Is it I, Lord?

“When it was evening, he reclined at the table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, ‘Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’ And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?’” (Matthew 26:20-22)

Jesus’ disciples got so many things wrong!

Consider … after Jesus had invested three years with them, had washed their feet and shared one last supper with them, had been betrayed by one of them, and had commanded them to love one another as he had loved them, they respond by arguing while on the way to Gethsemane about which of them is the greatest, falling asleep when Jesus needed them the most, and – in Peter’s case – cutting off the ear of a servant of the high priest and denying ever knowing Jesus.

Suffice to say, Jesus’ disciples were flawed. But let us not lose sight that everything the disciples experienced was unprecedented. What we read in the Gospel accounts was unfolding before their eyes in real time. We read the stories; they lived the stories.

On that note, imagine for a moment that you’re at the Passover Meal with Jesus and the other disciples. As you’re eating, seemingly out of nowhere Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”

How will you respond to Jesus? Will you point a finger at the disciple you most suspect? Will you ask Jesus to quickly reveal the betrayer so that you and others might be absolved? Will you issue a quick denial? Or will you, out of intense sorrow, ask Jesus “Is it I, Lord?”

Amazingly, by virtue of asking this question all of the disciples acknowledge their capability to betray Jesus. Only one of them actually did betray Jesus, but the other eleven understood that they were capable of betrayal. In this moment, intense sorrow meets profound self-awareness, and the result is breathtakingly beautiful.

In the denomination that I am a part of – the Reformed Church in America – our General Synod Assembly is right around the corner. By design, it will look, feel, and be different this year. But perhaps the most significant breakthrough that can be made is moving from “It is them, Lord” to “Is it I, Lord?”

May it be so.

The Tyranny of Approval

“Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” (John 12:42-43)

The struggle is real. As church/ministry leaders, we are constantly challenged to determine whether our allegiance will be to God, or to people. The temptation to appease others, be approved by others, and be liked by others is ever present. After all, we like our churches packed and our people happy. But is it even possible to preach, teach, and live out the Gospel without offending at least some in our congregation? I think not!

There was a time when Jesus’ approval rating was off the charts. Huge crowds followed him, drawn in by miracles, intrigued by a Rabbi who taught with authority, and hopeful that Jesus might be the one to restore Israel to her rightful place. But after Jesus referred to himself as the “Bread of Life,” and further explained the significance of what he was conveying, many of his followers turned away, and Jesus’ approval ratings began to tumble.

We tend to think of the temptation of Christ as a singular event that took place over 40 days in a desert. But in his humanity – Jesus was fully human, after all – is it possible that Jesus was most vulnerable to temptation not when he was alone and isolated, but when his popularity had peaked, when he was surrounded by adoring crowds, when his approval rating was at its apex?

As it relates to Jesus, we can only speculate on the answer. But as it relates to ourselves, my belief (and experience) is that we are most vulnerable to pleasing people over God when we feel most appreciated, most approved, most liked. The struggle is real.

And to be fair, there is nothing inherently wrong with being appreciated, approved, and liked – provided that you are, with the utmost integrity, serving and leading to glorify God rather than to receive glory for yourself.

So …

Put on the armor of God daily.

Make prayer a priority rather than an afterthought.

Covenant with your leaders to lead together in the unity of Christ, with a shared commitment to glorify God rather than please people.

Find at least a few people that will hold your arms up when the battle is intense.

Discern and define values for your church or ministry that when followed will glorify God above all else.

Work to create a culture where change is normal and ongoing rather than exceptional and intermittent.

Be kind to yourself. The struggle is real.

 “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Col. 3:23-24)

A Crisis of Kindness

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)

On August 18, 1988, George H.W. Bush received the Republican Party nomination for president of the United States. In His acceptance speech, Bush famously called for America to be a “kinder, gentler” nation. Bush repeated the call at his inauguration speech the following January, and “kinder, gentler” became part of the American lexicon. But predictably, just a few years later the phrase became more of a punchline than a clarion call. And thirty years later, following the recent passing of the nation’s 41st president, it can be argued that America is less kind and less gentle than ever before. Kindness, it would seem, is in short supply.

While a blog post can only scratch the surface of why kindness is in such short supply, I believe that the four reasons that follow are a good starting point. Beyond the reasons I list below, please consider going deeper on this topic by reading Christians in the Age of Outrage, by Ed Stetzer.

  1. Kindness is in short supply because typecasting people is easier than relating with people.
    Because people are messy – and yes, that includes all of us – so too are relationships. But it’s only through forging relationships with people, especially those who don’t think, look, or act like ourselves, that we can truly begin to have empathy and build trust. Typecasting is easy; relationships aren’t. But to move toward kindness and away from typecasting, we must take the uncomfortable step of getting to know people who are different than ourselves.
  2. Kindness is in short supply because we are inclined to compete rather than collaborate.
    While competition has its place, an increasingly disproportionate emphasis on winning has significantly eroded our willingness to collaborate with one another. We have moved from Grantland Rice saying “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game,” to President Trump saying “We are gonna win, win, win … we’re going to win at everything.” The emphasis on winning is everywhere, and it is constant. A few months ago, as our church was preparing to join with the church across the street to celebrate Reformation Day, a teenage girl asked our pastors if our church competes with the church across the street. We assured her that not only do we not compete with them, we collaborate with them on a variety of things. But her question was an honest question, and I’m glad she asked it. Because whether we realize it or not, people are conditioned to believe that everything revolves around competition these days. For that reason, pastors and church leaders need to be at the forefront of pushing against competition, and for collaboration. Let it begin with us. 
  1. Kindness is in short supply because we are quick to ascribe intent rather than giving benefit of the doubt.
    When someone says or does something that you disagree with, are you quick to assume the motive for what was said or done? The tendency to ascribe intent – to assume we know exactly why a person says or acts in a certain manner – is prevalent in our rush-to-judgement culture. As church leaders, we see this all the time, don’t we? A change in worship style is perceived as leadership choosing to marginalize one group of people, rather than trying to more effectively reach another group that is harder to reach. A staff member who expresses concern about a leadership decision is perceived as a complainer rather than someone who cares enough to take the risk of sharing her opinion. A pastor’s exhortation for people to give generously is perceived as manipulation rather than an appeal to step into the fullness of life in Christ. When we ascribe intent, we play the role of judge. But as it relates to what lies within a person’s heart, that role is reserved for God alone.
  1. Kindness is in short supply because we rely on ourselves rather than the Holy Spirit.
    Galatians 5 includes kindness as a fruit of the Spirit. This means that try as we might, we cannot truly be kind to others on our own strength. Rather, we need to fully surrender ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to increasingly conform us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Then – and only then – are we able to exude kindness that flows not from who we are, but what God has done (and is doing) in and through us. 

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”
Galatians 5:25

 

 

The Great Rescue

This is a blog post I wrote for luminexusa.org on July 16, 2018:

In the space of eighteen days, one of the most riveting stories of our time unfolded slowly and with great risk and uncertainty. By now you know the story …

On June 23, twelve boys and their assistant coach ventured into a cave network in northern Thailand after soccer practice, and were trapped when flood waters rose rapidly.

On June 24 rescue teams found evidence that the boys and their coach were trapped inside the cave, but before they could go further needed to pump water out to mitigate against rising waters. In the next several days, at least six nations provided experts to help support Thai army and navy troops, and volunteers.

On July 2 two British divers found all twelve boys and their coach on a shelf inside the cave. In the next three days, supplies were delivered while experts collaborated on how best to go undergo what was now clearly a perilous, uncertain rescue effort.

On July 6, former Thai Navy Seal Saman Kunan died after running out of oxygen while underwater. The next day, July 7, rescuers determined that they needed to initiate final rescue efforts immediately due to forecasts of heavy rain.

On July 8 the first four boys were brought to safety following an 11-hour rescue operation. On July 9 four more boys were rescued following a 9-hour rescue operation. And finally, on July 10 the remaining four boys and their coach were brought to safety. And there was much rejoicing throughout the world!

The rescue operation in Thailand is a wonderful reminder of the value of life and the willingness of people to sacrifice for the sake of others. And the end result of the rescue was significant indeed, as thirteen lives were prolonged.

For Christians, the rescue operation in Thailand ought to remind us of another rescue operation – the ultimate rescue operation – that does not merely prolong life, but leads to everlasting life. What’s more, what took place in Thailand has something to teach us about living as rescued people who have the joy and privilege of joining with Christ on His Great Rescue. Specifically …

Joining Christ on the Great Rescue means leaving what is comfortable.

Each of the divers in Thailand left the comfort and safety of dry land to search for the lost in uncertain, murky waters. What comfort zones might you need to leave to join Christ in pursuing the lost?

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

Joining Christ on the Great Rescue means giving grace to others.

While the events in Thailand have revealed the capacity for good in people, they have also revealed our propensity toward judgement and condemnation. It is well documented that Ekkapol Ake Chantawong, the soccer team’s 25-year old assistant coach, made a poor decision in guiding the team to a forbidden and dangerous area. But as “Coach Ek” was trapped in a cave and doing all he could to keep his team alive, others were taking to social media to ridicule and condemn the coach as reckless, selfish, and clearly undeserving of grace.

Are we too quick to assume the worst about others? And are we too slow to extend grace to others?

“Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.’” (John 8:10-11)

Joining Christ on the Great Rescue means collaborating with others along the way.

While the rescue team discussed a variety of approaches for getting the boys and their coach out, the approach they settled on was to medicate the boys, then place each on a stretcher as they were passed from diver to diver through the cave. This is a marvelous picture of how collaboration works to achieve a result that no single individual could attain on their own. As Christians, God does not call us to go it alone, but to be joined in community with one another, bearing in mind that while we play a role in the Great Rescue, we don’t do the actual rescuing. After all, salvation comes not through people, but through Jesus Christ alone.

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (1 Cor. 3:6-7)

Joining Christ on the Great Rescue means joining in celebration when the lost are found.

When the last of the boys and their coach were rescued, the world rightly celebrated the miracle of a rescue that seemed improbable from the start. Do we join with heaven in celebrating the miracle of people eternally rescued by God? We should – it’s the best celebration this life has to offer!

“I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7)

From Darkness to Light

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”
Eph. 5:8-11

Darkness, which in essence is the absence of visible light, has some value, especially as a vital means of regulating our bodies and boosting our immune system through proper sleep. But darkness must be compartmentalized, because we were not created to live in darkness, but in light.

So why is it that so many of us – at least figuratively speaking – spend our days in shadows, in darkness? Could it be that we’re hiding from God, and from one another?

It’s telling that the Apostle Paul instructed the Ephesian believers – just as God instructs us – to have nothing to do with the deeds of darkness, but instead to expose them. But whose deeds are we to expose? The truth is that most of us are comfortable pointing out other people’s sin, but not so quick to expose our own sin. Yet that’s exactly what God calls us to do. And it can only happen if we step out of darkness and into light.

Think of it this way: If you were having some sort of surgical procedure done, would you ask the surgeon to perform it in the dark? Probably not!  Why then should we expect God to free us from our areas of struggle if we are unwilling to step into the light so that our sin is fully exposed?

Perhaps more than anything, living in the light means that we need to become unflinchingly honest with God, with one other, and with ourselves. After all, God has commanded us to love God with every fiber of our being, and to love others as we ourselves want to be loved, but in the absence of honesty our love is incomplete and insufficient. In the absence of honesty we remain in the shadows, hiding from God (as if!) and each other. And so living in the light starts with honesty.

How is your prayer life? Do you pray in a manner that is heartfelt rather than scripted or mundane?

How are your relationships? Are they healthy and vibrant, flavored with both grace and truth?

Who in your life are you able to share openly with about your areas of struggle? I certainly don’t recommend telling everyone you meet about your areas of struggle, but I do recommend that you find at least a few people you can do this with.

May the Lord bless you as you step out of darkness and into light.

Mission Critical

It has long been my belief that a clear, concise mission statement is essential for organizational success. For churches, the mission does not need to be discerned per se because it has been given to us by Jesus himself. The mission of every church is at its core the Great Commission given to us by Christ. Churches can restate the mission for their particular context, but the mission must encapsulate our call to make disciples, bringing people to Christ and helping people to become increasingly like Christ.

This brings us to a difficult reality check. Because if it’s true that the mission of every church is at its core to make disciples, then we must ask ourselves why so many churches have failed not only to make disciples of Jesus Christ, but to drift far, far away from the mission given to us by Jesus Christ.

The answer is nuanced, and like you I can think of a myriad of contributing factors. But for purposes of this post, we’ll consider two overarching reasons. If either of these brings a sense of conviction to you, I encourage you to pray about it, be open to what the Holy Spirit might speak to you, and discuss it with other leaders.

Our Tendency to Settle.
After God created Adam and Eve, He instructed them to, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). More than a thousand years later, after flooding the earth, “God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.’” (Gen. 9:1). Yet just a few generations after Noah, we read in Genesis 11:1 that, “As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.” And you know the rest of the story – after the people “settled” in Shinar, they began construction of the Tower of Babel, a misguided construction project if ever there was one.

The problem with settling is that it runs contrary to movement and multiplication. It’s true in our individual lives, and it’s true in our churches. In both cases, when we settle for what is familiar or comfortable, we invariably move our focus off of Christ and other people, and onto ourselves. We have no effectiveness in fulfilling the Great Commission because we fail to heed the Great Commandment. Slowly and steadily, we become increasingly myopic, to the point where vision evaporates and mission is etched not on our hearts, but on an overlooked placard.

I do not believe it is possible to be fully engaged in mission while settling for what is familiar or comfortable. Rather we are to, “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16).

Our Tendency to Wander.
In my book, Faith-Based: A Biblical, Practical Guide to Strategic Planning in the Church, I wrote that, “It ought to be easy to craft a mission statement that encapsulates the Great Commission, but there are many pastors and church leaders who are consumed with developing a mission statement that is somehow more captivating, unique, cutting edge, than the mission Christ gave us. The result is that too many churches have mission statements that relegate the Great Commission to an afterthought … The demands on pastors, staff members, and lay leaders to do this and try that are never ending.  Hardly a day passes without being exposed to some new program, idea, or opportunity.  But the risk of constantly trying new things, or forever searching for the next big thing, is that we forget why we exist as a church.”

If settling leads to myopia, wandering leads to blurriness!

I encourage you to safeguard the mission Christ has given to you, and your church. And as you seek to fulfill the mission, I encourage you to be adventurous, creative, bold, humble, and prayerful – for the sake of the mission and the cause of Christ.

8 Lessons for Church Leaders from Acts 2

Acts 2 provides a vivid picture of the intersection between faith-based leadership and the work of the Holy Spirit. This combination gave birth to the early church, and has fueled thriving churches ever since.

Lesson 1: The Holy Spirit shows up when leaders are united in Christ and focused on God.
“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.” (Acts 2:1)

Like the early leaders in Christ’s church, your leadership team must gather regularly to worship, pray, and wait on the Holy Spirit. Doing so fosters trust, courage, and purpose. Just as the early church drew its life from the Holy Spirit, so must we.

Lesson 2: When and how the Holy Spirit works is not for us to know.
“Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” (Acts 2:2-3)

We want immediate answers to our questions, immediate solutions to our problems, and immediate clarity for our future. But if we had all of that, would we need faith? Strong, faith-based leaders remain both persistent and patient – persistent to seek the Holy Spirit, and patient to wait on the Holy Spirit.

Lesson 3: The Holy Spirit brings unity through diversity.
“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:4)

Left to ourselves, our diversity – of thought, background, ethnicity, gender – will divide us. But when we are fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit, our diversity is beautiful to behold, strengthening and uniting our leaders, and our church.

Lesson 4: Collaboration is key for discerning and following the leading of the Holy Spirit.
“Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’” (Acts 2:12)

The manifestation of the Holy Spirit was so powerful that the people were “amazed,” yet so unpredictable that they were “perplexed.” Thus, the people wisely asked one another what all of this meant, and received their answer in short order from Peter. When we sense the Holy Spirit working in our midst, yet are unsure about what the Spirit is conveying specifically or how we are to respond, we need to ask one another, “What does this mean?” Collaboration is vital for understanding and following the leading of the Holy Spirit, and when we fail to consult with one another, we risk missing out on all that the Holy Spirit is inviting us into.

Lesson 5: When following the Holy Spirit, expect ridicule and opposition.
“Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’” (Acts 2:13)

The more that leaders step into the call of Christ and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, the more they can expect ridicule and opposition. The good news is that while facing ridicule and opposition doesn’t feel good, if it comes out of following the leading of the Holy Spirit, it is good.

Lesson 6: Above all else, proclaim the Gospel!
“Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: ‘Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.’” (Acts 2:14)

We can be so focused on implementing new and exciting initiatives that we lose sight of our primary call to proclaim the Gospel. Paul instructed his protégé Timothy to, “proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable.” Like Timothy, we too must be steadfast in proclaiming the Gospel.

Lesson 7: Be ready to reap the harvest.
“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 2:37-38)

When the seeds of the Gospel have been sown, we need to be ready and willing to reap the harvest. The workers may be few, but there is no excuse to not reap the harvest in our own backyard.

Lesson 8: Trust God to bring the increase.
“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” (Acts 2:41)

Three thousand people coming to Christ in a single day? Talk about a good day for evangelism! But even as we celebrate this amazing response to the Gospel, it’s easy to overlook that those who didn’t place their faith in Christ that day likely numbered in the hundreds of thousands. This serves as a simple yet critically important reminder that God alone brings the increase. Peter proclaimed the Gospel passionately and persuasively, and while many placed their faith in Christ, many more did not. Ultimately, our role is to be faithful in proclaiming and living in accordance with the Gospel, and to trust God to bring the increase, whatever it might be.

What Child is This?

What child is this?

“The babe, the son of Mary.”

“She gave birth to a firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:7)

Far too many people think of the Christmas story as a quaint, cerebral affair – angels with fluttering wings, animals in a comfy manger nuzzling up against sweet baby Jesus, Joseph and Mary admiring the baby, and Jesus sleeping peacefully.

All of that is pleasant to imagine, but woefully inaccurate. In reality there was massive spiritual warfare taking place; in fact, if you want a glimpse behind the curtain of Christmas, study Revelation 12. And beyond spiritual warfare, there was earthly strife. The manger Jesus was born in was not an idyllic haven of peace, it was a stinky last resort.

In many ways, Jesus’ birth was a precursor to the rest of his life: “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Matthew 8:20).

What child is this?

“The King of kings, salvation brings.”

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.’” (Luke 2:8-11)

Jesus represents good news of great joy for all of the people! The Messiah wasn’t born to be a savior for the chosen Jewish people only, he was born to be a Savior for all who place their faith in Him.

What child is this?

“This, this is Christ the King.”

The Bible points to two Advents – the first has already taken place, but the second is yet to come. At First Advent Jesus came to us as an infant; at Second Advent, no one will mistake who Jesus is, because His glory and power will be unmistakable:

“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.  And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” (Matthew 24:30-31)

“On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.”
(Rev. 19:16)

The Thankfulness of Squanto

On December 21, 1620, a group of English separatists – people we now refer to as “pilgrims” – landed at Plymouth Rock. There were 102 people who had boarded the Mayflower when it sailed from England, but two had perished during the disease-ridden 66-day voyage. After reaching land, they entered headfirst into a devastatingly cold and windy winter. Their food supply dwindled next to nothing, and many succumbed to devastating disease and incurable illness. By the time winter gave way to spring, half of the pilgrims had perished.

In the space of six months, an eager, adventuresome group of people were reduced to a downcast, decimated group of people.  In the space of six months, for every two people who set sail, there remained but one – where there were once 102 people, there were now but 50.

And yet throughout that long, deadly winter, the pilgrims continued to trust God for His leading and provision.  They remained thankful while trusting that God would never leave them or forsake them. And God didn’t.

That March the Lord gifted the pilgrims with what William Bradford described as a “special instrument sent by God.”  This special instrument went by the name of Squanto, an Indian who would teach the pilgrims how to plant, hunt, and fish, and who later would broker the 50-year treaty between the pilgrims and Indians that allowed both groups to exist peacefully for five decades – a miracle in itself.

Squanto was exactly what the pilgrims needed at that time, and he was instrumental for their very survival. He knew the land up and down because he grew up there. He knew how to speak English because as a boy he was taught the language by a visiting group of English traders (though a few years later his trust in the English would lead him and other Indians to board an English ship bound for Spain to be sold into slavery). And Squanto knew God, because he was purchased by a group of Friars from a Catholic Monastery who introduced him to the Gospel.

When we consider what took place at the original 1621 Thanksgiving feast – when 90 Wampunoag Indians joined with 50 English pilgrims for three days of celebration – we can’t help but conclude that it was a true miracle of God.

It was a miracle of God because Squanto had ample reason to be bitter after being forcibly taken away from his people for more than ten years, then coming back to his family and people to find that most of them had recently died from what they called “white man’s disease,” possibly smallpox. For Squanto to trust, let alone befriend, yet another group of unfamiliar foreigners is nothing short of miraculous.

And the pilgrims had reason to be bitter as well. They were despised in England because of their open disagreement with the English Act of Uniformity, which demanded that all British citizens attend services and follow the traditions of the Church of England. And so they followed God’s leading by setting sail to the “new world, “ but within six months they were ravaged by hunger, disease and death. Yet, like Squanto, they didn’t become bitter, choosing instead to remain thankful.

Remaining thankful had to have been exceedingly difficult for them, just as it often is for us. The truth is that being thankful – trulythankful – for any length of time is a challenge, so being thankful at all times can seem nearly impossible. And yet that is exactly what we are called to do:

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thes. 5:18)

God does not call us to be thankful for all circumstances, but to be thankful in all circumstances. Squanto didn’t thank God for being wrongfully enslaved, and the pilgrims didn’t thank God for experiencing so much death and disease. God allows these kinds of circumstances, but they’re not of God. Rather, they are a byproduct of the fall.

Yet for all who place their faith in Jesus Christ, it is both natural and biblical to thank God in all circumstances, including the most extenuating circumstances. And for me at least, this begs a question: Why does God call us to be thankful?

Here is what I have come to believe: God calls us to be thankful because it’s only through having a heart filled with gratitude – with thanksgiving – that we are truly able to live into the fullness of life that Christ came to give us.

We can be so quick to fix our focus on what’s happening in the moment. And to spend more time wishing for what we don’t have than thanking God for what we do have. But being thankful in all circumstances can only flow from a place of deep understanding and acceptance of the grace of God given to us in Christ Jesus.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!