Thanksgiving Before Christmas

If you’re like me (or Hobby Lobby), your Christmas tree goes up before the turkey is served on Thanksgiving Day.

I know, I know. So many of you are shaking your heads already.

People have big opinions on when trees, music, lights, and even coffee cups should appear for the Christmas season.

And while this topic is debated mostly in good fun, it serves as a small sample of the polarized and divided cultural climate we all seem to find ourselves in these days.

But, even though I’m on the Christmas-as-soon-as-you-want side of this debate, I’m willing to find the middle ground here and admit that Thanksgiving does not get the focus and attention it should.

Really, it’s fitting that Thanksgiving comes before Christmas — not because we need another way to decorate with pumpkins, but because the entire Christian life should be marked by giving thanks. Even, and sometimes especially, in the times before we enjoy the blessings of God’s gifts, times when we are tired and unsure, and times that are hard.

In fact, the history of the Thanksgiving holiday in our nation is instructive for how disciples of Jesus can rightly approach giving thanks to God.

The holiday of Thanksgiving has been celebrated on and off in the United States since 1789. President Abraham Lincoln made it an official national holiday in 1863, proclaiming it, “a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.”

If you don’t remember from history class, Lincoln was the president of the United States from 1861 to 1865 — the same years as the Civil War. In this war, 618,222 men died, which is far and away the most casualties in our nation’s history. It was undoubtedly one of the most challenging and divisive periods America has ever experienced.

And yet, in the middle of this time — before the end of the war — Lincoln asked the nation to give thanks to our good Father in heaven.

And long before Lincoln, there was the Apostle Paul.

Paul suffered for his faith in Jesus. He was beaten, persecuted, imprisoned, and eventually martyred. And yet, these are Paul’s words written to the people of the church:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

— 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Throughout the gospels, we see Jesus giving thanks to his Father.

He gives thanks for the bread God provides before he distributes to the hungry crowd. He gives thanks to God before the resurrection of Lazarus. He gives thanks to his Father before he breaks the bread and pours the wine that represents his broken body and his blood, fully knowing what these symbols will mean for him the next day.

He demonstrates thanksgiving for good gifts and thanksgiving in suffering.

The Greek root of Eucharist (the fancy word for “The Lord’s Supper”) can actually be translated as “thanksgiving.”

When we take the Lord’s Supper together, we are remembering God’s good gift of his son, who died for our sins and was resurrected as our king. We remember the past and give thanks. We also give thanks for the present gifts and blessings God has given us, from our daily bread to his presence among us.

So we can give thanks for the Advent of Christ — the Christmas season — resting in the truth that God can be trusted. We can give thanks, knowing full well that we, like Lincoln, like Paul, and like Christ, will experience discord and suffering in this life, but that God can be trusted through it all. And we can give thanks for the coming Advent: the return of Jesus when all things are made new.

So, this holiday season, whether we are struggling or celebrating, whether we have lots or little, whether we prefer pumpkins or trees, let’s give thanks together.

Let us be thankful for God who gifted us with his only beloved Son.

Let us be thankful for the good gifts we enjoy now.

Let us be thankful for the promise of gifts to come.

Thanksgiving before Christmas. Thanksgiving for Christmas. Thanksgiving always.


 

114: When Food is the Enemy

Food is a good gift from God meant to be enjoyed and shared. However, what is designed to be good can get distorted in a world of social media, negative body image, and diet culture. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with his wife, Lindsey Lehtinen — a licensed counselor — about what to do if you have a bad relationship with food.

 

113: Cigars, Grilling, and Missional Living

When Jesus commissioned his people to “Go and make disciples,” in Matthew 28:19, he was telling us to bring the gospel, not only to the ends of the earth, but also everywhere we go in our normal, everyday lives. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with campus pastors, Chris Alston and Karl Garcia, about how they intentionally and authenticity engage in relationships with people around them.

Resources:

Table Talk Series

112: Date Your Wife or Hate Your Life

Life is busy. We invest in our jobs, kids, and future, but sometimes marriage ends up on the back burner. How can we invest in the one God has given us and why does it matter? On this episode Rachel Chester sits down with Bruce and Susan Wesley as they share how they seek to know and love each other and how a strong marriage shapes the rest of life.

 

 

A Seat at the Table

You know the scene — that tumultuous environment known as the high school cafeteria.

You know the feeling of walking in to such a setting, lunch in hand, scouring the room for a place to sit.

Am I allowed to sit at that table?

What would people think if I sat there?

I can’t sit with them; they’re not my crowd.

And many of us know the feeling from the other side — the person sitting at the table, monitoring the movements of the hopeful seat hunters.

Are they going to sit here?

What would people think if they sat with us?

They aren’t one of us, I hope they don’t try it.

We call them “cliques” in high school. At that stage of life, we’re identified by what we do and who we spend time with; by the sports we play or don’t; by the grades we get (or don’t); and by our general attitude toward this building we’re required to be in.

Honestly, it’s easier to eat lunch with people who do the same things we do. It’s fun to talk about music with other people who like it. There’s camaraderie in clowning around with the other guys on the football team. And it’s motivating to sit alongside students with the same goals of getting into a good college like we want to.

The problems come when we see anyone outside this circle — anyone not at this table — as “them,” and anyone inside it — anyone sitting at the table — as “us.”

And that isn’t just a high school problem.

As college students, and young adults, and married couples, and parents, and voters, and sports fans, and co-workers, it’s common to fall into the “them” and “us” way of thinking.

Honestly, we don’t need to talk about whether this is right or wrong.

We know.

Deep down we know it’s a shallow view of life to only commune with those who look like us, or act like us, or think like us.

But, we also know it’s comfortable.

It feels good to be affirmed, to be heard, to be able to say what we really think.

And the truth is, we also know being around like-minded people holds some value.

It is a valuable thing to be able to gather with people who will listen to us, understand where we’re coming from, and who can offer specific, tailored counsel to our situation and circumstance.

So, what do we do?

Do we sit at the lunchroom table with only “our” people?

Or do we allow others who might upset the established vibe to join us?

In the Bible, we see Jesus navigate this issue with beautiful balance.

Jesus, throughout his ministry, has his guys — the disciples — with him wherever he goes. He spends a lot of time with them. In the book of Acts we come to understand that these men are leaders he’s raising up to lead the church in its infancy, but they’re also just his buddies. He eats with them, teaches them, travels with them, and works alongside them.

But, Jesus’ purpose isn’t solely focused on these men. He has other things he’s trying to accomplish as well.

We see him go out of his way to speak with the woman at the well (John 4:1-42), and stay at Zacchaeus the chief tax collector’s house (Luke 19:1-10), and heal the sick like the paralyzed man (Luke 5:17-26) or the woman with the issue of bleeding (Mark 5:24-34), and love the hurting like Jairus the ruler of the synagogue and his daughter (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43) and Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (John 11:1-44).

These aren’t the people it would have been most advantageous for Jesus to be around. These were the outsiders and outcasts, the broken and the beaten-down, the desperate and the dying.

If this were the high school cafeteria, Jesus would have been working to push all the tables together, including — and maybe especially — the ones where no one else wanted to be.

Jesus made room at his table.

Just like he made room for you.

This is the beauty of the Gospel, that Jesus would invite us in, that he would offer us a place in his father’s family, by doing for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves — despite our differences and despite our disobedience.

But it doesn’t end there.

Jesus not only invites us in to salvation and grace, but he then invites us into his mission of extending that same offer to everyone in the world.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

– Matthew 28:19-20

At Clear Creek Community Church, we say we want to reach every man, woman, and child, in our geography with the gospel, and that our mission is to lead unchurched people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

There are a lot of people in this cafeteria we call the 4B Area. There are many different cliques, a variety of people groups and social statuses, and a wealth of diversity. But if we want to live out the mission of not only our church, but of Jesus, then we must be willing to do the uncomfortable, the unconventional, and maybe even the “uncool” — to ask people who don’t normally sit with us to take a seat.

Is there room at your table?


 

Is it Okay for Christians to Celebrate Halloween?

October is a great month in Texas. There’s college football, playoff baseball, cooler weather, and… Halloween. So how can we leverage this holiday for the kingdom of God? Or should we even try?

To learn more about Clear Creek Community Church, visit clearcreek.org

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More Than a Meal

Growing up, food was important to my family. My parents regularly served exquisite dinners on weeknights, and really went all out on holidays. Meals were a huge part of our traditions, and so many of my deepest childhood memories take place around the dinner table.

Food was a pillar of our family culture, essential to the depth of our relationships.

But it was never really about the food. There was something bigger going on around the table.

While I have always associated meals with family traditions, food took on a deeper meaning when I found myself overwhelmed with grief over a series of deep losses.

The night I gave birth to a sweet baby boy that I would never bring home, my friend Lisa arrived with a ham. It was a gesture of support and love to our family but ended up being so much more. As she hugged me on the way out the door, she told me I felt feverish and that I should take my temperature. A short time later I was rushed to the hospital — a new, struggling life about to be born and then just as quickly, to pass.

That night, a ham was not just a ham.

During an 8-week hospital bedrest stay in Houston’s medical center, I received gourmet meals almost weekly. Each delicious dinner was accompanied by expensive plates and precious linens. Often friends would deliver the meals on the chef’s behalf with specific instructions on table setting and food presentation. These meals were more than sustenance, they were tangible reflections of love — my friend showing me I was seen, I was known, and that she cared.

When I was pregnant with my now 7-year-old, I received dinners every week, delivered in a beautiful Longaberger basket lined with a freshly pressed red gingham kitchen towel. The basket always arrived on time, and it always included warm, crusty bread that reminded me and my family that we weren’t alone on this journey.

After Hurricane Harvey devastated our house and made cooking impossible, friends delivered sack lunches and demanded I eat, even when I didn’t want to. Their love, wrapped in a paper bag, sustained me when it was hard to just stay standing.

As we rebuilt our home, we pulled tables together on our street to share a meal of spaghetti and lemonade with our neighbors who shared the same plight. We had no idea how long it would take to rebuild our homes, but we laughed, prayed, and for an hour, forgot about the harrowing journey we had ahead of us. Food brought us peace, strength, and warmth in the midst of rubble and debris.

When our adoptive son arrived a year ago, I remember the warm, fresh cookies delivered to our door and the abundance of snacks brought in bulk.

Through these experiences I learned that food brings so much more than physical nutrition or energy. Food became a comfort not just rooted in family tradition, but a symbol of love, care, and presence from those outside my family circle.

When shared with someone you love, or gifted to you by someone who cares, food is a relationship builder. It’s intimate, humbling, and communal.

Sometimes meals are memorable — the specific flavors and aromas — but more often it’s the experience of fellowship that sticks with us long after the meal is over.

Whether you make it or buy it, whether you send it, place it in a cooler on a front porch, or hand it directly into someone’s arms, the gesture shows those friends you care, you see them, and you love them. It shows them you acknowledge their pain, even if you have never experienced it yourself.

These profound experiences of receiving love in the form of food have changed me. I have learned to pay attention to the circumstances of others and when in doubt, send food.

It isn’t what you send but that you send.

As believers, our prayers and love for others should propel us to action, especially when we see others hurting and in need, but even when it’s just a simple gesture of kindness. Our friends don’t have to be in a deep pit of despair for us to send them a meal, it can just be a Thursday.

For believers, a meal is more than food. It is a symbol of God’s love and compassion for his creation, and we should share that in every possible way we can.


110: Faith and Food

Food is an essential part of our lives. From sack lunches to wedding feasts, providing and sharing meals is a fundamental part of how we interact. How can we use meals to celebrate and worship God? How can we use food to love and serve others? On this episode, Rachel Chester talks with Ryan Lehtinen and Yancey Arrington about their most memorable meals, favorite foods, and how they have seen God use the table to his purposes throughout history and in their own lives.

Resources:

Table Talk: When Faith Meets Food

 

Blessed Are the Meek

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

— Matthew 5:5

Meekness isn’t the most valuable virtue in our day and age. In fact, we often struggle to see it as a virtue at all. Even in those who are expected to be obedient to authority – children and employees – no one is likely to list meekness as one of their strengths in a job interview. Few of us pray for children who would be described as meek. Even those who might recognize a natural bent toward compliance or quietness often strive to cast off those characteristics and assert themselves more. I’ve never seen any high school label a graduate with a “Most Likely to be Meek” award.

Meekness in our culture carries a connotation of a doormat: a person characterized by fear and timidity, noticed only for being unworthy of notice. We may picture a mouselike personality who avoids conflict at any cost or never speaks up.

So, is this what Jesus is praising in the third Beatitude?

Is he hopelessly behind the times, a throwback to when children (and women) were to be seen but not heard? Or do we need to change our modern mindset and aim for doormat status, never speaking up or standing out?

Often, when we struggle to make sense of Scripture, it’s not due to a lack of clarity in the passage itself, but rather the cloudiness of the lens though which we’re examining it. In the third beatitude, we have to make sure we’re understanding Jesus’ words with his definitions rather than those of our culture.

The word translated meek in the ESV can also be translated gentle.

Honestly, gentle doesn’t feel much better. It’s certainly a very gendered word in our culture. Even when we use the word gentleman, we tend to mean something more like cultured or well-mannered. It’s okay for our daughters to be gentle, but most of us wouldn’t be excited for a football coach to describe our son that way.

But, I think we can get a little help seeing what Jesus intends in the third Beatitude from the idea of gentleness.

It’s a little easier for us to imagine an offensive lineman gently cradling his newborn, or a well-trained Clydesdale stepping gently around a corral with a young novice rider clinging to his mane. There’s a note there of strength, rather than weakness. It’s not that the gentle man is incapable of asserting his power, but that he chooses to restrain himself to safeguard or support another.

If you continue reading the book of Matthew after the Beatitudes, you see the author frequently portraying Jesus as the demonstration of each of these blessed traits, often even using the same word.

Gentleness is no exception:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

— Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and earth. He holds the power of the earthquake and thunderstorm in his hands. He is the King of Kings who will come at the end of days to judge the earth and conquer his enemies.

And yet, he tells us that his heart is gentle and lowly.

Jesus has restrained his strength for the good of another. He is patient and tender toward his children. He recognizes our struggles without disappointment. He is with us in our failures without disgust. His meekness is not weakness, but a gentle lovingkindness on our behalf.

If we begin to see meekness through Jesus’ lens, we will also begin to see opportunities to emulate him. Meekness is not a lack of assertion, but assertion used to provide for the needy. Meekness is not a fear of speaking up, but a boldness to speak on behalf of the widow and the orphan. Meekness is not an avoidance of conflict, but a choice to fight for the sake of the powerless. Meekness is humbly seeking the glory of God and the good of others.

Jesus says that the meek will inherit the earth, which can feel exceptionally false in our day and age, just as the idea of praising meekness at all feels farfetched in our culture. Look around you: it’s not the meek who are “winning.” Our culture fundamentally rewards arrogance, aggressiveness, and self-assertion.

But we must remember that godly inheritance is always a future promise. It’s not a gift given in the moment, but an intentional laying-aside for a time to come. And it’s coming is sure.

Our gentle and lowly Lord will come on the clouds to inherit the earth, and those who follow him in meekness will reign eternally with him.

May we spend our strength in a sacrifice of selflessness today.

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

— Philippians 4:5 (NIV)

109: Why Should I Show Up to Church?

During the series Salty: Sticking Out for the Right Reasons, we’re discussing questions related to each message on our podcast. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen, Yancey Arrington, and Aaron Lutz discuss the questions: What is the church? And why is it important for the church to regularly gather together for worship?

Resources:

Be Together – Fight Independence (sermon)