Christmas has “Happy Holidays” (though that is becoming more and more passe), and Thanksgiving has “Turkey Day” and “pre-Black Friday.” The holiday dedicated to pausing and acknowledging the blessings of God is, for many people, a day of stress, overindulgence, heartache, and, ironically, materialism and discontent. These foreign attitudes to the purpose of the holiday can bring a spirit of complaining to the day.
Complaining is the opposite of thanksgiving. Since gratitude is the foundation of worship, complaining undercuts our relationship to God and sours our hearts. So Satan loves to get us complaining, and pastors can often be ensnared by this temptation when things are not turning out as they had hoped. It robs us of our enthusiasm for our calling, our love for our people, and our joy in everyday life. We must constantly remind ourselves, not just today but every day, to turn our hearts to the Lord and give thanks, so that we can worship and serve him with glad hearts.
It is such a blessing to know Jesus. My record is marked by failure and disappointment, but because of what Jesus has done on the cross, my record of failure is replaced in God’s sight with Jesus’ record of perfection. I stand approved before God, free to move forward without being bound to the past. I stand forgiven, with the freedom and power of living everyday in relationship with the Holy Spirit. His divine power has given me everything I need for my life and my calling.
It is such a privilege to be called as a minister of the gospel. God could have chosen any number of ways to bring his kingdom into this world, but he chose to do so through people–through his church and those he called to be her shepherds. I have the awesome privilege to carry the gospel that gives sight to the blind, freedom to the captives, and good news for the poor, to be able to tell people that God truly does love them and that he can be known through Christ.
What a wonderful treasure it is to have been given my wife Liz, who has loved me through the ups and downs of ministry and let me know always that we are in this thing together. What a great gift it is to have my children, who hold my heart and give me joy every day. All of this flows from the great heritage I was given in my original family, my parents who introduced me to the Lord, and my brothers and sister who have filled my life with so much fun, so much love, and so much strength.
This calling has given me the great privilege of holding people’s hands as they lay in the hospital, expecting to die, and to rejoice with people at the beginning of new life. I have stood helpless with people in times of great shock and loss, with only God as my Help and theirs. I have been able to answer the questions of those seeking God, and to plunge them in the waters of baptism as they began a new life in Christ. And, yes, I have stood and listened to people and took the brunt of their anger. It is a gift to be able to love and minister to people.
For me, every Thanksgiving has another meaning as well, because we always celebrate my birthday at nearly the same time. This year is especially significant, as I cross over into my forties. As I look back on my life, I know there is more I would have liked to have done by this point in my life. There are disappointments and hope to see greater things in the decades ahead. But I must not forget how truly blessed I am to be a child of God, to be called and to serve my family, my church family, and the people of God.
There is no better life out there for me. God has truly given me what is good, and I am thankful. May you also recognize God’s blessing in your life, and may God bless you more and more in the year to come.