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.

What is Pentecost and Why is it Important?

Christmas and Easter focus on Jesus, preparing for Pentecost to complete his work and reveal the Holy Spirit

What is Pentecost and Why is it Important?Though it’s been co-opted by secular society, Christmas remains as the most popular Christian holiday, celebrating the birth of Jesus. Next in notoriety stand the tandem of Good Friday, remembering the execution of Jesus, and Easter, celebrating his emergence from his burial vault. While some faith practices focus on Good Friday and others emphasize Easter, the fact remains that we can’t have Easter without Good Friday and without Easter, Good Friday doesn’t matter.

What most churches gloss over, or even skip, are Ascension Day and Pentecost. Today is Pentecost (see if your church celebrates it) and a week and a half ago was Ascension Day (was that even mentioned?).

Ascension Day occurs forty days after Easter. Jesus rises from the dead, spends forty days with his friends and followers, gives them final instructions, and then ascends into heaven (Acts 1:9-11). Though practices vary, this was on Thursday, May 5. As a matter of convenience many churches acknowledge this miracle on the following Sunday, which they call Ascension Sunday.

Pentecost is today, fifty days after Jesus resurrected and ten days after he returned to heaven. Before he left he told his followers to wait around for a gift he would send them, something from his Father (Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:4-5). This gift is the Holy Spirit.

On Pentecost, many of Jesus’s followers have gathered together. There is a loud noise and something like flames of fire fill the room and land on the people. The Holy Spirit fills them and they begin to supernaturally speak in other languages (Acts 2:1-12). The same Holy Spirit lives in us today.

Pentecost, by the way, didn’t start with Jesus. Its roots go back to the Old Testament in the Festival of Weeks (Exodus 34:22), now known as Shavuot.

While some followers of Jesus celebrate the Holy Spirit, other traditions diminish him or even dismiss him.

I choose to celebrate him and his power. After all, the Holy Spirit is an equal part of the godhead. Join me in celebrating Pentecost, the culmination of Jesus’s work.

What do you think about Ascension Day and Pentecost? Do you consider other religious celebrations beyond these five (Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day, and Pentecost)? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Top 5 Easter Posts

Meditate on the true meaning of Easter as a Christian Holy day of Ultimate Importance

Top 5 Easter PostsEvery Sunday morning for several years I have shared my thoughts about God, the Bible, and the church on this blog. Because Easter always falls on a Sunday, one post a year is usually about Easter. This year’s reflection follows this same theme, yet it is also different.

This is not a new post but a nod to past posts, my top 5. Together they say everything I want to say. I am most pleased with last year’s thoughts, so I lead with it:

  1. What’s the True Meaning of Easter?
  2. Celebrate Easter as a Spiritual Holiday
  3. Let’s Reclaim Easter Before It Loses All Meaning
  4. What Does the Bible Say About Easter?
  5. Which is More Important, Good Friday or Easter?

The first four entries are all from past Easters. The fifth item was from last week, but its theme rightly belongs in this compilation.

When I think of Easter, I think of Jesus. Of who he is, what he did, why he did it, and who he did it for. His ultimate act of sacrificial love drives me to my knees in homage and brings tears to my eyes out of undeserved gratitude.

I love you Jesus, and I long to be with you, today and every day. May it be so.

How do you keep Jesus in Easter? What will you do to celebrate Jesus today? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Which is More Important, Good Friday or Easter?

Should Christians focus on worshiping Jesus who suffered or Jesus who rose from the dead?

Which is More Important, Good Friday or Easter?As we move through Lent and approach Holy Week we anticipate a series of significant days: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter (which some call Resurrection Sunday). The last two of these days, Good Friday and Easter stand as momentous occasions for all those who follow Jesus.

Though Christians worldwide acknowledge both as significant days that are essential to their faith, they tend to place more emphasis on one over the other. Indeed some choose to worship the suffering Savior, while others focus their attention on the risen Savior. For the first group, Good Friday is their solemn day of remembrance, with Easter as secondary. The other group breezes past Good Friday to arrive at Easter, the pinnacle day for their faith.

In reality, we need both Good Friday and Easter. Without Good Friday, we couldn’t have Easter and without Easter, Good Friday wouldn’t matter.

Jesus needed to die in order to cover all our mistakes and reconcile us with God. He also needed to rise from the dead, to resurrect, proving his mastery over death. We need both death and resurrection. Jesus needed to die as our ultimate sacrifice to end all sacrifices and he needed to live again to show that his death wasn’t the end but a new beginning, both for him and for us.

Let’s balance our faith practices by placing equal emphasis on Jesus as our Savior who died and who rose from the dead. We need both Good Friday and Easter. May our observances this year show that reality.

Thank you Jesus for dying for us so we don’t have to pay for our mistakes, and thank you Jesus for overcoming death for us so we can, too.

Do you prefer Good Friday observances or Easter celebrations? Why? What might you do differently this year for Holy Week? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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

Linus Reminds Us What Christmas is All About

Of the four biographies of Jesus in the Bible, my favorite is Luke’s. Luke also contains the best-known account of Jesus’ birth, made popular by the Peanut’s character Linus.

Watch Linus explain what Christmas is all about.

May you and your family have a Merry Christmas!

(This well-known clip is from the 1965 TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas. Debuting almost fifty years ago, the show addressed the secularization and commercialization of Christmas. In the past five decades, the situation has grown much worse. Let’s reclaim what Christmas is all about, starting with today.)

[Luke 2:8-14]

Three Thoughts About Christmas

Christmas is almost here; my mind swirls with a jumble of thoughts as I try to connect the calendar with my celebration of Jesus. Here are three items I’m considering:

  1. Christmas treeMy wife and I are in a state of transition between one home and the next. Most of our belongings, including everything relating to Christmas, are safely stowed in a couple of storage containers. We have no decorations to hang and none of our familiar trimmings to remind us of this season. True, the signals are all around us, but those are just enough removed that the approach of Christmas mostly eludes me.
  2. I wrote a blog post for Christmas, titled “Linus Reminds Us What Christmas is All About.” In it, I link to a clip of Linus reading part of the Christmas story from Luke 2:8-14. This is from the perennial Christmas special A Charlie Brown Christmas, which first aired in 1965. The show was written to counter the secularization and commercialization of Christmas. In the intervening forty-nine years, things have eroded much further.
  3. I just received an email from a friend living in a culture far different from mine. He shared that not many people celebrate Christmas where he is, but his family will, intentionally preparing their hearts to remember Jesus’ arrival on earth.

At first I felt bad for my friend. He will miss out on having the familiar trappings of Christmas around him. But as I think about it more, I’m envious because he doesn’t have the distractions from a secularized, commercialized distortion of Christmas to contend with.

Like my friend, I need to be intentional about Christmas and remember the true meaning behind it.

Thank you, Jesus! I love you!

[This is from the December 2014 issue of Peter DeHaan‘s newsletter. Sign up to receive the complete newsletter each month via email.]

Do You Wish People Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

My wife wishes people a “Merry Christmas,” while I say “Happy holidays.” We both have our reasons for doing so, and we are both right.

It’s important to us to keep Jesus as the central focus of Christmas. One way my wife does so is by wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas” – every chance she gets. She never says “Merry Xmas” and doesn’t shop at stores that resort to that godless abbreviation. She also never says “Happy holidays” – and gives me a critical glare when I do.

I am, however, quick to say “Merry Christmas” to people who follow Jesus and am happy to return the greeting to others who offer it to me. My preference, however, is a more intentional “Have a wonderful Christmas,” because the idea of making merry is a bit too jolly for me, obscuring the wondrous love of Jesus and what he came to do.

However, when expressing season’s greetings to people of unknown faith, I prefer a less confrontational “Happy holidays.” While people of other faiths could take my “Merry Christmas” greeting in a secular sense, they could likewise be incensed at a perceived attempt to proselytize. That would not be my intent; I do not want to offend.

My wife thinks I’m over analyzing something simple.

I consider it this way: How would I feel if someone wished me a “Happy Kwanzaa,” a created holiday originally intended as an “oppositional alternative” to Christmas?

Someone did, and I was offended. Caught off guard and unwilling to reply with “Happy Kwanzaa,” I blurted out “Merry Christmas.” Sadly, I responded to his confrontation with an equally confronting retort.

I wish I had just smiled and said, “Happy holidays.”

The Four Main Christian Celebrations

Quick, what are the four main Christian holidays?

Well, there’s Christmas and Easter, for sure. Good Friday would make three. But what’s the fourth one? How about Pentecost?

In my experience, Pentecost doesn’t receive much attention compared to the other three, but it should. Consider the progression:

Christmas is when the story starts. Jesus comes to earth in physical form, a baby who will grow up and one day deliver us. Our forefathers in the Old Testament looked forward to that day, anticipating Jesus and what he would do, even though many assumed something other than what God intended.

Good Friday is the first phase in that deliverance. Jesus stepped in as our substitute to take the hit for us, to do the time for our crime, to pay our fine – all so that we could be reconciled with God the Father. Jesus did this by dying, the highest penalty, the ultimate price. After dying, what more could he give? What more could be required?

Easter is the second phase of Jesus’ one-two knockout punch. When Jesus resurrected from death, he proved his mastery over it. Since he overcame death, we have reason to believe he can do the same for us. How amazing; how glorious!

Pentecost is the conclusion to this story – and the beginning of a new one. Join me in spending this week contemplating the significance of Pentecost. Then, next Sunday, let’s do a better job of celebrating it, not as a footnote to Easter but as its climax.

Will Winter Ever End?

Snow pileIn C. S. Lewis’s classic book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the land of Narnia is under duress: it is always winter and never Christmas. As winter drags on this year, I feel the same way.

In Michigan, we enjoy all four seasons and in about equal proportions. According to the calendar, winter lasts ninety days. However, this year our winter weather started sooner, piled snow deeper, inflicted frigid temperatures, and lasted longer. Everyone I talk to is anxious for spring. Even people who claim winter as their favorite season, look forward to warmer weather.

A couple weeks ago enough snow melted to where our deck was bare (aided by my snow shovel – an act of desperation on my part). On Facebook, I asked about setting out our patio furniture. The answer was “no.” They were right, of course, and I was rushing spring. Winter will remain with us a while longer.

Yet as I wait for spring to arrive, I focus on the future and forget the present. In some ways, I’ve placed my life on hold, squandering today as I wait for tomorrow. I need to stop doing that.

I took this picture of our neighborhood snow pile on Monday. On Tuesday it snowed some more. Today the temperature is above freezing. I’m declaring an end to winter. And even if that doesn’t happen, I won’t waste another day waiting for something better to come along.

[This is from the March 2014 issue of Peter DeHaan’s newsletter. Sign up to receive the complete newsletter each month via email.]

Love God More (Visiting Church #39)

Today we attend our final church service of the year. With it falling between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I expect a light turnout. We are greeted by friendly faces and hearty handshakes. The sanctuary seats about 90, plus a balcony. I count 55 present, but with a few late arrivals, our number eventually surpasses 60.

Though an organ is present, we only use the piano, singing numbers from the hymnal. After the first song, the minister gives an opening prayer, reads Mark 12:28-34, and makes many announcements. Several members are absent due to illness; a few, in the hospital; and two families, traveling.

In a first for us, the congregation recites their memory verse for December in unison, Romans 5:8 as rendered in the King James Version of the Bible. The pastor challenges them to recall their November memory verse, which he then leads them in saying.

We launch into another song and after two verses, pause to greet one another. During this extended time, we surely meet most of the adults present. We return to our seats and sing the remaining two verses. Next is the prayer and offering, followed by another song; the children are excused for junior church.

Teaching from Matthew 9:14-17, the minister draws out a series of lessons from the text’s four verses, frequently returning to his theme of loving God more next year than ever before. Presented with simple clarity, the profound meaning strikes me. Being intent on loving God more in the coming year surpasses any New Year’s resolution and trumps all annual goals. I appreciate his future-focus and in keeping God pre-eminent.

He concludes by challenging us to make a pledge: “God, I will love you more in the new year.” What a fitting way to transition into a new year.

[Read about Church #38 and Church #40, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #39.]