3 Ways to Worship God

Worship means different things to different people, but what’s important is that we do it

3 Ways to Worship GodSome churches call their Sunday meeting a worship service. This has always troubled me. Yes, I knew that singing to God was a form of worship, or at least it should be. And I understood the part about “worshiping God with our tithes and offerings,” even though I didn’t see God getting too much of what we dropped into the offering plate. But the sermon?

How could listening to a lecture, often a boring one, be a form of worshiping God? In truth, aside from a few songs and the collection, the bulk of most church services are either education or entertainment. Is that worship? I don’t think so. I hope not.

Here are three ways we can worship God. (And like a good three-point sermon, they all begin with the same letter.)

Singing: As I said, singing to God is a way to worship him. More broadly, music is a path to worship. That means we can sing or listen to music. Music can also involve movement, rather it be clapping our hands, raising our arms in praise, or dance (from rhythmic swaying to getting down like David, 2 Samuel 6:14).

Yes, singing can have a physical component. It can also involve senses. Sight: seeing others sing and dance (or watching a light show). Hearing: listening to those around us sing and hearing the instruments. Smell: incense or a smoke machine. Touch: holding hands with fellow worshipers as we sing. Taste: singing while we take communion. (For the record, I’ve experienced each of these sensory elements in worship at various church services, though not often.)

Unfortunately, I’m musically and rhythmically challenged, so I struggle to worship God through music and movement. But give me a strong beat with catchy lyrics behind it, and I can engage in song as a means of worship.

Serving: Helping others, both with our time and through our money, is a tangible form of worship. I enjoy the action of doing something for others, offering it as an act of service to them and as a form of worship to God.

Similarly I like being able to give money to causes I’m passionate about or to people in need as the Holy Spirit directs me. Both are ways to serve and both offer a path for worship. I relish the opportunity to worship God through these forms of service.

Silence: In our multitasking, always-on society, the hush of stillness is an anachronism to most, one that causes many people to squirm. Few people can tolerate silence for more than a few seconds.

Yet in our silence—along with its partner, solitude—we can quiet our racing minds and still our thumping hearts in order to connect with God. Psalm 46:10 says to “be still and know that I am God.” Yet, setting time aside to be still presents challenges. For most of us, meeting with God in silence doesn’t just happen; we must be intentional.

In my times of silence I connect more fully with God in worship, get deeper glimpses into his heart, and am best able to hear his gentle words of encouragement, correction, and mostly love. So good!

Just as I make it my practice to attend church, I have a parallel practice of giving to my community each week. I also (usually) block out one day out of seven to fast, and part of that time includes worshiping God through silence. All three are forms of worship, though for me, helping others is more practical and resting in God’s presence is more meaningful.

God has uniquely made us and gives us different ways to worship him. When it comes to worship, one size does not fit all. Find the one that fits you.

[This is from the February issue of Peter DeHaan‘s newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.”  Receive the complete newsletter each month.]

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12 Key Truths about the Kingdom of God

Consider the kingdom of God as the ultimate church model

12 Key Truths about the Kingdom of GodLast Sunday we pointed out that Jesus taught about the kingdom of God but we made a church. The Bible records Jesus talking about the kingdom of God (and the comparable phrase, kingdom of heaven) eighty-five times. Jesus only mentions church three times.

To guide how we should function as his followers today, we must consider what Jesus says about the kingdom of God. Here are twelve key truths about the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God:

1) Is Close: A dozen times or more Jesus proclaims the present reality of the kingdom of God. He says it is near (Luke 10:11), it is upon you (Luke 11:20), and in your midst (Luke 17:21). It happened in that generation (Luke 21:32), and some saw it before they died (Luke 9:27).

2) Belongs to Us: Jesus tells his disciples that the kingdom of God has been given to them (Mark 4:11). As his followers today, his modern-day disciples, that truth extends to us. Another time Jesus tells the crowd that the kingdom of God belongs to them (Luke 6:20). Here he specifically connects with poor people, but aren’t most all of us poor in this world? (And if we consider ourselves rich, see #3.)

3) Is an Enigma: The kingdom of God is hard to understand (Luke 8:10), happens while we are alive (Luke 9:27), and goes against our sense of order (Luke 13:30). It can’t be seen (Luke 17:20), is hard for the wealthy to grasp (Luke 18:18-24), and is a secret to many (Mark 4:11). Yep, the kingdom of God is very much an enigma, but we need to try to understand it. With the Holy Spirit’s help, we can.

4) Has Different Priorities: The kingdom of God is more important than anything else (Luke 9:60-62), which includes church, by the way. In the kingdom of God we will have spiritual greatness (Luke 7:28) and experience the first being last and the last being first (Luke 13:30); see #3 enigma.

5) Provides Great Reward: What we give up for the kingdom of God will be given back many times over in eternity (Luke 18:29-30).

6) Requires Total Commitment: We need to remove anything that holds us back from the kingdom of God (Mark 9:47) and give up things that seem important (Mark 10:29), but when we do there will be a great return.

7) Represents Good News: Jesus says the kingdom of God is good news (Luke 4:43, Luke 8:1), which he shares with others. We should do the same; see #8.

8) Must be Shared: Not only does Jesus share the good news of the kingdom of God, but he wants us to do the same (Luke 8:1) and as we go, he expects us to heal people (Luke 9:2). Yep, the kingdom of God is about supernatural healing; see #9.

9) Includes Miracles: Part of the kingdom of God is healing (Luke 9:11, Luke 9:2, Luke 10:9) and driving out demons (Luke 11:20, Matthew 12:28). Don’t skip this part. The Bible says these supernatural feats are part of the kingdom of God package. And don’t we want the total package?

10) Offers a Huge Impact: The kingdom of God may start out small, but it grows into something significant (Luke 13:18-20), just like a tiny mustard seed and yeast. But the growth part is not our responsibility. God handles that (Mark 4:26-29).

11) Is Open for All and Inclusive: People will flock from all parts of life to be part of the kingdom of God (Luke 13:29), especially those on the outside (Luke 14:15-24). Plus it’s open for kids and those with childlike faith (Luke 18:16-17, Mark 10:14); see #12.

12) Is Counterintuitive: The kingdom of God is hard to enter (Matthew 19:24, Luke 13:23-30), especially for those who place their trust in money (Luke 18:25, Mark 10:17-25). Some of the people we most expect to be part of the kingdom of God will miss out (Luke 13:28, Matthew 21:31) as others take their place (Matthew 21:43, Luke 14:15-24). Being part of the kingdom of God requires we experience a new birth (John 3:3-6), a spiritual rebirth, which requires a simple, unwavering child-like faith (Mark 10:15).

There’s more, but this will get us started.

How can these teachings from Jesus inform how we act today as his followers? This should change everything, but will we let it?

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Jesus Talked about the Kingdom of God and We Made a Church

What if Jesus never intended his followers to form a church as we know it today?

Jesus Talked about the Kingdom of God and We Made a ChurchI looked at where the Bible talks about the kingdom of God and where it talks about church. What I learned is shocking.

These are New Testament Considerations: Both the church and the kingdom of God (along with the kingdom of Heaven) are New Testament concepts. None of these terms occur in the Old Testament. Since Jesus comes to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17), the kingdom of God must be one way he intends to do so.

Jesus Teaches about the Kingdom of God, not Church: Jesus talks much about the kingdom of God (Heaven) and little about the church: fifty-four times versus three. Clearly Jesus focuses his teaching on the kingdom of God. If the kingdom of God is so important to Jesus, it should be important to us as well.

A Change Occurs in Acts: A transition of emphasis happens in the book of Acts, with twenty-one mentions of church and only six mentions of the kingdom of God. Early on Jesus’s followers shift their focus from the kingdom of God to the church. This is logical because a church is a tangible result while the kingdom of God is a more ethereal concept. But just because this is a logical shift, that doesn’t make it right.

Jesus’s Followers Focus on Church: The rest of the New Testament (Romans through Revelation) emphasizes church over the kingdom of God: ninety times versus eight. Even though the early followers of Jesus favor the practice of church over the concept of the kingdom of God, the fact remains that their practice of church then is far different from ours today.

Today’s church should push aside her traditions and practices to replace them with what Jesus teaches about the kingdom of God. It will change everything.

(Here’s the background:

The word church occurs 114 times in the Bible, all in the New Testament. Of the four accounts of Jesus, church only occurs in Matthew and then just three times. Acts, the book about the early church, mentions church twenty-one times. The word church occurs in the majority of the rest of the New Testament books (fifteen of them).

Instead of church, Jesus talks about the kingdom of God. The phrase, kingdom of God, occurs sixty-eight times in the Bible, again, all in the New Testament. The majority of occurrences are in the four biographies of Jesus, accounting for fifty-four of its sixty-eight appearances. Acts mentions the kingdom of God six times, with only eight occurrences popping up in the rest of the New Testament.

Matthew generally writes using the kingdom of Heaven instead of the kingdom of God. He uses kingdom of Heaven thirty-one times and is the only writer in the Bible to use this phrase. By comparing parallel passages in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we see the same account with the only difference being that Matthew writes kingdom of Heaven whereas Mark and Luke use kingdom of God. Clearly Matthew, the only biblical writer to use kingdom of Heaven, equates it to kingdom of God. Additionally Matthew uses the kingdom of God five times.)

Do We Need to Rethink How We Pray?

Whether we pray often or seldom, we have likely fallen into unexamined habits

Do We Need to Rethink How We Pray?How do you begin your prayers?

What is your common salutation? It might be “Heavenly Father . . .” or perhaps “Father God . . . ” or maybe “Dear God . . . ”  (How about, “Hey, God. It’s me again.”) The Lord’s Prayer opens with “Our Father in heaven,” which is a good model to follow (Matthew 6:9). Some people open with “Dear Jesus . . . ” Have you ever addressed your prayers to the Holy Spirit? He is part of the triune God, after all.

When you finish praying, how do you conclude?

Some traditions end with “In Jesus’s name we pray, amen.” This aligns with what Jesus taught us (John 14:13). Other traditions take their cue from Matthew 28:19 and wrap up with “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.” Some use the shortcut of just “Amen.” (What about just saying “Bye” or “Catch you later,” which is how we talk to other people. Prayer, after all, is conversation.)

What does amen mean, anyway?

The Amplified Bible suggests it implies “So be it” or May it be so.” Saying one of these declarations to end our prayers may get us out of the rut of concluding with a rote “Amen,” but it usually confounds anyone listening to us.

And what should we say in the middle portion of our prayers?

Sometimes I direct my communications with God to specific parts of the godhead according to the character or role of each. For example, I can praise Father for creating me, Jesus for saving me, and Holy Spirit for guiding me. Or I can ask Papa to bless me, the Son to be with me, and the Spirit to inspire me. Doing this helps me see God in fresh, new ways; it enables me to better connect and be more real in my communications with God.

But what if I error and address the wrong aspect of God? It’s happened, but I don’t think it matters to God because Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all the same God, the great three in one (consider 1 John 5:7).

The point is to stop praying words out of habit and think about why we say what we say when we talk to God. He deserves our full attention, so we should avoid using thoughtless words.

So be it.

Grumbling About Church Shows That We Care

People complain about things that matter to them; silence reveals apathy

When a customer complains about a business, the astute businessperson knows to embrace it as an opportunity. The fact that the customer is complaining means they’re still a customer, and they’re simply providing a chance for improvement. After all, if they no longer view themselves as a customer, why would they bother to share their concerns? They gripe, because at some level, they still care.

They may post a rant on social media, grouse to all their friends, or contact customer service to demand a resolution. But regardless of their approach they yearn for a better outcome than what they experienced. This is because deep down they want a business relationship and hope for it to improve.

Grumbling About Church Shows That We CareI’m a lot like that when it comes to the universal church, the church of Jesus. I complain about his church because I care. In fact, I complain a lot because I care a lot. The church that Jesus’s followers started could be so much more than what it is. It should be so much more than what it is.

Not everyone agrees with me, though. In fact most people don’t. They’re basically happy with the church status quo and how she operates. They essentially like the way things function and the traditions they have. They still embrace the basic tenets of today’s church meetings: a Sunday service with music, a lecture, and a collection. Maybe the church will even tack on a social time: call it a Christian happy hour with coffee.

And if they get mad or hurt or disillusioned, they’ll act like consumers and take their business to another church, one that behaves in a manner more aligned with their preferences, expectations, and experiences. But most will still attend church.

A few, however, will drop out. Though they leave the church, they usually don’t leave God. Contrary to what some people think, church attendance doesn’t equate to having faith in God. These church dropouts still love Jesus; it’s his people and their unexamined practices that drive them crazy.

Just as people can go to church and not have faith, they can just as easily not go to church and retain their faith. It’s not that they don’t like church; it’s that they sense she is broken. Though I go to a typical, modern church, I agree with these folks who have a sense that today’s church isn’t working as it should, that we’re missing the point of what it means to truly follow Jesus.

Though I don’t have a solution, I do have ideas. That’s what this blog is about. Stay tuned for more in the Sunday posts to come, because I have much more to say. After all, I write about the church because I care about her.

What Did Jesus Do?

Move from asking “What Would Jesus Do?” to asking “What Did Jesus Do?”

What did Jesus do?The phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” was popularized in the 1990s. Often epitomized by colorful bracelets that bore the acronym WWJD, the concept was intended to serve as a constant reminder for followers of Jesus to act as he would act. Therefore, in any given circumstance the goal of WWJD is for us to ask ourselves, what would Jesus do in this particular situation? Then we should act accordingly.

I like WWJD as an ongoing nudge to always strive to behave in a manner consistent with Jesus. However, this requires that we presume to know how Jesus would act today. This necessitates interpreting his actions from two thousand years ago and projecting them into our modern culture, which we invariably do through the lens of our personal experience. Some call this contextualizing. The problem in doing so is that we make assumptions and might be in error.

Instead of presuming to know what Jesus would do, it might be better to look at the Bible to see what he actually did.

In reading the biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—the biographies of Jesus—here are some of the things that Jesus consistently does:

Jesus Loves Everyone: The Bible shows Jesus loving everyone, especially those on the fringes of society, the people who “good” folks avoid. Jesus does the opposite, going out of his way to love those who few people love.

Jesus Questions Spiritual Conventions: A paraphrase of a reoccurring teaching of Jesus is “You have heard it said ____, but I say ____.” It seems Jesus consistently challenges the beliefs people have and the way they act. His teaching delights the common people and frustrates the people who think they have everything figured out about God and what he expects.

Jesus Heals People: Jesus goes around healing people of their physical infirmities, from removing fevers to raising people from the dead. In this spectrum of need are people with odd afflictions that the Bible calls evil spirits. It matters not if these people are really possessed by demons or if their struggle is actually mental illness. The reality is that Jesus heals them; he solves their problems.

And for those who claim that miraculous healing doesn’t apply today, check out Jesus’s future-focused statement in John 14:12: “Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.”

Jesus Feeds People: On two occasions Jesus feeds hungry people, miraculously multiplying a measly amount of food to feed a multitude. Before you assume you can’t do that, go back to read the above verse in John. Of course we don’t always need a miracle to feed people. We can just do it the normal way and feed hungry people from the resources we have.

Jesus Opposes Religiosity: Jesus opposes the religious status quo. Though Jesus clearly loves everyone, one group consistently earns his criticism: the spiritual leaders who follow regimented religious rules. They adhere to a spirit of religiosity. Though they are devote in their righteousness and adherence to their traditions and interpretations of the Bible, Jesus consistently has to correct their errant thinking.

These are the things that Jesus does. May we go out and do the same, to do what Jesus did.

The Bible Reminds Us of Our Heritage

Reading the Bible helps inform us of who we are

The Bible Reminds Us of Our HeritageI love reading the Bible. While the entire Bible is useful to teach us about God and inform our faith journey (2 Timothy 3:16), I particularly enjoy the stories about the people, our spiritual ancestors.

I like reading about Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Job, Joseph and his brothers, Moses, Joshua, those crazy judges and faithful prophets, Ruth and Boaz, David, Solomon, Hosea, Daniel, Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah in the Old Testament. The New Testament tells about Jesus, the star of the Bible. I also like my namesake, Peter, along with Luke (especially Luke), Paul, Timothy, John, and Mary. I enjoy lessor known characters, too – those obscure people who only show up in a verse or two, like Rhoda, Lydia, John Mark, Philemon, Onesimus, Jabez, and so on. And let’s not forget about the angels. They’re in the Bible, too. All of these characters point us to Father God and reveal who he is.

Reading about these folks fills me with awe over their faith and dismay over their failures. I shake my head in bewilderment over their bone-headed mistakes and fist pump enthusiasm over their triumphs. I work to avoid their errors and strive to emulate their successes.

These people give me a spiritual heritage, my anchor. Collectively they have formed me into who I am today as a person and as a follower of Jesus. These biblical ancestors have become my ancestors, perhaps even more so than those in my biological family tree.

Spiritually they are my inheritance. I don’t have an affinity with a certain branch of Jesus’s church, connect with a denomination, or adhere to a particular theological bent. My affinity resides in these amazing, flawed folks of the Bible, their faith, and the God they worship and serve.

As such, the Bible reminds me of my heritage, of who I am.

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Embracing the Rhythm of Daily Prayers

Talking to God on a regular basis is key to life and faith; don’t live without it

Embracing the Rhythm of Daily PrayersThe Bible talks about praying in the morning, at noon, and in the evening (Psalm 55:17 and Daniel 6:10). Though never a biblical requirement, the idea of praying each day at 9:00 a.m., noon, and 3:00 p.m. became a regular practice for devout followers of God in both the Old and New Testaments.

In the centuries that followed, Christians upped the number to seven, praying at seven prescribed times throughout each day. I never liked the practice of the “Seven Hours of Prayer.” The idea that I needed to pray at specific times felt too rigid. And when I have seen monks follow this, I perceived their prayers as rote recitations and ritualistic, far removed from the personal relationship that I crave with the godhead.

Yet over time I have formed my own practice of daily prayers:

Before I Rise: I see no point in getting out of bed if I haven’t invited God to spend the day with me. I share with him my plans and schedule, giving him permission to alter them. I confess my weaknesses and share my concerns. I ask for his blessing on what I will do and for favor with people I will interact with. Then I rise and embrace the day.

Morning Prayers: As I exercise each day (at least Sunday through Friday—I take Saturdays off), I pray for God’s blessing on family and friends. I also pray for his blessing on future generations. I follow a couple guides that itemizes godly traits and practices. I focus on one item per day for each person on my list. After a couple months I’ve covered everything and start again with the first item. Of course I also interject specific prayers based on what that person has told me and as the Holy Spirit prompts me.

At the Start of Work: Before my wife heads off to work, I say a prayer of blessing for her, her work, and her day. Then she does the same for me. What a difference that makes on our perspective and our work for the day.

Meals: A common Christian practice is to pray before each meal, following the example of Jesus. I like this in concept but have trouble implementing it with sincerity. I don’t want to mumble a prayer from rote memory or speed through an obligatory invocation as I salivate for food. I’m so vexed by my inability to give God a fresh, meaningful mealtime prayer, that I skip the attempt when I eat alone. (I wonder if I should revisit this decision.) Only when in groups do I embrace this practice.

Bedtime: Some people lay down each night, fall asleep, and wake up in the morning refreshed. I do not. I need God at night just as much as I do during the day. I ask him to bless my slumber and to corral my dreams. I think the command to hold every thought captive applies to our nighttime dreams as much as to our daytime thoughts. I need God’s help with both. See 2 Corinthians 10:5.

During the Night: When I wake up in the middle of the night, my intent is to pray until I fall back to sleep. It usually doesn’t take much. Note that I don’t pray that I’ll fall back asleep; I pray for other people and situations. Also prayer seems more imperative in the middle of the night, around 2:30 to 3:00.

Always: Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica to pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17). While Brother Lawrence could approach this, I cannot. But I do look for opportunities to pray throughout the day. Read about my efforts to pray without ceasing.

These are my seven daily times of prayer. I’m sure my practice will continue to change over time. While I don’t expect anyone to follow my daily prayer practice, I do encourage everyone to develop their own.

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Should We Embrace a Social Gospel?

Though many are quick to criticize the social gospel, we would be mistaken to do so

Should We Embrace a Social Gospel?The primary way we learn words is through divining their meaning from context and everyday usage. That’s how children learn to talk and how most adults expand their vocabulary. We presume their meaning, deduce their function, and discern how to use them. Basically we make educated guesses. And sometimes we make a wrong conclusion. Or at least I do.

Such is the case with the term social gospel.

Whenever I heard the phrase it was with negative connotations, so I assumed it was a bad thing. That was my first error.

Next, I assumed the negativity must arise from the social half of the term, certainly not the gospel half, the good news part. I then shifted social to socialize and envisioned a church that so majored in socializing that they forgot the gospel. As a result I assumed the social gospel was a social church that had forgotten its original purpose, morphing into a purely social organization, like a country club. I wanted nothing to do with a country club church, so I dismissed the social gospel as meaningless. That was my second error.

As an aside, we need the social part of church. We call it community. Community is critical. Consider the directive in Hebrews to not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). This is a call to live in community more so than an order to go to church on Sunday morning. Also consider all the “one another” commands as a charge to pursue community.

Now back to the social gospel. I wouldn’t have shared my misunderstanding of the phrase except for the fact that I’ve met others who similarly reached the same wrong conclusion.

The social gospel, however, is actually a call to move faith beyond a personal conversion experience to help others on a grand scale, specifically through social reform. While some Christians want to segregate the two or dismiss making an impact on the world in which we live, the Bible has other ideas. The first half of the above verse says we are to encourage one another to love others and to do good deeds (Hebrews 10:24).

Furthermore Paul tells the church in Galicia to persist in doing good (Galatians 6:9). James talks about the importance of proving our faith by what we do. He even says that faith without action is dead (James 2:14-26).

Whether we wrongly assume the social gospel is about community or rightly understand the social gospel as helping others, we need to do both. The Bible says so.

What Are You Thankful For?

Take time to tell God what you are thankful for, not just on Thanksgiving, but every other day, too

What Are You Thankful For?The church I attended several years ago had a Thanksgiving practice of having members stand to share what they were thankful for. From my perspective this never went well, with too much silence or too much forced sharing and sometimes both.

One year a man kicked things off by saying how thankful he was for his wife, spending too much time listing her many attributes, which I perceived as overly generous exaggerations. Though I’m sure he earned points from his beloved, his gushing made me squirm.

With the precedence set, the second man to speak did the same thing for his wife. Now we a had a pattern. Going forward, each person—both male and female—who spoke, opened with a spousal tribute. Anyone who did not do so would surely look like a clod and risk spending the night on the couch.

This all came to mind a few days ago when church asked us to write a note of what we were thankful for. As a writer, you’d think I’d be all over this, but I write in solitude and can’t come up with a single cogent thought when trying to write in public. Besides, my wife was sitting next to me eyeing my blank paper. I had to list her first, right? (By the way, I am thankful for her.) After her, I’d need to follow with all members of my immediate family. (I’m thankful for them, too.) But how far should I go? At whatever point I stopped, the implication would be that I wasn’t thankful for the next person in my family tree. It’s a slippery slope.

Next I thought about friends: best friends, close friends, valued associates, casual acquaintances, the neighbor I wave to but haven’t yet met, the clerk at the post office, my best friend from high school who I haven’t seen in years, and that one guy I met one time who God keeps reminding me to pray for. Where do I draw the line?

Then I thought about things. Yes, I’m thankful for them, too, but to make a list of valued possessions would paint me as materialistic. Can’t have that.

What about less tangible things: good health, a job, the ability to work, the chance to help others, having family nearby and all living in the same state, a comfortable life, and so on? Listing these things might seem like boasting of God’s blessings on my life, thereby causing pain for others who weren’t so fortunate. I would never want that.

I was running out of time to make my list. Some people had finished theirs, but my paper was still blank. Then I came up with a great idea. What if I wrote down the one thing I am most thankful for? That might be doable. The answer came quickly: God. But he’s the answer to most everything. I needed to be more specific. Then I found clarity: I’m thankful for the love of God.

If we have God’s love, which we do, everything else is secondary. Yes, I’m thankful for family and friends and possessions and blessings, but mostly I’m thankful that God loves me—and that God loves you, too.