The Secret to Thanksgiving All Year Long

Thanksgiving is clearly the greatest holiday ever created in America—and not just because of the great food and the football games.

This year I had a new revelation while writing Thanksgiving notes to some friends. In past years, I would say something like, “I’m thankful for YOU this Thanksgiving.” That certainly was true enough, but it missed an important point: I wasn’t only thankful for these friends on one day of the year, but rather was grateful for them all year long.

Suddenly my mind was flooded with Paul’s words to his friends in Philippi: Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God” (Philippians 1:3 MSG).

Isn’t that cool? At the mere thought of his friends, Paul had a “Thanksgiving moment.” Even when distance or jail cells prevented him from seeing them face to face, his Thanksgiving rose to God whenever he even thought of these people he loved so much.

I hope you have friends and loved ones who brighten your life like that. Whenever someone mentions their name or the Lord brings them to mind during your prayer times, you light up inside. You find yourself welling up with gratitude that such a person would be a part of your life.

This year I found myself realizing in a whole new way that if you have good friends and are a person of prayer, you can experience Thanksgiving anytime. There may not be any turkey or football, and your loved ones may not be physically present with you at the time. But you can “break out in exclamations of thanks” nevertheless.

Let’s be honest, though: We all know people who don’t bring such a cheery reaction when they come to mind. Rather than sparking joyous praise, they bring us concern or sadness or even a tinge of anger when they come to mind. This could be someone who has wronged us, who we’ve not yet forgiven. Or perhaps it’s a spouse or child who’s not living like we think they should.

Fortunately, Paul has an answer for this kind of situation too—when instead of thankfulness, we feel burdened down when we think about how another person is doing. Just a few verses after the words above, Paul adds one of the most beautiful promises in the entire Bible: I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT).

Look at how these two verses work together: In verse 3 Paul describes his great joy and thankfulness every time he remembers his fellow-believers in Philippi.

But in verse 6, he reveals the secret of why he could rejoice even when some people weren’t doing very well: He knew God was still at work! Instead of remaining distraught about the circumstances of such people, Paul knew He could commit them into the Lord’s loving hands, confident in His ability to change their heart and turn things around for them.

Do you see how your whole perspective changes when you look at the people in your life through this two-fold lens in Philippians 1? Every day—and every moment of every day—can become a time of spontaneous Thanksgiving. So you don’t have to wait another 364 days—let the hallelujahs ring out now!

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4 Indispensable Ingredients for Holiday Happiness

Seems like everyone is wishing each other a Happy Thanksgiving, but few people stop their hustle and bustle long enough to consider what a happy holiday entails. We pull out our recipes for pumpkin pie, sweet potato casserole, holiday Jell-O, and eggnog, sure enough. But seldom do we take a similar look at the indispensable ingredients for positive time with our loved ones.

You may want to add some additional items to this recipe, but here are 4 ingredients I believe are vital to holiday happiness:

  1. LOVE. People have many different definitions of love, of course. One of the most accurate definitions is “seeking the highest good of other people, even at your own expense.” This sets the standard pretty high, doesn’t it? Love isn’t just a warm feeling, but rather a choice to give away part of your life to others.

The holidays usually provide a real test of whether your love is unconditional or merely reciprocal. Reciprocal love means loving someone back who has already shown love to you. That should be pretty easy! Someone send you a greeting card, so you send them one back.

However, the test of unconditional loves comes when some of the people you’re celebrating the holidays with have hurt you during the year. Can you forgive and keep loving them? Or will your attitude be icy and callous when you get together?

  1. JOY. I am well aware of all the WORK involved in putting together a Thanksgiving meal—both in the preparation and in the cleanup. But hopefully the work can be joy-filled work, complete with some frivolity and outbursts and laughter. The Bible says a “merry heart” is like medicine for the soul (Proverbs 17:22). A person who cultivates that kind of joyful heart will have a continual feast”—never needing to wait for a special holiday to celebrate (Proverbs 15:15).

But let’s be honest: Sometimes the holidays give us special reasons to be sad rather than joyful: the death of a loved one, a marriage breakup, medical concerns, or family members who now live far away. However, that is even MORE reason why it’s so important to tap into God’s supernatural joy, enabling us to dispel any grief or sorrow with a spirit of gratitude and praise.

  1. PEACE. Who wouldn’t like drama-free holidays this year? Yet, since people are involved, you can pretty much bet there will be some measure of drama. The question, then, isn’t whether you’ll be surrounded by some drama at times (you surely WILL be!). The question is whether you will be able to maintain your own peaceful heart, even while many things are swirling frantically around you. If you’re struggling with this, I recommend the prescription found in Isaiah 26:3: You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” Keep your heart set on Jesus!
  1. PATIENCE. Lots of things can conspire to test your patience during the holidays. Kids misbehave. People show up late. Turkeys take longer than expected to bake. Husbands seem more intent on watching the football games than helping with the preparations and cleanup.

Since there’s a high probably that your patience will be tested, you might as well take a deep breath and realize there’s no big hurry, after all. And it’s not worth losing your cool just to put someone else in their place (see Luke 10:38:42 if you don’t believe me).

Perhaps you’ve noticed that these 4 vital ingredients are also the first 4 components of “the fruit of the Spirit” described by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23. I point this out as a word of encouragement. For even if you aren’t feeling much love, joy, peace, and patience so far, God offers you an infinite source for finding more. The Christian life is meant to be a supernatural life, and God’s Spirit can fill you will all the missing ingredients you need for a happy holiday season.

Let me leave you with this paraphrase of Galatians 5:22-23 in The Message:

What happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Friend, I pray you have a Spirit-filled Thanksgiving this year. When that happens, your day will be full of love, joy, peace, and patience. What a great new holiday tradition!

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When People Forget You–and Other Deflating Experiences

I had a very humbling experience last week when I was invited to the Volunteer Appreciation Banquet at a local Retirement Village. I received the invited because, for nearly a year now, I’ve visited the center once a month to sing and tell Bible stories to the residents.

Most of the residents are women in their 70s, 80s, and even 90s, and it has been a long time since I’ve found people so genuinely appreciative of my singing. Whether I’m singing an old hymn or a ballad by Elvis, the women clearly love me there. I’m sure they check their calendar each month, counting the days until I return. And if I had posters available showing me with my guitar, many of them would undoubtedly hang them in their room.

This is all background information to help you understand why the Volunteer Appreciation Banquet was such a humbling experience for me.

The banquet was attended by an assortment of people: other volunteers, staff members, and a few residents as well. I was especially happy to see that some residents had come (I always enjoy interacting with my fans, after all).

I approached one of the residents, named Lillian, who had a big smile on her face. Wow, she is really glad to see me, I thought to myself.

So I sat next to Lillian and told her I’ve missed coming and singing for a few weeks now. I wasn’t prepared for her reply.

“I don’t remember you singing here,” she said quite seriously. “In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you before.”

Lillian was sitting next to a resident named Ruth, who had been listening to our conversation. Ruth was another of my fans, and I looked toward her in hopes of getting some reassurance.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you sing either,” she informed me.

How deflating. Two of those I considered my biggest fans didn’t even remember me.

I was crushed.

Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience. It probably wasn’t connected with the memory loss of residents in a nursing home. Your experience may have been much more painful than that, when people you had loved and poured your life into seemed to forget you even existed.

There are many possible lessons from my story, but here are just a few:

  • Sometimes people WILL forget the acts of kindness we have done for them, but God never will. Hebrews 6:10 assures us: God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” So, in light of that fact, does it really matter if people forget what we have done? God is keeping a record of it all.
  • When people fail to remember us or show us gratitude, our true motives get tested. Did we only do our good deeds in hopes of receiving people’s thanks or applause? Or were we willing to bless the people even if we got absolutely no credit or appreciation?
  • Experiences like this are an excellent opportunity to forgive. Of course, it was pretty easy for me to forgive Lillian and Ruth for forgetting me. Alzheimer’s disease is a terrible thing, and there’s a good chance Lillian and Ruth are starting to not even recognize their own loved ones. But forgiveness is much harder when the person who has forgotten you is of sound mind, but is simply too caught up in their own activities to acknowledge you, especially during the holidays.

In the final analysis, my experience at the Retirement Village Appreciation Banquet was just another example of God’s sense of humor and His ability to deal with our pride and other blind spots. Yes, I was humbled, but the Lord probably was laughing the entire time. He knew I had developed an overinflated view of my own importance, and He was more than happy to let out some of the air.

 

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Extra-ordinary Is Easier Than You Think

Lately I’ve been amazed by how many people seem content to settle for an ordinary life. A line from a popular Switchfoot song has been echoing in my head: “We were made to live for so much more…have we lost ourselves?”

This widespread acceptance of mediocrity is especially sad in light of the fact that it takes so very little to be above average…to be extra-ordinary.

Jesus pointed this out when He said, “Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two” (Matthew 5:41). You see, it was common for Roman soldiers to force people to carry their gear for a mile. But Jesus said His followers should do even MORE than what was expected of them—not the bare minimum.

Are you that kind of person, seeking to be extra-ordinary in every situation and relationship? Or do you only do what is required of you—what you must do to “get by”?

  • It’s ordinary to get to work on time…but extra-ordinary to arrive a little early and leave a little late.
  • It’s ordinary to meet  your deadlines…but extra-ordinary to beat  your deadlines.
  • It’s ordinary to try to fulfill people’s expectations…but extra-ordinary to do more  than they expect.
  • It’s ordinary to treat people like they treat you…but extra-ordinary to treat others better than they’ve treated you (Matthew 5:46-47, 7:12).

How does this principle apply to YOU? Have you settled for ordinary, when extra-ordinary is so clearly within your reach? Or perhaps you haven’t even been going the “first mile,” let alone the second.

If we’ve truly given our heart to Christ, living an ordinary life in inexcusable. After all, He now lives in us through the power of His Spirit (Romans 8:11, Galatians 2:20, Colossians 1:27). From start to finish, the Christian life is meant to be a SUPERNATURAL life. So how could we ever allow it to become merely ordinary, no different from those who have no relationship at all with the Lord?

Another fascinating component of this is found in Acts 19:11: “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul.” I don’t know many American believers today who are performing even ordinary miracles, do you? Yet this verse says the miracles done through Paul were extra-ordinary—above and beyond the fruit of the Spirit and the supernatural manifestations expected of average followers of Jesus (e.g., Galatians 5:22-23, Mark 16:17-18, 1 Corinthians 12).

Maybe you think I’m being rather harsh, setting the standard too high. But if we sincerely compare our present lives to the extra-ordinary Christian life depicted in Scripture, won’t we conclude that the opposite is true? Haven’t we been guilty of lowering the bar instead of setting our sights too high?

Instead of blaming me for bringing up this uncomfortable issue, I encourage you to spend some time asking God how it applies to you. Are there a few simple changes that would take your life from ordinary to extra-ordinary?

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Finding the Fountain of Youth–at Any Age!

Grandpa Buchan

It has been nearly six months since my dad passed away at age 94, and I find myself reflecting on his amazing ability to stay young at heart his entire life. Meanwhile, I’ve been noticing lately that people’s chronological age is often quite different from how they seem. Some people already seem quite old in their 40s and 50s, while others have youthful zest for many decades after that.

Here are 5 of my dad’s secrets to uncommon youthfulness—secrets for experiencing the Fountain of Youth no matter how old you are:

  1. Keep active (Don’t neglect your PHYSICAL health). In his 60s, Dad was still playing handball, tennis, and golf. And in his 80s he would go to the local Walmart or Sam’s Club, not to shop but to walk around and get some exercise. He understood the old maxim, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it,” and he did his very best to take care of his body.
  1. Keep learning (Don’t neglect your MENTAL health). If Dad were still alive today, we would be having lively conversations about the latest news on the Presidential candidates or the economy. And he would be absolutely ecstatic that BOTH the Ohio State Buckeyes and Carolina Panthers are undefeated at this point in their seasons. You see, Dad was a lifelong learner, never tiring of reading another book or newspaper to find out what’s happening in the world.
  1. Keep dreaming (Don’t neglect your EMOTIONAL health). One important lesson I gleaned from Dad was that he always made sure to have something to look forward to. It might be a cruise, a trip here to Charlotte or back to Ohio, or simply a concert or musical he wanted to see. Even on the days when not much was going on in his life, he found hope and excitement as he contemplated the coming events on his calendar. So here’s a new maxim I’ve come up with to explain this wise practice: Life is DREARY when you quit DREAMING! God says He has plans to give us a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11), and that perspective is a critical component of our emotional health.
  1. Keep loving (Don’t neglect your SOCIAL health). My dad’s last 25 years turned out to be some of the happiest, most joy-filled times of his life. There may have been a number of reasons for this, but number one on the list would surely be the love he shared with his wonderful wife Delores. Their relationship was a fantastic testimony that you can still be “in love” even in your final decades. Countless medical studies have proven that if you don’t have anybody to love, you’re bound to age more rapidly. In fact, if you’re no longer loving, you’re already dying. But what if you don’t have a spouse to share your love with? In addition to his relationship with Delores, Dad continually reached out in love to my brother and I and the grandchildren—and he was still offering us his wise counsel until just weeks before his death.
  1. Keep praying (Don’t neglect your SPIRITUAL health). Dad was puzzled that so few of the seniors in his community had any interest in spiritual matters or church. He and Delores rarely missed a Sunday, and their deep faith was an important ingredient in their vitality. Whenever I have birthday, I find myself claiming the Bible’s promises in Psalm 103:4-5 MSG: He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown. He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal. He renews your youth—you’re always young in His presence.”

I encourage you to take another look at this passage in Psalm 103 and claim its promises for your  life today. No matter what you may have gone through in the past, God wants to crown you with love and mercy. And although He wants you to take good care of your physical body, He also offers you something much more important: “beauty eternal.”

So, my friend, there really IS a Fountain of Youth available to you. God can renew your youth each day, because “you’re always young in His presence.”

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The Funny Thing About Your Fears

Fear and faith. Two primal forces that significantly shape our actions, attitudes, emotions, and relationships.

Like oil and water, the two don’t mix.

Throughout the Bible, God tells people, “Fear not, for I am with you!” (Isaiah 41:10, etc.)

But here’s the funny thing about it:

I’m convinced God intentionally puts us into situations that expose the fears we’ve harbored in our heart. And once we’re in one of those terrifying situations, He then tells us, “Fear not!”

When you see this pattern, you might be tempted to think God is sadistic and cruel. Why else would He be so intent on revealing our deepest fears—just so He can comfort us and tell us not to fear?

The answer is that the Lord does this as part of our healing process. Unless our fears come to the surface, we’ll never confront them and allow Him to heal us.

The Biblical examples of this strange process are too numerous to list, but here are a few of my favorites:

  • At a time when Jacob was terrified of his future and on the run from his brother Esau, God took him to a dark desert where he had a stunning revelation of a ladder between heaven and earth. His fears melted away as he recognized the Lord’s awesome presence with him.
  • When Moses was 40, the Israelites rejected his effort to help them during their captivity in Egypt.As a result, he had to escape to the wilderness, where he took care of sheep for 40 years. Eventually the Lord spoke to Moses from a burning bush and sent him right back to Egypt, the scene of his previous trauma and rejection.
  • The most traumatic experience of Joshua’s life occurred when more than a million Israelites rejected his counsel and chose not to enter the Promised Land. When Moses died 40 years later, what did God do? He brought Joshua full circle to the very scene of his deepest fears—and commissioned Joshua to courageously lead the Israelites on the same mission that had miserably failed 40 years earlier.
  • Peter denied Jesus three times around a fire in the courtyard of the high priest. After the resurrection, God arranged the circumstances for Peter to again be around a fire—where Jesus told him three times, “Feed my sheep.” Three failures were erased by three statements of affirmation from Jesus.

So what are YOU afraid of? Years ago, I might have answered, “Nothing! I’m fearless and full of faith!”

Yet God has found ways to expose fears I didn’t even know I had. Fears of intimacy…failure…abandonment…loss…loneliness…financial lack…and countless other things.

As I look back on the difficult experiences I’ve faced along the way, I’ve come to realize an amazing thing about this process: I’m not nearly as afraid of those things anymore! Hey, the devil took his best shot, and I’m still standing!

If you are in a situation today that is revealing some kind of fear in the depths of your heart, I have good news: Faith can overcome your fears. And the healing balm of the Holy Spirit can cleanse every wound and calm every anxious thought.

So fear not, my friend. He is with you. And if you let Him, He’s going to work everything for your good (Romans 8:28).

But getting set free from your fears is a funny process, isn’t it?

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Confessions of a To-Do List Addict

I’m embarrassed to tell you how I responded when someone recently asked me what I like to do for fun…

“Well,” I stammered, “I like to cross things off my To-Do List.”

I could tell she wasn’t impressed.

“Yeah, right,” she said, thinking maybe I was just joking. “But what do you do for FUN?!”

I offered a few lame remarks about watching football games and eating out with friends, but the conversation pretty much went downhill after that.

Hey, I was just being honest. The truth of the matter is, I really do take pleasure in productivity—“getting things done.” What’s wrong with that?

I would love to hear your comments and observations about this addiction, for I’m still trying to break free from its destructive clutches.

Have you ever found yourself addicted to crossing off things on your To-Do List? Or maybe you’re living with someone else who struggles with this insidious problem.

Here are some preliminary conclusions I’ve come up with:

  1. It’s great to get things done if they are the RIGHT things. However, PEOPLE are God’s greatest priority, and many of the things on our To-Do List have nothing whatsoever to do with impacting people in a meaningful way. Our priorities need to be brought in alignment with His priorities (Mark 12:28-34).
  2. Addiction to our To-Do List is often a symptom of performance-based spirituality. In other words, we think God or people will somehow LOVE us more if we stay busy and accomplish a lot. Yet the Bible’s doctrine of GRACE teaches just the opposite: God loves us just because He loves us, not because of anything we do or don’t do.
  3. Although there are things God wants us to DO, He first wants us to BE. He created us primarily as human BE-ings, not human DO-ings. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus emphasized our IDENTITY before our WORKS. Before engaging in efforts to “please God,” we’re told to recognize who we ARE: salt, light, and His beloved children (Matthew 5:13-16).
  4. Deep rest is impossible as long as we remain addicted to our To-Do List. Have you noticed that your To-Do List is never really completed? No matter how many items you cross off, there are always more to add. Recognizing our tendency to get stuck on this endless treadmill of striving and workaholism, God COMMANDS us to enter His rest (Exodus 20:8-11, Matthew 11:28-30, Hebrews 4:1-10, etc.).
  5. Addiction to our To-Do List is devastating to our social life. Here’s a very practical example: If you’re a single person who struggles with this, your dating life is going to suck until you get delivered.

Now I feel better after sharing my heart with you. I can cross “Writing a Blog Post” off today’s To-Do List…

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