding the events surrounding Jesus’ birthday, but today I want to focus on one particular group: THE WISE MEN.

As you probably know, the wise men—also known as the magi, the advisers, the dudes from a faraway place—followed a star to see baby Jesus. They’re famous for the three gifts they gave Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh (which were precious metals, incense, and spices of that time).

There are several misconceptions about the “three wise men.” First off, that number is made up. The Bible never says there were three men, but three gifts, which is why we assume the same number in attendance. But the truth is, no one really knows. Second, your average nativity scene often puts these men inside the stable walls, star gleaming over Jesus’ dusty delivery room, but Matthew 2:11 clearly states that these men visited the child in a house—possibly days or months later.

You can read the whole backstory HERE, but here’s the summary:

These wise men showed up in Jerusalem from eastern lands, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose and have come to worship him.” Well, King Herod was not happy to hear that a baby king could threaten his throne and authority. He got a tip from the religious leaders on where this predicted Messiah was supposed to be born: Bethlehem.

I find it interesting, by the way, that they relied heavily on Biblical prophecy while still denying it’s ultimate power.

Then Herod called a private meeting with these wise men, learning when the star first appeared. The wise men went on to find and worship this baby king in Bethlehem, but Herod sent soldiers to kill (yes, to kill) all the baby boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and younger, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance.

Scholars believe these men probably came from Babylon, Persia, or Arabia. But regardless of where they came from, they traveled a painfully long way. There were no airplanes, no iPads, no Google Maps, no SUV’s with butt-warmers at this time, of course. Traveling meant traveling hard, because there was no other way.

And I can’t help but wonder: What would entice these wealthy, knowledgable, reputable, astronomy experts to take on such an expedition? Days and months—possibly years—traveling hundreds, if not thousands of miles on donkeyback (yes, I just made up that word). Did an angel appear to them? Were they given a vision or a dream? Or were they just so acquainted the prophecies in scripture that they were looking for his star and birth to arise?

We don’t know.

Whoever these wise men were, they were obviously important. I mean, come on—you don’t get the title wise slapped on your profile description for nothing. Being the prominent influencers they appear to have been, surely they had many significant projects, duties, responsibilities, and leadership obligations going on in their lives.

Yet they were compelled to stop everything, and go.

They pressed pause on whatever they had going on, whatever relationships they were involved in, to follow a star in search of the prophesied Savior. How did they know the star would lead them to their king? Again, we don’t know. Maybe they weren’t even sure. But it was important enough for them to leave their comfortable foundations for the questionable backroads—and that’s exactly what they did.

Here’s my point: These men traveled a heck of a long way to simply bow before Jesus and put gifts at his feet, and I think we should learn something from that. Sometimes, God takes us on a journey that is solely about worshipping Him. It might not feel productive. Maybe it’s not the most efficient thing in the world. It might take some sacrifice (actually, it most definitely will). Some might even call it a waste of time.

But there’s something powerful about a heart that will chase after Jesus down the unknown, even treacherous backroads—expectant to worship Him.

And you are invited—right now, wherever you are—to stop. Stop the wrapping, stop the to-do list, stop the running and hustling and scrambling. In the middle of your kids arguing, in the middle of a bad medical report, in the middle of a crumbling road. In your pajamas, in your business suit, in your uniform, in your yoga pants.

You can stop—for a morning, for a minute, for a moment.

And give all the glory and honor and praise to Him.

 

I’d always wanted to scuba dive through a sunken ship and, several years ago, it happened.

Derek and I rolled backwards off the side of a small boat into the salty Caribbean. We adjusted our gear, gave each other the ready signal, and descended beneath the untamed waves. After hitting sand only 70 feet down, we regulated buoyancy compensators, double-checked air supply, and began trailing the dive master toward the deep unknown.

Exploring the sea via wetsuit and oxygen tank is something of an out-of-body experience—both foreign and thrilling. The world is muffled, but senses are heightened. Other than sporadic sea life, dancing bubbles, and your own body gliding weightlessly through the water, everything feels like slow motion.

Visibility was pristine—probably 100 feet—as we hovered over coral reefs filled with colorful sponges and fish. Suddenly, as though we were fading out of a thick fog or heavy snow, the barnacle-covered stern of a tilted five-decker ship appeared with its gigantic brass propeller stuck in the powdery sand.

After investigating this massive chunk of metal from the outside, we moved indoors—floating through windows, former living quarters, cargo and engine rooms. We navigated around rusty ladders and towering smokestacks and water canons, while curious parrotfish and arrow crabs spectated our little expedition.

It’s an eerie feeling, really, to steer yourself through the underwater shadows and silhouettes of an old wheel house—vizualizing who once stood at its helm while powering through the surf above. Or imagining the men who ate dinner in the mess hall. What did they wear? What made them laugh? Did they have family back home?

What I didn’t expect, while maneuvering through the old bathroom, was to stumble across a cracked and tarnished—but still partially visible—mirror, reflecting an all too familiar face. I stopped quickly and completely, peering through the tempered glass of my goggles at my own sopping reflection. It was my nose, my lips, my sandy-blonde hair, my blue-gray eyes—in a sunken ship on the ocean floor.

Almost immediately these verses flashed across my mind…

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

When we’re flying above the clouds. When we’re diving beneath the sea. When we’re lost in a crowded room. When we’re found alone in a wilderness. When our fears take over. When our wildest dreams come true. When we’re scrubbing dishes at the kitchen sink. When we’re dressed up for a special event.

When you’re standing at your own bathroom counter, staring at your face in the mirror…

Do you realize He’s with you, even there? Even today? Even when you don’t feel Him. Even when you think you have it all figured out. Even when you’re confused.

You cannot out-hide his presence.

Now, the Bible also tells us that sin severs our relationship with God (Isaiah 59:2), simply because our ugliness doesn’t mesh with His holiness. Which is exactly why we need a Savior—a Redeemer—to intercede for us, pay our impossible debt, and be the bridge that reconnects and restores us to our Heavenly Father.

We can’t fix this problem on our own.

Our culture is obsessed with self-help, self-betterment, self-awareness, self-sustainability. But we cannot fully know ourselves unless we’re fully known in Christ. It starts there and ends never. And if/when we grant Him access—even a shaky, half-terrified nod—nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that’s in Jesus Christ our Lord.

That, my friends, is the very best news.

“I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night—but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.” (Psalms 139:7-12)

 

Prayer: God, thank you for seeing us and knowing us and pursuing us—even in unlikely places. Help us to turn to you and live this life walking confidently in your love. 

 

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My summer brain has gotten a bit fried from all of the sunshine lately, so I’ve happily invited more listening and less blabbing into my life.

I just finished the book, It’s Not What You Think: Why Christianity Is About So Much More Than Going to Heaven When You Die, by Jefferson Bethke. And let me tell ya—it’s one that should be on your list. Jefferson takes relatable stories and mixes them with solid truths, while addressing some common misconceptions found in the sometimes “weird stew” of Western Christianity.

If you’re anything like me, you appreciate a tasty sampling before diving in full force, so here’s a quote from each chapter to get you started. Enjoy!

 

Chapter One: Your Story’s Not What You Think

“The creation account, the Law, the Prophets, the songs, the Gospels, the Epistles, and the book of Revelation all tell the same story—how the Creator God (Jesus) brought about (and is still bringing about) new creations despite our rebellion, sin, and cosmic treason.”

 

Chapter Two: The Temple’s Not What You Think

“The amazing thing is that God doesn’t snap his fingers and say, ‘Fine. If you don’t want me, then I don’t want you.’ He certainly could have, but instead he kept promising, kept pursuing, kept chasing. He longs to dwell with his people, yesterday and today.”

 

Chapter Three: People Are Not Who You Think

“His voice always calls us out of hiding and into intimacy because that’s God’s goal. He makes it clear from Genesis to Revelation that he wants to dwell with his people. He desires intimacy not hiding, transparency not masks. To know God and be known by God is the dance of eternity.”

 

Chapter Four: You Aren’t Who You Think

“That’s the importance of the wilderness. It’s a place where we can hear the whisper. It’s a place that isn’t drowned out by the noises of our phones, computers, and twenty-four-hour news cycle. The wilderness is sometimes the only place we can hear the voice of God.”

 

Chapter Five: The Sabbath’s Not What You Think

“For God it was six days of work and then rest, but for Adam his first day was rest, and only then could he truly work. That sounds a lot like the cross, doesn’t it? Jesus does all the work, and we are called to enter that rest.”

 

Chapter Six: Worship’s Not What You Think

“When we make another person an idol, we end up squeezing the life out of them. Only one person has the ability to sustain being God, and that’s Jesus. When we worship Jesus, we can love that person even more because our center isn’t tied to or defined by them.”

 

Chapter Seven: The Kingdom’s Not Where You Think

“Life isn’t about going to heaven when you die, it’s about making heaven true on earth in every facet and level of our relationship with God, others, and self.”

 

Chapter Eight: Brokenness is Not What You Think

“What if Jesus wants to heal the dark parts of your life, so then you can turn around and tell others just how good he really is? Only when a wound is a scar will we let it tell a story. You can then point at the scar and say, ‘Look what Jesus did.’”

 

Chapter Nine: The Table’s Not What You Think

“Part of the job of being a Jesus-follower is making other people’s pain our pain. To feel it. To absorb it. To step into that gap as much as possible, because that’s exactly what Jesus did for us.”

 

 

See? You really should check it out.

What have you been reading this summer?

 

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