It’s Hard to Commercialize Thanksgiving

Last night I had the opportunity to speak at our local Ministerial Alliance gathering. Two other preachers and I shared the speaking responsibilities for the night. Each of us had a different view on thanksgiving. The Assembly of God pastor spoke about thanksgiving in our prayers. The Baptist preacher addressed the topic of giving thanks with our praise. I spoke on having thanksgiving in the words we use every day.

In the introduction, I spoke about how Wal-Mart has little stuff for Thanksgiving besides frozen turkeys and at the same time has aisles and aisles of Christmas items. This has always bothered me and one night I went to bed thinking about it. Somewhere in the darkness, I woke up with one clear thought. Commercializing Thanksgiving is difficult.

Through the years Christmas has been manipulated into a cash making machine. The idea of giving gifts is terrific, but it has been twisted with the addition of trees and decorations. Then there is the heavy-handed guilt you feel to purchase something for everyone you know. Gift giving can be turned into a commercial industry that makes big profits.

You can’t do that with thanksgiving. Truly giving thanks is an attitude that is connected to the joy we already feel for what we have received. If you are thanking God with your prayers and praise or telling someone how you appreciate them, you will find it hard to make a profit off that. Maybe you could talk a few people into buying a card, but that is about it.

Thanksgiving is a time to express your gratitude without strings attached. For you to acknowledge everything that God and his people mean to you is a precious moment that requires no added frills. This week it will not cost you a penny to spend a few minutes saying thanks. You don’t need any special decorations or wrapping paper and bows. All you need is a heart that is overflowing with the joy of the Lord. It may not sell to well, but it will affect the heart of both the receiver and the giver.

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Weekend Reading

Here are some of the best posts I have read lately. I hope you enjoy.

Church Membership—Like a Marriage

6 Questions That Will Radically Change Your Marriage

How Do Christians Fit Into the Two-Party System? They Don’t

What Is Appropriate To Wear In Church? (2 Reasons It Doesn’t Matter And 3 Guidelines)

Here Are 129 Ways To Get A Husband, According To A 1958 McCall’s – This made me laugh and laugh.

More great stuff from business writer Seth Godin –

It’s not a bucket

Just because you don’t understand it

Hiding in plain sight

Most Christians I Know

Several years ago, there was a book entitled “I Like Jesus, But Not the Church.” The author had done some informal surveys and put together a list of complaints the majority of people had about Christians. They were the typical stances you can find in many casual conversations. The general public thought that the people who claimed to follow Jesus were judgmental, overly political and so forth.

While it is true that a few radical believers have a loud mouth and an unchristian attitude, most of the people I know are fantastic people.

1. They Are Compassionate. Whenever there is a tragedy, I know I will receive calls, texts and emails asking me what we as a Church community are doing to help. Through the years I have pointed them to parachurch organizations who specialize in helping people. The reports I receive from those places is overwhelming. It is clear to me that wherever hurt exists, Christians show up to help in any way possible.

2. They Are Generous. Last night I witnessed a group of people from our Church assemble shoeboxes for Christmas gifts. These were put together from the donations of hundreds of items from people who attend here. The outpouring of money, items and time was overwhelming. This kind of thing happens at least once a month in one way or another.

3. They Are Helpful. One struggle we have in the Church is that our people are helping in so many projects in our community. Their time is full of all kinds of beneficial activities. The people of God want to be involved in making their community, their school, and their Church better for the next generation. They are the first in line to help wherever they are needed.

4. They Are Servants. We have men who will mow grass, build something for those in need, or do anything we need to get done. We have women who cook for people who have gone to the hospital, after funerals and for regular fellowship times. Those things are just the beginning of they do. Most Christians I know are willing to roll up their sleeves and do hard work.

5. They Are Trying to Be Like Jesus.
Every week I speak to someone who is trying to grow to be more like Christ. They are making an effort to be more kind, thoughtful and spiritual in their behavior. All of them struggle, but they are working every day to improve as people who claim Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Sure, there are a few bad apples out there who spoil it for the whole bunch. Most Christians I know are wonderfully kind and gracious people. Occasionally we all get frustrated and have a bad day, but the norm is for our better side to rule our lives. I would encourage you to take a few minutes this week and see all the ways those who claim to follow Jesus are making a difference in the world and also in your little piece of it. Overall, I think you will find most Christians to be wonderful people.

The Truth About Small Towns and Their Churches

In my 46 years of life, I have lived in 7 small towns across the United States. Each one of these little communities was unique, and yet they all have striking similarities. There is a strong sense of hometown pride. The people who live there always see it as a warm, friendly place with a charm all its own. They ooze with a sense of love for the little community that they are convinced is better than all others. Every time I have walked into these places, I have been assured how much I will love it and how one day it will be my special place too.

Let me be honest, and I know saying this may hurt your feelings and anger you. We have had a few wonderful experiences with some great people, but generally speaking, every small community has been a closed society with little friendliness toward outsiders. Usually, there is a group of people who are well-known in each city, and if you have no connection to them, you are an outsider. You don’t get invited to activities, your children rarely receive any recognition, and you are frequently reminded that you are not “from there.” Every small community my family and I have I have tried to establish ourselves has been a struggle with only a few caring people who truly welcomed us into their lives.

Let me pause there; this is not a plea for people to treat me as something special. This is just a statement of cold hard facts that no one seems allowed to say. When it is said, people quickly dismiss it as someone who has issues (which creates a further divide). This is the truth, and it needs to be said, not for my sake, but for the Church. You see, this small town thinking usually spills over into the Church and the kingdom of God is limited by our bias behavior.

With all that as background, let me say a few things to small town Churches about how to treat new people.

1. Be careful of only connecting to people you already know. When you are having a party, who do you invite? Is it only the people you went to high school with or do you think of the new family in the Church? Do you think of the people who have lived here all their lives or those who just moved into town who might feel alone? Is your circle of friends open or closed?

2. Treat everyone’s children as special. Our natural tendency is to embrace those kids whose parents we know, and we have watched grow up. I have seen people at Church walk past a new child to speak to the one they know. As a father, it pains me to watch my children be treated as outsiders, especially when it happens in the Church. People who are new to the Church are desperately looking for their children to enjoy their new spiritual journey. This will only happen when we see the new kids as worthy of our time.

3. Never assume people know anything. It is easy for us to think, everyone knows what is happening along with where and why because we have done this a hundred times. When you are new to any community, there is a sharp learning curve, and people who are willing to help are precious friends. Invite, explain, share, comment and connect with new families so that they know what is going on in the Church.

4. Stop making excuses. Both small towns and small Churches are notorious excuse makers. They blame their glaring problems on someone else and accept little responsibility. What is really sad is that in many situations everyone turns a blind eye and accepts the problems as normal. Everyone knows the towns drunks and drug houses and yet nothing ever happens to them. “Oh well, what can you do?” The Church has one mean old man who is always angry and frightens children, “Well, he is just that way.” The Church must be willing to confront problems, call people to a Godly lifestyle, make positive changes even if it makes a few people upset.

5. Don’t live in the past. Both small towns and small Churches are very proud of their accomplishments even if it was 30 plus years ago. As a new person, I am not connected to your past, at least not yet. Show me your love, service, and commitment today, and one day we can share those stories together.

6. I will only love this place like you do if I am treated like you. I am sure you love your town and your Church. I want to love it too. That means you, as a member of this community, will have to treat me with love. One of the loneliest moments in my ministry is when a group of people in the Church told me about all the fun they had on Saturday night together. Almost all the families in the Church were invited but mine. Finally, one night they invited my wife and me along, and it was truly a great night. We ate together, talked, played games and acted like one big extended family. Still, after many years, I miss that group of people and consider that one of my best experiences in ministry.

Once again, I do not write this looking for invitations and special treatment. I am writing this because I have spent most of my life as an outsider. The harsh reality is that there are several people like me, some of them sitting next to you on Sunday. They want what the Church has to offer. They want to walk the journey of faith with other believers who care about them. It will not happen if you don’t make a special effort to let them into your community or your life.

Fourteen Meaningful Conversations

Yesterday morning our Church worshipped together. We came together as a group of people to sing God’s praises, pray together, share in the Lord’s supper and listen to instruction from the word of God. Interestingly enough, most of those things we can do by ourselves. You can now listen to the best worship music in the world on your phone. You can spend time alone in prayer with God. You can take communion with a simple piece of bread and a cup of juice. Not only that, the internet is full of sermons by the best preachers in the world, and you can even listen to me anytime you like through our Church website.

There is one thing that happened yesterday that you cannot get alone. You cannot have fellowship with other believers.

The Church is not just people who worship God; it is a group of people who come together. We are a community of faith. We care about one another. We speak kindly and encourage one another. The Church is composed of people connected in their faith.

Yesterday as we came together, I had fourteen meaningful conversations. I spoke with dozens of other people where I exchanged “Good morning” and “How are you today?” But fourteen times I talked for several minutes about aging, health struggles, my children, the future, football, deer hunting, prayer needs, and spiritual issues. These interactions occurred before, during and after worship. They all were unique, unplanned and uplifting.

Yesterday I was blessed by the people with whom I worship. In a society where it is easy to see faith as a personal project we do alone, don’t forget the conversations you miss when you are not present.

Why I Still Blog

Every time that I take a short break from blogging, I have this internal discussion about whether I should return to it. It takes about an hour every day to come up with an idea, type it, proofread it and publish it. Most days only about 60 people read what I write, so is it worth the time?

Here is why I returned this time and will keep doing so in the future.

1. I Enjoy Writing. If I could make a living as a writer, I would do it. I enjoy capturing thoughts and thinking of phrases. My creative writing teachers in high school and college would probably not believe this to be true since I was such a terrible student back then. Now I enjoy spending the time writing, even if I am not the best at it.

2. It Truly is Like a Journal. When I wrote my first blog years ago, I started to tell people about it, and the most common response was, “I don’t want to read your journal.” A few were nastier in their attitude and stated, “I don’t care about your diary.” I tried to explain blogging to them, and they were hostile no matter how much further explanation I provided. Now, as I look back over the years, I can see that in many ways this has been a journal or diary of sorts. It has been a way to record my thoughts at the time, to preserve experiences and to work out my thinking. Many of these posts gave way to sermons, series, and lessons.

3. It is Timeless. Every year the posts that attract the most attention are ones I wrote long ago. I wrote one about a family in Alaska and one about a pastor’s Christmas card that is viewed hundreds of time each year. They were momentary reflections that have been viewed and used over and over.

4. I Hope to Help People. I live with the dream that one of my posts will prove truly helpful to at least one person. I hope that my writing can impact one life for the kingdom of God. If that happens, then I will be satisfied. A blog is free, and my only investment is time. I want to use this incredible resource to help people in my congregation and Christians all over the world.

Finally, I want to say, “Thank You” for reading. This is the sixth year of my blog, and by Thanksgiving, this will be my best year ever. Every year I have had more visitors than the year before as I keep posting whatever God lies on my heart. Thanks for reading, and even if you quit, I will probably keep writing.

Five Rules That Guide My Parenting

I am the father of four boys. My youngest just turned 16 and my oldest is almost 21. I have spent the last two decades of my life as a parent, and I have learned a few things along the way. Here are some of the most significant rules that my wife and I decide would govern our parenting, and I thought you might find them helpful.

1. We Will Raise Our Children. Before our children were even born, we had a clear idea that when we had children, they would be ours to raise. If possible, we would never send them to a daycare, a grandparent or babysitter to be raised. Those people and groups have their place, but the primary responsibility would fall on us.

2. Church and Christian Service are Not Optional. My children were all in Church from the first Sunday of their life until the day they left for college. They did not miss for sports or school unless it was totally unavoidable which happened about ten times in their lives. Not only did they attend worship with us, but they also were required to serve in some way. They helped with set up and tear down when we lead a new Church. They have run computers and lead worship as teenagers. The people of God are a priority in my family.

3. Love is spelled T-I-M-E. Gifts, vacations, and electronics are great but true love is spelled TIME. Children of all ages want attention more than anything else. Sure they may act like they do not want you around in those teenage years, but it is just a façade. Save your money and clear your calendar if you want a deep connection with your kids.

4. Teenagers Need As Much Attention as Toddlers. Somewhere along the way, parents started believing the lie that teens do not really need their parents. You can drop them off at the mall or with their friends, and they will be happy. I have found that your impact is just as significant with teenagers as when they are younger.

5. Love Your Children, But Don’t Trust Them. We understand this concept when they are little. They are playing in the next room, and it gets quiet. You know something mischievous is happening. You ask, and they act like you are crazy about your inquiry. A few more questions and the truth comes out. Then they become teenagers, and you ask them what is happening, and you are greeted with silence. You can believe that or do some investigating. The truth is often only obtained with thoughtful questions and solid inquiring.

These are five of the biggest rules that have guided my parenting. Other factors have impacted what we do, but these are the big ones. My wife and I have not been perfect parents but in spite of that God has allowed us to have some great kids. Truthfully, they became that way through hard work, time and the grace of God.