Tag Archives: gratitude

Another Christmas

After 43 years in ministry, what more can I say about Christmas than I’ve already said … some would say more than once. Has it become too formulaic? Do you resort to the same themes and talk about the same characters which with people are so familiar? Can anyone come up with an original thought, a fresh word?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached a sermon in Barcelona during Advent 1928 in which he spoke about how casual we can be in the observance of the Incarnation: “It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming so calmly, whereas previously people trembled at the day of God. We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse us, We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us.”

If the news that our default condition of separation from the Righteous God because of our sin has been cancelled by the grace and mercy shown in Christ doesn’t shatter us, then we should check our pulse. “When we were utterly helpless, Christ died for us,” Paul wrote to the Romans. Destined for and deserving death, we were giving a status we couldn’t earn: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life” (Romans 3:23); “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God” (Ephesians 2:8); “You are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s own family” (Ephesians 2:19).

Prisoners set free? Slaves liberated? The guilty forgiven? Adopted as joint heirs with Christ?

Stop me when this gets boring. A baby, wrapped in love, hope, and peace, came into this world to state forever that God was willing to do anything required to reclaim the lost. His Son would say, “I came as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

If Christmas becomes ho-hum for any of us, we should be ashamed. The first Christmas present was also the best Christmas present. Joy to the world! The Lord has come!


Give Thanks

Two days before Thanksgiving, I sit down to write words of gratitude. In the rush of the season, it is difficult to hit ‘pause’ – to think, to reflect, to contemplate, to pray, and to give thanks. It really should not be so hard to consider and count blessings. I have tried to begin with things and people I too often take for granted. I think of people for whom Thanksgiving will be different this year – some with joy, some with grief.

Some have added to their families. Some face an empty chair this year at their table. Some have experienced success in business, sports, academics, and relationships. Some who have had a tough year of disappointment and discouragement.

Regardless, it seems so right to offer gratitude. I know you cannot force it or pretend, but somewhere in our souls we know we are loved by the infinite God. He created us out of that love. He sustains us with that love. He redeemed us because of that love.

In our broken world, we need to remember to say thanks. On September 28, 1863, Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote a letter to President Abraham Lincoln to request that a day be set aside for a national day of thanksgiving. Lincoln honored that request in establishing the last Thursday of November as a national observance. Seventy-four years (October 3, 1789) to the day when George Washington declared a day of thanksgiving, Lincoln’s proclamation directed that the nation pause for this recognition.

Fall of 1863. The still-young United States was suffering through the divisive and destructive Civil War. It did not seem like an appropriate time to express gratitude, but life rarely provides an easy path forward.

A part of the proclamation reads: “I therefore invite my fellow citizens … to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions just due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience … implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation …”

In our broken world, we also need to pray and work for peace for the sake of the Prince of Peace. Our many blessings afford us opportunity and inspiration to impact our world for Him. I am grateful that He would count us worthy to labor for Him.





You don’t have to pay for me

As the ushers passed the offering plate, a young child being taken to church for the first time watched the proceedings with intense interest. As the ushers approached her pew, the little girl said to her father, “Remember, Dad, you don’t have to pay for me. I’m under five.”

I’m at that age now when I look for discounts. I may not like standing in line behind someone with a fistful of coupons, but I seldom go to the store without checking to see if I have any. Who doesn’t like a bargain? I don’t want to think of myself as cheap, but I don’t mind being frugal.

While I don’t equate cheap with frugal, there is one thing that bothers me – church on the cheap. There are some chilling words in the last book of the Old Testament. Through His prophet Malachi, God had a case against His own people: “The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says to the priests: ‘A son honors his father, and a servant respects his master. If I am your father and master, where is the honor and respect I deserve? You have shown contempt for My name!’” Later in the book, God also had stern words for the people: “You have wearied the Lord with your words.” God wasn’t satisfied with cheap.

We know our God is generous and gracious, bountiful in His blessings. We also know that the proper response to His goodness to us is not simply measured by an offering plate. We have too long associated stewardship with our financial resources alone. The One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10) isn’t wringing His hands over what we give. He knows there is much more at stake.

Does my life reflect a grateful, joyful stewardship? Am I looking for spiritual discounts or going deeper in my walk with Him? Malachi’s narrative is a bridge to the New Testament. The prophet Elijah in the person of John the Baptist would come to prepare the way for the Lamb of God. God was preparing to invade a broken, dark world with the light of Christ. He has given so much. How will we respond to His overture of love?

From the creation of the first humans, God offered a partnership to those He entrusted with His world. He has made us trustees of our time, talent, and treasure. There is great joy in faithful stewardship!

Give Thanks

Lutheran pastor Martin Rinkart lived in Eilenberg in Saxony during the siege of the Thirty Years War. Eilenberg was a walled city under attack by a Swedish army beginning in 1637. Already suffering from the plague, the inhabitants were dying by starvation as well as disease. Four pastors in the city were performing 12 funerals a day. Two of the ministers also died; one escaped. Rinkart was the only one left. He conducted 50 services a day for those who perished. In one year, he led services for 5000 people, including his own wife. When the war ended in 1648, Rinkart wrote these words:

“Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,

Who wondrous things hath done, in whom His world rejoices;

Who, from our mothers’ arms, has blest us on our way

With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.”

When I read that story, I felt small. We can so easily be overcome by challenges and difficulties. Our faith can be rocked by life’s storms. Do I have the confidence that God is sovereign, that He loves me as His precious child, that He knows the verse, the chapter, and the end of our story?

As we enter this week of Thanksgivings, may our focus lift to offer praise to the One who is never defeated, never taken by surprise, never incapable of working out His way and will.

Rinkart also wrote:

“O may this bounteous God thro’ all our life be near us,

With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;

And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed,

And free us from all ills in this world and the next.”


Me: “Lord, I can’t see clearly and don’t know what’s coming.”

God: “I got this.”

Where were you?

Certain dates will always resonate with people … Pearl Harbor, JFK’s assassination, the moon landing, 9-11. Most of us can remember where we were on these significant events. Some of us were not alive when these historic occurrences happened. Our youth and children have no context to understand that dreadful Tuesday morning fifteen years ago. They are, however, affected by a climate of fear and anxiety. I regret what our world has become.

As people of faith, we can choose another perspective. So, let me ask:

  • Where were you when you first began to realize how much God loves you?
  • Where were you when you were overcome by His grace?
  • Where were you when you experienced a blessing that took your breath away?
  • Where were you when you felt His presence in a time of struggle and pain?
  • Where were you when you saw the power of community among His people?
  • Where were you when your willingness to serve brought hope to discouragement?
  • Where were you when you witnessed answers to your prayers?
  • Where were you when God’s Word spoke to some deep need in your life?
  • Where were you when you were overwhelmed by the beauty of His creation?
  • Where were you when a friend or family member said “Yes” to Christ?

I share one “where were you” story. Recently, the Wilbanks brothers with our wives and one of our first cousins and his wife got to travel together. We enjoyed time in one of God’s most brilliant displays of His creative glory. But the time we cherished was sitting around a table with hands linked, thanking God for His blessings. We prayed for one another and the challenges that each is facing. We asked God to help us be faithful in living out our stories. With much to be thankful for, we expressed gratitude for the ways He has touched our family. I was glad I was there.


Comedian Bob Newhart once said, “I don’t like country music, but I don’t mean to denigrate those who do. And for the people who like country music, denigrate means ‘put down’.”

Funny, right? Depends on your perspective. In our over-the-top politically correct world, public discourse is anything but a joke.

Something seems to be missing. Civility? Common courtesy? Dignity? Good manners? Honor?

Someone posterized the idea of respect this way:

“Treat people the way you want to be treated.

Talk to people the way you want to be talked to.

Respect is earned, not given.”

Okay … this isn’t new. Check out Matthew 7:12. It’s been called the Golden Rule. I’m not certain I agree with the last line, though. I wasn’t brought up that way. I think you start with respect, not end with it. Paul wrote that wives should respect their husbands; he didn’t say that husbands always deserve respect (Ephesians 5:33).

These days you could substitute a number of things for Newhart’s  dig at country music fans. It’s easy to show disrespect in our world. We can always find someone to look down on. Or, we could choose another path.

Too quixotic? I don’t have the power or influence to change the world, but I do have the power and influence to affect my world. I don’t have to yield to my baser instincts to pre-judge others. I could begin with a page that is blank except for the word “respect” that I could hand to every person I meet. It would require an attitude that starts with this simple truth: I will never meet a person whom God doesn’t love.

On this weekend, it somehow seems appropriate to honor the highest values we can name, to be truly thankful for those who have paid dearly for our freedom, to leverage that freedom in impacting our world with something other than self-service and absorption.

I believe I can respect that.

Watch out!

The pastor greeted one of his long-time members the week before Mother’s Day. She didn’t waste time with pleasantries, but just got to the point. “Preacher, I’m bringing my mother to church next week. If you are interested in your health, you’ll say something about mothers and it had better be good.” No pressure. I hope he survived.

We need to honor the women in our lives. We should be grateful for our mothers. We can agree that motherhood has been and will always be challenging. We can also understand that a day set aside to recognize those who brought us into this world or filled that role in our lives in other ways is a way to celebrate the gift of life.

Today’s moms face a balancing act most days. Research has determined that being the mother of preschoolers is one of the most stressful tasks anyone can attempt. A cartoon showed a woman in a counselor’s office. The counselor says to her: “Let’s see. You spend 50% of your energy on your children; 50% on your husband, and 50% on your career. I think I see your problem.”

Mother’s Day is not always easy. For some, biological motherhood isn’t possible. For others, motherhood is an unexpected experience, and not always a welcome one. For some, this is a day of grief over strained relationships. For some, sorrow is magnified as it accompanies the loss of loved ones.

I am grateful for the models I have witnessed, women who made and continue to make significant contributions in the lives of family, church, and community. We can be thankful that many of these women, in their roles as mothers, have enriched us.

An excerpt from John Killinger’s book, Lost in Wonder, Love, and Praise:

“I believe in the love of all mothers, and its importance in the lives of the children they bear … I believe that this love, even at its best, is only a shadow of the love of God, a dark reflection of all that we can expect of Him, both in this life and the next. And I believe that one of the most beautiful sights in the world is a mother who lets this greater love flow through her to her child, blessing the world with the tenderness of her touch and the tears of her joy.”