In the spirit of Thanksgiving, my friend and teammate, Dereem Hoff describes "having an attitude of gratitude". Check it out in this video.
Well - with thanksgiving now behind us, it still might be difficult to have an attitude of gratitude because you might not be part of any large family gatherings this year, there is no doubt that God still gives us the best Christmas present, ever: a family as big as the number of stars in the sky (if you can count them).
God knows we need friendships. That's why we feel so empty when we can't physically be near each other, look in each others' eyes when we talk, or share tangible experiences with each other. Our friends, family, neighbors, and communities are God's gift to us. No matter who they are, where they're from, what they've done (or will do) - God has given us a family as many as the stars in the sky.
How do I know that? Because God has promised Abraham in Genesis 15:5: Then the LORD took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!” You and I are part of that family. Your neighbor is part of that family. The people around you are part of that family. We are part of God's family not by human desire or effort, but on God's mercy (Romans 9:16).
So, here are two ways you can develop or continue investing in your habit of having an attitude of gratitude for the very large family God has given us.
This season, as many of us might be searching for the Christmas spirit, we are reminded that God, our Father, sends our brother Jesus into the world. Jesus is born like us. Jesus grows up like us. Jesus eats, breathes, and sleeps like us. Jesus experiences life, like us... so that in years like 2020 when we feel isolated, lonely, and not so joy-filled, we know that beyond a doubt we are never alone. Even though we may feel lonely, we can trust that the God of the universe never leaves us completely lonely. And, through Jesus, we never lack a family who “gets” us.
Afterall, the reason we have family gatherings, exchange gifts, celebrate with food and singing, and carve out time to worship this holiday season is to love Jesus back because He first loved us.
Love you. -pt
Happy Thanksgiving! This year, I'm thankful that Jesus listens to me. What a gift to be thankful for!
Now, why am I thankful that Jesus listens to me? Well... probably because I can learn to listen a whole lot better than I do. After all, I think Toby Keith was right. Our lives and world today might need a little less talk and a lot more action. That is, if the action is active listening. Simply put, in a world filled with noise and where talking louder gets more attention than silence; listening can be a great gift you can give to somebody who desperately needs to be heard.
Recently, I reread Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I was reminded that listening is a foundational part of what it means to be Christian community - or oikos, family. Bonhoeffer writes, “The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God's love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear. So it is His work that we do for our brother and sister when we learn to listen to them.”
Here are three ways you can listen well.
Relax. Be in the moment.
I have personally found that I can be so focused on the next thing I need to do or say that I forget that God has me in this specific moment for His purpose. Eugene Peterson wrote in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, “From time to time, impatient with the slowness, I would try out ways of going about my work that promised quicker results. But after a while it always seemed to be more like meddling in these people's lives than helping them attend to God”. I have found that a great way to begin relaxing and being in the moment is to take a deep cleansing breath and remember that God gives me every second and this is what He has given me to do right now. Here we go.
Own what you hear.
It’s sometimes difficult to own what you hear, especially if you personally disagree with what you’re hearing. In college, I read Communication for Organizations by Dr. Dalmar Fisher. She points out that it’s hard to own what we hear because we tend to seek to fix, give advice, agree, or disagree with what we are hearing. With credit to Fisher, to own what I hear, I will sometimes repeat back what I hear the other person is saying in the emotional feeling that they said it. By doing this, I not only seek to understand what is being shared with me, I own the feeling with whom I am sharing the moment. The writer of Hebrews emphasizes that Jesus is our high priest who empathizes with our weaknesses because he has been tempted in every way (Hebrew 4:15).
Trade your periods for question marks. Statements end conversations. Questions continue conversation. Jesus asked some of the best questions that kept the disciples talking (and Jesus listening!). According to Martin Copenhaver, the gospels record Jesus asking 307 questions. My guess is that Jesus asked a whole lot more - which means Jesus listened even more.
And because I’m generous, here’s a BONUS THOUGHT: Remember who and whose you are. God made you a listener. It’s who you are. You belong to Christ (1 Corinthians 3:23). I’ve been told that we’ve been given two ears and one mouth for this reason. Joking aside, we are listeners because Jesus first listened to us. When we were still dying and dead in our sins, Jesus came and died for us (Romans 5:8). Jesus listened to the woman at the well (John 4). Jesus listened to Zacchaeus (Luke 19). I mean, how may times does the Psalmists cry out to God and God hears and listens? From being brokenhearted (Psalm 34) to burdened with sin (Psalm 51) to being scared stiff (Psalm 27), God hears us. God always makes the first move and listens to us.
So, this week, let’s be the ones to make the first move with the people God has strategically placed in our lives. Let's be the ones who give the gift of Jesus-like love and care as we listen to someone as we remember to also give thanks to God that Jesus first listened to us.
Do you know the feeling that you have when you know someone is thinking about you? It’s wonderful, isn’t it? And it’s very good news that as we move into a very different kind of holiday season, God is still thinking about us.
Why? Because people and relationships are God’s top priority. That’s what Thanksgiving and Christmas is all about - God and you… and me… and us, in relationship together. Because people matter to God.
So, people and relationships are our top priority, too - both with God and others.
This past week, we all saw case numbers rise and transmission and infection rates increase both nationally and here in Pierce County. As a larger church that is part of a much wider community and who carries influence with a variety of social sectors, we continue to choose what is both wise and safe while continuing our deep commitment to our mission.
First, continue praying for our ministry team.
This week, we have been considering ways to better gather in small, safe, and relational ways as we move into the holiday season and into 2021.
For three specific ways you can pray for our ministry team, watch my video here:
Second, consider your part.
Wear a mask. Keep your distance. Wash your hands frequently. And, limit the number of people you gather with each week. These are simple ways to honor those who God has placed in authority over us for our own good and the benefit of the people around us.
Finally, commit to being a good neighbor.
The people you live with and around need you - and if we were honest, you need them. We need each other. God created us to be in community. So, write some encouraging words in a card. Kids - draw some pictures. Pick up an extra few flowers at the store. And then go visit the people who live right next door to you… down the street… across the road… or someone you frequently see - your doctor, your cashier, the person who brings your groceries out to your car. Give them the card, picture, flowers, or whatever. Or, just stand by their door - 6 ft away, and say, “hello. I just wanted to say hi and thank you for being my neighbor”. And, don’t forget to smile under your mask. That’s all. It’s that easy.
Don't know where to start or have history of difficult conversations with your neighbors? CLICK HERE for our "how to have a difficult conversation" resource.
And why would we want to continue to pray, consider our part, and commit to being a good neighbor? Because people and relationships are always our top priority - both with God and others. It’s how we can continue making disciples who love God, love people, and live like Jesus - right where we are.
Love you more than you know. -t
We all have expectations. Some set high expectations while others would resonate with Alexander Pope who said, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed”. I think you would agree that no matter what our expectations were for this last year, none of us us would have expected what has turned out to be an extremely unusual 2020.
Interestingly enough, Jesus says very little about our expectations. Granted, at one point, Jesus says not to expect anything in return for loving others well (Luke 6:34-35). Another time, Jesus says to expect the unexpected when it comes to the end of the world (Luke 12:40-46). Other than that, as far as scripture would tell us, Jesus speaks very little about human expectations with the exception of the expectation of the coming of Messiah and what the Messiah was going to do.
When Jesus exploded onto the scene, people's expectations of where God was and what God was going to do next were quite high and looking back 2,000 years later, misplaced. No judgement - If I were living in those days, I would probably have had misplaced expectations of the Messiah, too.
John the Baptist was in prison and sent his friends to ask Jesus their shared burning question, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else? (Matthew 11:3). And, perhaps like us today, their expectations of life returning to whatever "normal" were not met. They were looking for hope toward a better future than their present circumstance. They were waiting for good news in a world of high anxiety and division. They were craving rescue from the uncertainty from a growing brutal Roman regime. They just wanted life to be "normal" again.
And, Jesus changed their expectations. Jesus - like He always does, looked at the people with love and changed them from the inside out. Jesus responded to their expectations: Look around. What do you see? Blind people, see. Lame people, walk. Sick people are made healthy. Deaf people, hear. Dead people, live. And, poor people have the same good news and access to the everything as rich people do. What more do you expect?
Jesus changes our expectations, as well. While we long for a sense of "normal", I sometimes find myself expecting Jesus to fix life right now. You might be able to relate. Many of us are searching for a better future than our present coronavirus-reality. Some of us are waiting for a time when we can have a respite from working twice as hard for half the reward - both tangibly and intrinsically - or waiting to go back to work, period. Others of us are either rejoicing or grieving over this past week's election results (or uncertain results!). And if we're honest with ourselves - a little (or large) piece of us just wants life to be "normal" again.
And in all of our expectations - whatever they might be, Jesus sees you. Jesus looks at you. He looks at me. And with all of his love, He responds: Life might not be what you expected - but look around. What do you see? Adults, students, kids, and babies are being baptized. Young people are choosing to take their next steps in their faith. New people are joining Jesus' mission. People are praying with and for each other. Neighbors are being served. The least of these are being provided for. Children and grandchildren are re-engaging their relationship with Jesus. Dreams of families having more time to be together are coming alive. People are seemingly engaging in formal and informal faith conversations in their homes and among their friends. The gospel is being made more accessible, far beyond the four walls of a church.
What more do you expect?
And while we long for "normal", perhaps Jesus' wants to change our expectation for this moment (or year). . . for us to look around and see that He is very much here and very much present and most certainly working in this moment.
I wonder if over these past eight months God has been asking us to consider our expectations of Him. I know that when I expect God's very best: that the gospel is enough; relationships matter; and Jesus' power is at work and His presence is around me in each moment of everyday, my expectation of "normal" becomes very different.
And in Jesus, what else could I have expected?
This Week at Our Savior
This Sunday, Pastor Matt continues our series, i See; You See by helping us see the future that Jesus sees. I can’t wait to see you online, this Sunday.
Love you more than you know.
PS: I can’t wait to see you on Thursday at 6:30pm for our online Novemberfest experience. No registration required. :)
The OSLC ministry team is a growing collection of women and men who live as a family on mission, leading the OSLC family in connecting an unchanging God with a changing world by loving God, loving people, and living like Jesus.