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Is it Okay to Doubt God?

If you look around the world today, amidst the days of COVID variants, political tension, and a myriad of other stressors and struggles, it’s easy to feel some sense of doubt about God and his presence in the world. It’s easy to wonder why he isn’t doing something about it. Or if he’s even really there at all.

The truth is, even though our worries and fears carry some different names in the modern day, doubt has always existed within the Christian faith.

Even people who were with Jesus — who knew him personally — still struggled with knowing if it was all real.

So, it’s no surprise we sometimes find ourselves with similar feelings.

If there was anyone in all of history who would seem immune to doubt, it probably would’ve been the man traditionally known as John the Baptist.

His mom was the cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus, which meant Jesus and John were kin. So that’s pretty good. Better yet, God selected and chose John to announce the way of Jesus to the people.

John was a prophet, he was a man of God, and he was a man of great faith.

He even baptized Jesus.

In Matthew 11 Jesus says:

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women, there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

– Matthew 11:11a

I mean talk about something to put on your resume, right?

Jesus called me the greatest person who’s ever lived.

When Jewish kids had posters of the rock stars of the faith on their wall, John the Baptist was right in the middle.

But, as we see earlier in Matthew 11, we observe something interesting happening.

Traditionally, the Jews thought the Messiah would come and destroy the oppressive Romans. He would be this amazing unconquerable king. He’d be a warmonger.

And not only was Jesus not like that, but things weren’t going well for John the Baptist who had just baptized Jesus and declared him the Messiah. In fact, during his ministry, John was imprisoned, and at this point in the text he’s on the docket to get executed.

So, suddenly, it seems all the questions in John’s mind about Jesus, and about his faith, and about this whole idea of Christianity began to bubble to the surface of John’s thoughts.

Here’s what he did:

Now when John heard about the deeds of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him,Are you the one who is to come? Or shall we look for another?

– Matthew 11:2-3

Stunning! Here we have the great John the Baptist struggling with doubt about Jesus.

He’s like, “Jesus, are you really the Christ? Or did I screw that whole thing up? We’ve been waiting for somebody. Are you really who you say you are?”

What I love about this, is that it tells us something very important about people who want to deal with their doubts.

If you’ve struggled with doubt or are currently struggling with it, before you do anything else, you simply must know that going through these seasons — those ones that wreck you about Jesus and God — is normal.

And not only is it normal, but it’s also necessary.

Doubts are the growing pains of the faith. It’s always been that way. They’re usually seasons of discomfort, and sometimes they bring us to tears. It’s real pain. But they’re seasons we must endure if we want to grow in our faith.

Coming to grips with the idea that doubt in your faith journey is normal and necessary — just knowing that — lowers the anxiety about it. Because doubt, though it is painful and difficult to journey through, means that at the very least you are asking big questions of a very big God.

And whatever your questions are, whatever doubts you have, the most practical first step is that you must work to find the answer.

And I specifically said “work to find it,” not just “find it,” because I can almost assure you that it’s going to take time and energy.

Go to Christian leaders that you trust. If you’re in a small group, and you’re not bringing your questions and doubts to them, you’re missing a grand opportunity to leverage good Christ-following people. Ask them! And read about the subject you’re asking about (but not just from Google).

The enemy of faith isn’t doubt, it’s apathy.

Real doubts demand real work.

There will be days you feel like you’re keeping your head above the water, and there will be days you feel like you’re drowning.

My favorite verse in all of the Bible that deals with doubt is Mark 9:24 where a guy says to Jesus, “I believe. Just help my unbelief.”

It’s one of the most honest prayers I’ve ever heard.

That’s a prayer I pray.

God, I believe. Help me in areas where I don’t believe.

And for those who struggle with doubts that’s a great prayer to pray. Run to Jesus with your doubt!

But, don’t just run to Jesus to find help from him, but run to Jesus to find help in him.

You can take all the doubts that plague you — and they can be really big — but they’re size cannot eclipse the historical fact that Jesus rose from the dead. Whatever doubts you have can be overwhelmed by the weightiness of who Jesus is and what he’s done.

In Matthew 11, Jesus responded to the disciples of John the Baptist like this:

Go and tell John what you hear and see. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up. And the poor have good news preached to them.

– Matthew 11:4b-5

In other words, here’s what he said, “You tell John that you can all have confidence in me by looking at what I’ve done.”

And we have it even better as Christians today, because John never got to see Jesus go to the cross and then, better yet, rise from the grave.

But we have.

Jesus’ answer is, “You have to trust me.”

And we must do the same.

Even when we can’t trust what’s happening around us.

Even when we can’t trust ourselves.

Doubts are the growing pains of faith. They’re part of the journey. And they’re serious.

But they aren’t insurmountable.

Ask questions.

Run to Jesus.

Trust God.


 

The Promises of 2022

I love a clean slate.

That first page of a new journal, starting a new book, or the first day of a new season. And, I really love the beginning of a new year. Every new year holds so much promise.

2021 started with promise. It was certainly going to be a better year than 2020; it had to be.

No more COVID, no more political division or racial divide? At least, that was the hope, right?

Well, we didn’t even make it a week into 2021 and the wheels fell off, again.

2021 felt like any other year that started with so much promise, but ended up being such a disappointment.

We can laugh it off now — we kind of have to — but the effects of the past few years are real: division, sickness, and uncertainty.

2021 broke a lot of promises.

Well, here we are again. It’s January. A clean slate. I love a new year!

But our hopes have been tempered. Everyone seems to be a little more cynical and hardened this time around. And maybe we should be. Life is hard and will continue to be hard. In fact, long before COVID-19 Jesus told his followers:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

— John 16:33

Jesus was honest about the challenges of life.

But, there is a difference between a realistic understanding of our broken world and losing hope as Christians.

So what if 2022 really does offer promise? And what if that promise will never lead to disappointment?

As we begin the new year, here are three promises we can hold on to:

1. YOU ARE NEVER ALONE

These past couple of years, we’ve experienced isolation, separation, and loneliness to a greater degree, but this is not new. Spiritually and relationally people have a tendency to feel isolated. We need to be reminded that we are never alone if we know Jesus.

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

As we walk through 2022 (and whatever may come with it) we can be reminded that we have a God who is present with us always.

In fact that’s what we just celebrated at Christmas. Jesus, who is Immanuel, God with us!

And, as amazing as it is that he came to dwell with us, Jesus also came and experienced the real suffering and brokenness of our world. He knows what it’s like to be thirsty and hungry, to be tempted and rejected and abandoned.

He knows what it’s like to suffer and even to die.

He understands it all and is with us in it all. Always.

2. GOD WILL GIVE US STRENGTH

I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

— Philippians 4:10-13

This is a popular verse, but so often misconstrued. Paul was not saying he could do whatever he wanted to do because God would strengthen him. He wasn’t talking about the perfect jump-shot or a six figure salary.

Paul was in the midst of the suffering and tribulation Jesus had warned about.

But, even there, Paul was content in abundance, and he was content in suffering, because Christ was present with him.

It’s not a promise of comfort or ease, but of God’s presence and power in the midst of anything we might face.

3. GOD IS WORKING ALL THINGS FOR GOOD

I know this is often a Christian cliché, but it’s also a real promise.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

— Romans 8:28

The context of this verse is, again, acknowledging the suffering in our world.

Paul was describing those who walk in the Spirit as disciples of Christ.

For us, no matter what we face, we can be sure that not only are we never alone, not only does God strengthen us along the way, but we can trust that in the end, his goodness, power, and sovereignty will work out for our good and his glory.

Let’s be clear though, this promise doesn’t mean that everything is good. There is so much in our broken hearts and our broken world that is decidedly bad, like sickness, betrayal, cancer, hurricanes, selfishness, and so much more.

But, even in the middle of all of it, we trust that God is faithful to keep his promises. And in the end, he takes even the worst of life, the brokenness of our world, and he works it for good. It is an incredible promise!

 

The “promises” of this world will always disappoint, but we can be certain in the promises of God. None of these promises guarantee an easy new year ahead, but they are true and something we can and should hold fast to no matter what 2022 brings.

God’s promises are as true today as they were last year. They will always be the same and they will always offer hope beyond today.

This is what true faith, founded in Christ, looks like.

Is December 25 Really When Jesus Was Born?

You don’t have to look far to find people who embrace the commercial aspects of Christmas but also question the truth of Christianity’s claims about Jesus.

One of those questions is simple, but can also be confusing to Christians and non-Christians alike: is December 25 really when Jesus was born?

Well, the short answer is we don’t know. While there are a couple of theories, the Bible doesn’t speak to the specific time when Jesus was born, and historical accounts are silent on the exact day as well.

There is speculation that the birth of Christ was celebrated on December 25 to coincide with pagan holidays, but most scholars agree there is little evidence supporting this theory. It wasn’t until the twelfth century that Jesus’s birth and pagan feasts were first connected, and the tradition for December 25 is actually quite ancient. The first historical mentions of this date for Christmas were made as early as the second century, while most Christians settled on this date by the fourth century.

None of the gospel writers mention the specific date of Christ’s birth. But both Matthew and Luke provide significant details about the birth of Christ, and their presence indicates their importance to the narrative as a whole.

For instance, Luke lets us know that Jesus slept in a manger (Luke 2:7), reflecting his gentle and lowly nature. If God felt it was essential for us to know the exact date of the Savior’s birth, he certainly would have told us in his Word.  Sometimes, it’s really okay to say that we don’t know.

So if we don’t know that December 25 was really the birthday of Jesus, can we know if he really was born at all? Was Jesus a real, historical person?

While increasing numbers of people do not believe Jesus was a real person, both secular scholars and those who study the New Testament are in overwhelming agreement that he actually lived.

This was true in ancient times as well.

Within a few decades of Jesus’ lifetime, Jesus was mentioned by both Jewish and Roman historians in writings that corroborate the Gospels’ descriptions of his life and death.

So, even though we don’t know the exact day of Jesus’ birth, we have ample evidence that he existed, throughout, not only Christian tradition, but secular history as well.

Regardless of any question on when Jesus was born, only the Bible can explain to us why he was born:

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

— Luke 1:30-33

The Son of God, who left his rightful place in heaven, humbled himself and was born in a manger. He came into this world to atone for our sins and was resurrected to eternal life. He revealed God to us, he gifted us his Spirit, he reigns in heaven, and he is coming again to redeem all of creation.

While we do not know everything, we can be certain of the essentials. God himself, through whom all things were created, came to the world as one of us. To live and die and live again for us.

Because he loves us.

Because he loves you.

This I know is true.

He is Immanuel, God with us, to be both experienced now and treasured as a promise of what is to come.

And so, December 25 is the day we officially celebrate the birth of Christ, and a day that we stop and recognize the greatest gift anyone has ever been given. But it’s too big for one day, or one month, or even a season.

December 25 is the day we mark on our calendars, but there is reason to celebrate this story every other day as well!


 

Why We Sing (Christmas Edition)

During Christmas of 1914, soldiers huddled together in trenches to keep from freezing all along the western front of World War I.

On one side the Allied troops (the British, Belgians, and French) with the Germans on the other.

Since the war began the summer before, men and women from both sides had witnessed and participated in the bloodiest conflict the world had ever seen. Many soldiers who had survived the horrific living conditions and brutal fighting were left shellshocked, distraught, longing for home, and wishing the war would come to an end.

But on the night of Christmas Eve something miraculous happened.

Albert Moren , a British private, described hearing songs coming from the enemy trenches:

“First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing — two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.”

By the morning, the Allied and German troops emerged from their respective trenches and, after having agreed to a ceasefire, spent much of Christmas day together.

It’s said that they exchanged gifts, played soccer, ate food together, and commiserated with one another as if they were no longer sworn enemies.

This event has become known as the Christmas Truce of 1914 and to this day there is no other recorded truce in history like it.

Of course, the truce didn’t last forever. The soldiers eventually climbed back into their trenches and the fighting continued.

But this event left a lasting mark on history.

On that bitter cold night in 1914, it was the songs about the birth of Jesus, sung by supposed “enemies,” that reminded those men of that truth and allowed them to lay their weapons down.

Beyond being a story that offers a glimmer of kindness and peace amidst a world that often feels at war with itself, this event reminds us that, more than which side we’ve fought for, we are united by the unshakeable hope that is only found in the advent of Jesus Christ.

The reality for us today is that as followers of Jesus, we know our hope and our identity will always and forever be found in Christ and what he has done for us.

And so, when we gather and sing, we are reminding one another and proclaiming with one voice that death, war, and sin will never divide us into enemy camps; we are leaving our “trenches” and reclaiming our title as the united body of Christ.

So, church family, let’s lay our weapons down at the feet of Jesus our King and worship him well this Christmas season!


 

Heart of the Song: Silent Night

I grew up thinking everything I heard in Christmas songs was literal. There really were nine reindeer and they pulled Santa’s sleigh in the exact order of the song we all sang together! And I really did need to watch out and not cry because Santa Claus had some level of magical surveillance and was coming to town.

So, in the same way, when it came to the Christmas hymns we sang at church, I latched on to those lyrics, not as artistic interpretation, but as facts about the birth of Jesus.

When I grew up I learned that the reindeer often ride in a different order, Santa uses our parents as informants, and the beauty of the words of many of our carols tell more than the facts of the story of the first Christmas. They speak to the heart of the night Jesus was born.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Silent Night,” but the three verses of the song describe a night that should have been anything but silent.

Silent night, holy night

All is calm, all is bright

Round yon Virgin Mother and Child

Holy Infant so tender and mild

Sleep in heavenly peace

Sleep in heavenly peace

 

Silent night, holy night

Shepherds quake at the sight

Glories stream from heaven afar

Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia

Christ, the Savior is born

Christ, the Savior is born

 

Silent night, holy night

Son of God love’s pure light

Radiant beams from thy holy face

With the dawn of redeeming grace

Jesus, Lord at thy birth

Jesus, Lord at thy birth

 

The night Jesus was born must have been a whirlwind of activity. First, Joseph and Mary couldn’t find a hotel room. Then Mary went into labor in a barn and gave birth as a young teenage girl. And none of that is to mention angels appearing out of a dark night sky scaring the shepherds to death!

And all of that was just the beginning. The next day began the 33 years of Jesus’ life; years that can be described as anything but peaceful and silent.

I don’t know if you have ever had the experience of being in the eye of a hurricane. It is a unique moment that is hard to adequately explain. I have had the experience twice. Once in Hurricane Alicia when I was really little, and a second time in Hurricane Ike. I remember being inside the house as the winds pounded for hours shaking the house and the windows. I could hear debris slapping against the roof and the walls. Then in the middle, suddenly there was this calm stillness. And silence. It’s this moment of peace with storms having passed and more on the way.

Many of us have held a newborn child at some and understand the joy and hope that new life brings. If you’re a parent, you probably remember that moment of holding your child for the first time, having come through the journey of labor, and knowing that everything would be different from that point on.

But on Christmas, the baby was not just any baby. He was the incarnation of God himself. The night probably wasn’t perfectly silent, but it was full of promise that everything would be different from that point on, not just for Mary and Joseph, but for the entire world.

It was the promise of salvation to a world desperately needing peace and rest.

Our own lives are rarely silent either. But, no matter the noise, chaos, or storm we are facing, we can experience this joy, hope, peace, and love in the presence of Christ our King.


 

Heart of the Song: O Come All Ye Faithful

The Christmas story opens in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. Joseph and a very pregnant Mary had traveled a long way to the hometown of their family to participate in a census decreed by Caesar Augustus. The local inns were over-crowded and so Mary and Joseph found themselves settled down for the night among livestock and cattle as Mary delivered the Savior of the world.

Meanwhile, not too far away, a group of shepherds were keeping watch over their flock, undoubtedly unsuspecting of the wonders they would behold a few hours later.

In that day, being a shepherd meant taking constant care of your flock. It wasn’t a lucrative business, and these men were often viewed more as nomads than actual community members. This is probably why the shepherds had not dispersed to be counted in their home-lands like the rest of the country. They simply weren’t considered significant enough to count.

And so it was that this particular group of shepherds were resting with their flock in the fields outside Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth. We read their story in Luke chapter 2.

And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

– Luke 2:9-12

O come, all ye faithful,

joyful and triumphant!

O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem!

Come and behold him,

born the King of angels.

 

O come, let us adore him,

O come, let us adore him,

O come, let us adore him,

Christ the Lord!

 

It’s noteworthy God didn’t choose any of the political or religious leaders of that day or really anyone of “importance” to be the first to hear and spread this news.

The angels could have appeared anywhere and to anyone. Yet God chose this lowly group of unsuspecting men to be the first to hear about the birth of the Messiah — Jesus Christ, God in flesh, born in the middle of the night to young parents and in a stable.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God

and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

– Luke 2:13-14

Sing, choirs of angels,

sing in exultation!

Sing, all ye citizens of heav’n above!

Glory to God, all glory in the highest

 

O come, let us adore him,

O come, let us adore him,

O come, let us adore him,

Christ the Lord!

The shepherds heard the most important news in the history of the world from the mouths of angels of heaven! The long-awaited Messiah had come.

Can you imagine what an utterly overwhelming experience that must have been?

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger…

– Luke 2:15-16

 

Yea, Lord, we greet thee,

born this happy morning;

Jesus, to thee be all glory giv’n!

Word of the Father,

now in flesh appearing

 

O come, let us adore him,

O come, let us adore him,

O come, let us adore him,

Christ the Lord!

 

Shell-shocked and probably filled with wonder, the shepherds dropped everything to seek out the newborn Jesus. They went to find the Messiah; not to ask anything of him; not even to bring him gifts as the Magi would later do. For what did they possibly have to offer?

They simply went to see if it could possibly be true, and to worship him if it was.

They went to adore him.

And after they’d seen him, they went and told as many people as they could what had happened, who had come, and what the angels said about him.

And this is exactly what we do when we gather together and celebrate this same incredible news over 2,000 years later.

When we think about the words of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” singing together with our families and our neighbors and church-family on Christmas Eve, we are reminded of the great lengths to which God went through in order to reconcile us to him. We celebrate Christ’s birth knowing something the shepherds didn’t — what he accomplished in his death and resurrection.

But, on this side of the Gospel, we can still respond in similar fashion to those few humble men: worship.

Our status, wealth, and pasts don’t disqualify us.

We can simply come and adore him, revelling in the splendor and majesty of God’s grace gifted to us through Christ the Lord.


 

Heart of the Song: Angels We Have Heard on High

As a songwriter, there are few things worse than playing for a room full of people who don’t care you’re there.

Here you are singing your soul out, sharing the intimate thoughts and emotions of your heart, and people are content to just keep looking at their phones or talking loudly over their drinks, as if all you are is the background music to their conversation.

On the other hand, few are the moments as significant as a room full of starry-eyed people listening or singing along to their favorite artist journeying alongside them as he or she expresses themself through the art of song.

Now allow me to remind you of the most elaborate, magnificent, awe-inspiring musical display in history you probably don’t know you know about.

The scene is found in Luke chapter 2. Jesus, the King of kings had just been born to a virgin in a grimy stable outside of an inn in the city of Bethlehem. The God of the universe sent his only son to redeem mankind from the tyranny of sin and death.

Now that he was born, the Father wanted to celebrate and announce his arrival.

So, what did he do?

He sent a mighty messenger angel and a multitude of angelic hosts singing the praises of God.

Luke 2:10-14 recounts it:

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
      and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Now, we need to pause for a second and shake off the familiarity of this passage to really appreciate it. We’ve heard this story read time and time again, and we’re all familiar with the song “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

But there’s more to this story than simply recounting a wild night of singing angels.

You see, there’s a brilliant irony hidden inside this text that gives us an insightful glimpse into the heart of God the Father.

The people of Israel had awaited a Messiah — a savior to come and rescue them from the tyrannical Roman government and be the powerful political figure they needed.

What they didn’t realize was that there was a greater enemy than the Roman empire.

They were slaves to sin itself and didn’t know it.

So, on the night of the singing angels, this redeeming King had finally arrived.

Who would be the first to know? Who would be the audience for this grand announcement?

If you’ve ever had a child, who were the first people you told?

Your parents?

Your best friends?

My guess is it was probably the people who would have been most excited. The people who were waiting with anticipation, and upon being informed would probably cry or laugh or jump at the opportunity to come and celebrate this life-changing moment with you.

So, who would be the first to know that King Jesus was born?

Surely it would be the religious elite!

Or perhaps those in political authority.

Even close family members to Mary and Joseph would have made sense.

To whom would God deliver this incredible news on the night of our Savior’s birth?

Well, God, in his infinite wisdom, didn’t choose to reveal this magnificent news to any of those suspecting audiences. Instead, he chose — wait for it — shepherds.

In ancient times shepherds were filthy, smelly, blue collar, non-prestigious outsiders. They weren’t the ones invited to social gatherings, or guests at the important dinners, they were not to be trusted, informed, or honored.

So why would God send his majestic messengers to sing the birth of the King of kings to these guys?

Throughout Scripture we continually see this type of behavior from God.

He often chooses to reveal his heart to and through the least likely characters.

The typical audience of the King’s “concerts” all throughout the gospels were sinners, harlots, the marginalized, and the unclean.

Why is that?

God often invests himself into outcasts and outsiders because they are the ones who will humbly receive what he has to say and do something with it. Those who feel righteous and self-sufficient have no need of a savior or a savior’s song.

The night Jesus was born, the angels appeared to a group of guys who would appreciate it.

Do you think the politically elite, the religious leaders, or even Jesus’ own family members would have appreciated or believed the message of the angels?

They were looking for a savior of their own size and proportions. They had their own expectations, which didn’t include someone who would save them from their sins.

I wonder, if Jesus was born in our time, who would have been the audience at the concert?

Would it have been you or me?

Or would we — do we — overlook the good news of Jesus all the time as it is?

Every single day, the gift of the Gospel, the beauty of another day, and the grace and mercy of God are a sight and song that should leave us exclaiming “In Excelsis Deo!” or “Glory to God in Highest!”

Yet here we are, distracted, staring at our phones, talking loudly over our drinks and missing the majesty of the moment.

Today, we can be the recipients of the Good News. Peace on earth, good will towards men.

If only we’ll listen.


 

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.


 

4 Ways to Host on a Budget

What does it mean to be hospitable?

I think for many people the idea of being hospitable means we must be able to craft a beautiful meal and have a picture-perfect home that could be featured on HGTV.

When that’s our standard it’s easy to see why so many people are hesitant to open their homes and host people.

The truth is, hospitality has very little to do with the food or the state of your home. There are no set rules for what this is supposed to look like. We’re simply called to love the people in front of us with what God has given us, be it little or much.

So, what if it’s little?

I know many of us truly desire to serve people in our homes but are working with tight budgets that can make the whole idea feel stressful.

If that’s you don’t worry! There are inexpensive and practical ways to welcome people into your home without breaking your budget.

Here are four budget-friendly ideas that can easily aid you as a host:

1. Make a Plan

Being hospitable isn’t something that happens automatically, it’s something you must choose to be intentional about. I’m not a natural planner, but I’ve come to learn that if I don’t plan to spend intentional time with friends and neighbors, it will never happen. Our schedule will fill up or we will be “too tired,” when the time comes.

A few years ago, my husband and I sat down and made a list of the people we hoped to share a meal with that year. We looked at our calendar to see what nights of the week we routinely had available and committed to keep those nights open, dedicating one night a week to inviting someone to share a meal with us. Planning ahead helped us create regular rhythms of hospitality in our home, and also helped in budgeting time and resources accordingly. 

2. Allow Others to Contribute

One of the first things people tend to ask when someone has invited them to their home is “what can I bring?” Often we respond with “Nothing! Just bring yourself!”

That may seem like the most hospitable way to respond, but, by not allowing others to contribute, you are putting more of the burden on yourself while also denying your guests an opportunity to serve you. Simply let guests, who offer, bring something you know they can easily go grab at the store. If you are planning to have a larger group of people over, share the cost by planning a meal in which everyone can easily contribute. Make a list of all the things people can bring to complete the meal.

Remember, the whole point of the meal is not just eating, but creating an opportunity to spend time with people you love. When you allow others to contribute, not only will it cost you less, but it will save you time, and everyone sharing the meal will be blessed.

3. Be Prepared for the Unexpected

While many opportunities to be hospitable are centered around a planned meal, there can be times that demand spontaneity. You could get a phone call from a friend who just needs to come over and talk, or a neighbor may stop by for a quick chat. Maybe it’s a hot day and you notice your mail carrier would benefit from a cold bottle of water, or perhaps your house is the hub for all the neighbor kids, which means they will probably eat all your food too. It’s good to be prepared for little moments like these with small things on hand to offer.

It could be as simple as keeping your fridge stocked with bottles of water, having extra coffee on hand, or stashing break and bake cookie dough in the freezer just in case.

I also always include one meal I know will feed more than just my family of five. The weeks we don’t end up having people over we get good leftovers. But if we do host, we know there is a meal in the refrigerator ready to share. It’s a win-win all around!

4. Be Yourself

Our lives and homes don’t have to be in perfect order to invite others in. If you wait until everything is just right, you will likely wait forever.

When people see that you have unfinished dishes and dirty laundry in your house and you ordered take out instead of cooking, they aren’t going to judge you, and they aren’t going to wish they hadn’t come over.

Instead, they’ll breathe a sigh of relief knowing you are a real person, just like them. In fact, when you’re truly yourself and let people into your life (your REAL life), it dissipates a lot of pressure and allows for genuine community to flourish.

Being a good host does not mean you need to pay someone to clean your house within an inch of perfection or that you should spend a week’s grocery budget on fine wine and a lavish meal.

When you let go of what the world (and Pinterest) tells you your home should look like and just be who you are — who God created you to be — then your table will begin to look more and more like Jesus’ table which was never so much about the table, but rather who sat around it.

 

So, here’s the moral of the story: you can do this!

And I hope you will!

In the end, few people will remember the quality of that cup of coffee or how perfectly put together your house was. What they won’t forget is the way you opened your doors, welcomed them into your home, and nourished their souls.


 

Who Will Teach Your Kids to Pray?

Our older son was four and our younger son was barely three years old. My older son began his prayer as I had taught: “Dear God, thank you for today. Thank you for Jesus. Please keep us safe. Amen.”

My younger son began his prayer differently. “God. You are so big. You made everything. The trees, the sky, the bugs, the flowers, the whole world…”

As my three-year old rattled out his list of God’s creations, my older son leaned to me and whispered, “He’s just making stuff up. That’s not prayer.” I couldn’t help laughing out loud. I will never forget this even though they likely already have.

Someone taught me to pray, though I don’t remember who.

I have one vague memory of my mom praying with me as a child, but I can’t recall with clarity what we prayed for. Yet, despite my lack of memories, I am certain that my parents prayed regularly, and I would imagine they prayed with me.

After all, someone taught me to pray. Why do I not remember?

This is a topic I constantly ponder in relation to my own children. What will my children remember? Will they remember the first time they learned to pray? Will they remember all the prayers we have spoken over them and with them?

Probably not.

As much as I hate to admit it, I have no control over which memories stick with my kids. Many of our day-to-day activities and conversations have been or will be forgotten.

So, if they don’t remember these specific lessons, is it possible that the pattern of prayer we, as parents, instill will be more impactful than our children’s actual memories of praying?

Our older son is motivated by the facts and is angered by injustice. He is acutely aware of his sin and needs to be reminded of how much he is loved and forgiven by his heavenly Father.

Our younger son is wildly creative and is constantly lost in his thoughts. He is keyed into the beauty of God yet questions the truth of God.

Our daughter is highly aware of her social environment and is often intimidated by it. She prays to God but is frustrated that she can’t see or hear him speaking to her.

Our kids are distinctly different. Their prayers are too.

But, no matter their differences, we hope to teach each of our kids to trace a line back to God with prayer. Or, as C.S. Lewis put it, “to run one’s mind back up the sunbeams to the sun.” We hope that as they experience life – the ups, downs, and everything in between – they will follow the path back to the source of it all.

We teach them to just keep praying.

When our older son feels defeated and angry, we teach him to praise God’s sovereignty and pray for the Spirit to bring his calming peace.

When our younger son isn’t sure that God is who he says he is, we teach him to thank God for his unchanging nature and pray for God’s revealing truth.

When our daughter is insecure about her social surroundings, we teach her to praise God that he promises to be with us and pray for confidence.

To pray is to be with God. To pray is to be in his presence.

The gift of prayer, or the gift of being with God, that we have received through Christ is one we hope our kids will embrace.

To keep praying with them, over them, and for them is a charge to us.

We do not have to pray perfectly. Instead, our aim is to pray every day, in all situations, and in all things, and that by our example our kids will learn to do the same.