In America we will celebrate Thanksgiving this week. It is a time to gather together with family and friends and celebrate with good food—we look forward to it. And yet the realities of living in a broken world don’t disappear because it is a holiday. As you prepare your heart and mind for Thanksgiving, do so with your eyes wide open.
Here are some of the realities you may face.
Is someone missing from your table this year? The sorrow of the passing of a loved one is a grief that will shadow all other joys. There is an empty chair. The loss could be recent or years in the past, no matter the circumstance the absence is heartbreaking. Remember, your Jesus promises to wipe away every tear. You can take both your sorrow and your joy to him. Remember the Christian life holds up both realities at the same time.
So as you enter your thanksgiving meal, aim for genuine expressions of faith in your words. Speak about your joys and speak about your sorrows. Let others help carry this burden of grief, just as your Heavenly Father carries it with you.
Will you be alone this year? Has work or school, military service, singleness, divorce, or an empty nest left you facing the holiday season on your own? Or have you isolated yourself from friends and family? When we are able to celebrate with loved ones, we easily forget that there is a lot of hype in our culture about happiness and tradition that is actually very empty. Even so, when we are alone, we can sense the emptiness more keenly. The result is often a feeling of being even more alone.
Remember, your Lord is near. You are never alone. As a believer you are united to your brothers and sisters around the world. Take time to ponder what that great feast will be like in Heaven and what it will mean to never again experience aloneness.
Is there division in your family? Are you worried about going home to judgment, demeaning looks, and harsh words? Is there a person who is unpredictable, who flips on a dime and can ruin any good gathering? Have you caused division? Broken relationships create an environment of uncertainty and fear. It makes families not want to be together. And as the years pass the hope of change fades to the past.
Don’t lose heart. Have courage. Take up the call to love, to intervene, to repent, to move toward. Pray now that God will go with you. Pray for discernment. Ask God to show you what wise love looks like and does.
Do you have much to be grateful for? Does the newness of a relationship have you relishing every moment? Are your children all at home, your heritage near and beautiful? Has the Lord restored a broken relationship once considered to be beyond repair? Your experience of God’s blessing shouldn’t end only in gratitude.
Let your joy move you outward in compassion. Be on the lookout for who you can love. Let your speech (in person and on social media) reflect a gentle compassion for the many around you who need encouragement and love. Who can you visit? Who can you call?
You do have much to be grateful for. After Jesus ascended into heaven, we as believers entered a season of thanksgiving. The Savior is reigning in heaven. Hallelujah! We have this joy in common regardless of where we come from. We are all heading to a feast that no one can match, to sit at a table with our Savior. At this feast, no one is missing. You are surrounded by other joyous believers. And peace will reign.
Whatever your circumstances, keep your eyes wide open to this final reality. Allow it to cheer you, to comfort you, to humble you, to influence all you say and do this Thanksgiving.
There is a song by dear friends to our ministry called Suppertime. David and Sharon Covington are musicians living in California. As you take time to listen to this song, notice its multiple meanings. It points to the ordinary delights of family. It references our participation in the Lord’s Supper. And it celebrates the Great Wedding Banquet to which the Lord has invited us.
Enjoy these three additional free resources:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19–21
Why does Jesus tell us to seek treasure in heaven? Isn’t it a bit selfish to do good if we’re just doing it to build up capital in some eternal bank account? For years I felt uncomfortable with Jesus’ command to seek rewards, crowns and treasure. I knew heavenly treasure had to be a good thing, but I tried to keep my focus on seeking the kingdom because it was the right thing to do. I remember when a friend said he didn’t know what getting crowns in heaven meant, but we were just going to throw them at Jesus’ feet anyway, so he wasn’t going to worry about it. Relieved, I put the idea of heavenly treasure on the shelf, trusting God would work it all out in the long run.
Now, when you don’t understand something in the Bible, trusting God to work it all out in the end is not a bad response! But I’ve come to realize that I was missing something important—something Jesus emphasized for a reason. God’s promise of heavenly treasure is not a concession for our selfishness. Instead, it is the key to connecting his command to love our neighbor with a growing hunger for heaven!
The connection is this: God himself will be our joy and delight in heaven, which means we will truly, and without the limitations of our sinfulness, treasure what God treasures there. And what does he treasure? We could give many answers—his glory might be the best summary answer—but Ephesians 1:18 offers something surprising: we are his treasure, we are his rich and glorious inheritance! Now, if we are made to treasure what God treasures—and what he treasures is his redeemed children—then there is one inescapable conclusion we must draw:
Your brothers and sisters in Christ are one of your heavenly treasures.
Because they are the riches of Christ’s inheritance, your brothers and sisters in Christ are a glorious testimony to his saving grace, a stupefying jewel in his holy crown, set there by the unsearchable depths of his mercy.
Why This Matters
Why does this matter? It matters because the call to seek heavenly treasure is connected to the call to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12–13)
When we see our spiritual siblings as our treasure, we suddenly find enormous incentive to invest in their good. When friends in your small group, or a challenging spouse, or a co-worker are your treasure for all eternity, stepping into trials with them to support and encourage them in seeking Christ is an opportunity, not a chore. Loving your neighbor becomes a chance to develop, polish and invest in something that will still be a delight to you in ten thousand years! There is enormous power in the realization that every person who becomes more like Christ, in even the slightest way because of you, will be part of your treasure in heaven.
This reality has touched down in two areas for me recently. First, it’s shaped how I think about parenting. I confess that far too often I lose sight of parenting as a gift and precious calling to raise my kids in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I get impatient, distracted, and I can treat my kids more like an inconvenience than a privilege, much less a treasure. But I’m slowly waking up to the staggering promise Jesus gives that every cup of cold water given in his name brings a reward that cannot be lost—and that little reward is sitting right in front of me (Matthew 10:42). This helps me be patient with my children’s sin and sass, knowing both discipline and mercy are cultivating fruit that will be a blessing infinitely longer than the frustration of the moment. Anything that makes heavenly treasure out of helping a four-year-old clean her mom’s stolen lip gloss off the wall is too important to miss.
Second, it’s changing my small talk. I suspect I’m like most people and don’t enjoy small talk. It often seems like people keep conversations going to avoid awkwardness while they search for the opportune moment to politely escape each other. This mentality is folly when I’m across from someone in whom I have a stake, in whose Christlikeness I have a vested interest! This doesn’t mean every thirty-second interaction in the hall after church has to become a counseling session, or that I can’t politely exit a conversation and move on. It does mean I’m learning to see even a thirty-second connection as a foretaste of heaven, where I get a sample of the feast God is preparing that will someday bring me to awestruck worship. It means the kindness, concern, love, prayer and compassion we give in thirty seconds will make a difference that endures for eternity.
When your brother and your sister are your treasure, no act of love is lost. Indeed, you will surely not lose your reward, for your reward is the very brother or sister you are serving.
Making it Personal
Let me suggest three ways you might put this perspective to work in your own life. First, when you pray for someone to grow in Christ, you have the certain hope that every time you ask for anything on behalf of another, God will either say “yes” or do something even better in response. What comfort that he answers our prayers in ways beyond what we even know to ask. Prayer, then, is a way to pour spiritual riches into another person’s life, and those riches in that person will be your heavenly reward!
Second, you add to your heavenly treasure by encouraging others. Name the good things you see, the work of God’s Spirit, and the gifts He has given. Encouragement helps someone gain clarity about how to pursue Christlikeness in his or her life and provides motivation to press deeper into the good work God is already doing.
My third application may surprise you—it’s confession of sin. How does your confession build treasure in others? Confession augments the riches of God’s inheritance in another person listening to you, because every time you confess your sin to brothers or sisters you give them a front row seat to the power of the gospel. Every time you name your failings of will and deed, you affirm the power of God to forgive and redeem. You demonstrate the trustworthiness of the gospel by leaning on it with all your weight, risking certain ruin if Jesus doesn’t catch you. I have seen time and again in my life how the culture of openness about sin and struggle in the church I attended growing up taught me that sin was a terrible problem, but that it was no match for grace. When you take the gospel seriously enough to confess your sin before another Christian, you invite someone else to taste and see that the mercy of the Lord is good.
The point of recognizing our treasure in each other is not to pat ourselves on the back, or take the focus off of God’s glory. Rather, I hope we will be energized to love Christ and his people more and more as we realize how generous he is to share the riches of his inheritance in his saints with us. How great is the love of the Father for us that he would choose to make us heirs of his eternal kingdom with Christ, and invite us to the banquet his Spirit is laying out. May Jesus’ promise of reward make us hunger and thirst to see our brothers and sisters mature into full fruitfulness.
This article was originally published in CCEF’s annual magazine, CCEF NOW.Download Issue
“Less of me and more of Christ.”
“I need to empty myself and be a vessel filled by the Spirit.”
These comments evoke John the Baptist’s words, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30), or the Apostle Paul’s, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). And indeed, we hope that Jesus is more prominent than ourselves. We want our selfishness to be increasingly jettisoned, and we know that we will have more of Jesus when we see him face-to-face. But, we also have no reason to envision some kind of personal extinction as if we were possessed by or absorbed into Jesus. Somehow as we have more of Christ, we also become more ourselves.
I was out to dinner with my wife and some good friends recently. As I enjoyed edifying conversation and hearing about details from their lives, it was clear that this was much better than an evening alone with a piece of pizza and the New Yorker. Somehow, in fellowship with others, I came home more fully me. They sparked interests, gave new perspectives, let me see the work of the Spirit in them, and were people to love. I came home feeling a little more alive. I knew more of how I fit into the larger body of Christ. Fellowship makes us more fully ourselves.
I remember when I first noticed a fuller Moses while reading Scripture. Moses has an interesting biography, but you see him in his fullest form when he is engaged in relationships. Watch him engage with the Lord (Ex. 33). Moses makes it clear that they were not moving if only an angel led them. It was the Lord or nothing. And then watch him as he stands on behalf of Miriam after her actions against him (Num. 12). When you see Moses personally involved with the Lord and with his people, he so often looks magnificent.
We were made to lose ourselves but not by being identical to the Lord or anonymous to other people. We were created to walk with them, fit with them, complement and love them. Faith itself is relational engagement in which we know and respond to Jesus. And, when faith and love are animated in our relationships, we look more unique, more full of life because this is God’s intent for us and this is how the Spirit of God works among us.
The video recording of the CCEF Live online workshop – Five Ways to Improve Communication in Daily Ministry by Alasdair Groves.
Think of emotions as a language. They say something—something very important—and part of our job is to figure out what they are saying.
Sometimes the interpretation is easy. A friend says, “I feel so afraid.” She is saying that a threat looms to something that is important to her.
Got it. We hear her correctly. Now there is much we can do. We want to know more about the real or perceived threat, and we want to know how to bring God’s words to her heart. But the message is fairly clear.
Sometimes the meaning is harder to decipher. When my eight-month-old granddaughter cries, what is she trying to tell us? Since she does not have a large range of sounds, there could be a dozen different messages.
Leave me alone, I want Mom.
My leg is caught in the crib again.
I am hungry.
My brothers are trying to smother me with love.
I like hearing my noises.
Carrots are not among my favorite foods.
This is way too much stimulation for me.
My grandfather is the best.
And so on.
In a similar way, our emotional language is often not very precise. There are only eight or so families of emotions, and a lot gets packed into them. Sometimes we don’t even know what is going inside ourselves. The psalmist asks: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” (Psalm 42:5). If we don’t even know the emotional language of our own soul, how can we discern the intent of those around us? Is it shame that inhabits their fears? Is fear the core of their despondency? And though the meaning of their anger might seem obvious—“I AM NOT GETTING WHAT I WANT” (James 4:1-2)—anger can also be fear, self-protection, shame, despair, aloneness, and more. To complicate things a little more, a disrupted body and brain can send emotional signals that simply say, “I am sick.”
With all this in mind, here are a few clear guidelines.
Figuring out the message in someone’s emotions may take time and commitment, but it is a great work of love and leads us in that process of knowing and being known, which is a key feature of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Every couple of months it is worth drawing up a fresh husband policy. We can always benefit from a little sharpening of our marital calling, goals, and intentions. Lately, I have been thinking about responsibility.
I am responsible for my marriage. I take this from Paul’s discussion on marriage in Ephesians, which begins, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church” (5:25).
Responsible is not…
Responsible is not shared responsibility with my wife. I find the idea of shared responsibility dangerous. It is where my laziness is on full display. Shared responsibility is no responsibility. We share responsibility for dishes? I am busy right now, so she can do that. We share responsibility for an overnight with the grandkids? I am busy with the lawn and casually pruning a few bushes, so she can shepherd the little ones. We share responsibility for each other’s spiritual welfare? That does not sharpen my job description either. Shared responsibility can be my default lack-of-strategy in marriage, so for me at least, it is not responsibility.
Better, I think, is that I am responsible—period. I hope she is too, but, whether she is or not, I am still responsible. As an analogy, I work as a counselor, and I am responsible for what goes on in those meeting times. This means that I come prepared: I have prayed, thought, organized, and considered our future course. I hope those I meet with are also responsible. I hope the process is collaborative. We are, after all, walking together, in the same direction. If we get off track, I am responsible to sort out why and how to get us moving again. The other person, I hope, joins me in that task and is willing to correct when needed. This is closer to what I aim for in marriage.
My target here is my own relational laziness, especially when my marriage seems relatively good. Apparent prosperity abets my laziness. I want nothing that could possibly minimize my responsibilities which are to pray for our marriage, pray for my wife, take spiritual initiatives during our times together, share the important features of my thoughts, and invite her to speak of her pleasures, personal struggles and marital concerns. My responsibility is to love her in an increasingly active and noticeable way, like Jesus Christ loves his bride and in his power.
An eight-year-old boy was angry with his father. As his father was leaving the house, the boy said to him “I hope you don’t come back.”
And he didn’t—a car accident, he died on impact. The boy, now seventy-five, remains haunted by his words.
A child would not fully understand, but an adult does: with life’s uncertainty in mind, we are especially careful with our words and relationships.
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Ps. 90:12)
But we don’t often act on this knowledge because we assume there will be plenty of opportunities to say more in the future. So why rush, especially if our pride is at stake.
My wife was leaving the next day for a two-week mission trip to Africa. Two weeks might not seem that long, but, at least with her, I tend to think of time apart in three categories. One, we don’t see each other during the day but we do in the evening. This is common and tolerable. Two, one of us is gone for one to six overnights. These are hard, but to be expected in a fallen world. Three, one of us is gone for seven overnights or longer. This is equivalent to eternity. So this was a long trip.
As we sat down together on the eve of her leaving, we hit a minor glitch. I did something “in jest” that I had done before. She didn’t think—and had never thought—it was funny, and life suddenly got tense. In the past, I fumbled through these times with explanations of my intentions and other unhelpful attempts to bring peace. This time, on the precipice of her leaving “for eternity,” the road ahead was clear, compelling and surprisingly easy.
“I am so sorry for doing that. Please forgive me,” I said. “I am such an idiot who doesn’t listen to you. I know that what I did bothers you. I am so sorry.” I was willing to do whatever it took to bring real reconciliation.
She smiled at my newly found humility and quickly forgave me.
Scripture has varied means of persuading us to follow Jesus. I know its plea to reconcile quickly (e.g., Eph. 4:26-27), though I can procrastinate when my pride is especially active. This time, that plea was coupled with my acute sense of our numbered, brief and unpredictable days. It was just what I needed. And this way of wisdom would bless so many who will live with regrets if they go a different path.
In a culture of experts and specialists, it is easy to get the idea that only specially-trained people can do the hard stuff. But that’s not how the Church works. We’re the body of Christ and there are no unnecessary or unimportant parts. We are all called to bring the love of Christ to bear in one another’s lives—pastors, parents, spouses, friends, neighbors, one and all. For some very good reasons, the Lord delights in using the most unlikely members to advance the boundaries of his reign.
This is the essence of the Side by Side conference.
Throughout the Old Testament, God chooses the runt of the litter to save the world from famine or secure the safety of Israel. His judges can be found hiding rather than rallying men into battle—they were, by no means, born leaders. When we come to the New Testament, we find disciples who were unlikely agents of change, women who were known by their sins, and tax collectors who were seen as corrupt. So if you feel like an unworthy misfit, you are the perfect candidate for God to use.
As one who certainly can feel inadequate, I find this very encouraging. I will be fruitful as I abide in Jesus (John 15:5). Repentance, humility, forgetting about myself, considering the interests of others, praying for others—those are more important than innate gifts.
For all of us, this means that we are more motivated to grow in love and ministry skill. Instead of resting in our lack of credentials, we are energized. It is like a great coach saying to a young, unaccomplished athlete, “You have what it takes to win Olympic gold.” That youngster will suddenly be the first one at practice, the last to leave and will work harder than anyone. Similarly, when we are told that we will be fruitful because of Christ and not because of ourselves, we become more determined to find wisdom and be skillful in how we help others.
While pastors lead us in these efforts, they aren’t called to do it all, or even most of it. Rather they are specially tasked to call the rest of us to important action: training and doing some heavy lifting (Eph. 4:11-12).
Both the book Side by Side and the CCEF conference are designed to help pastors mobilize the church and help all of us continue to amass skills that can bless others. Since God promises to use us ordinary people, if you come to the conference bring a voracious appetite for new skills and expect to be using them by Sunday afternoon.More info
At the heart of the romance novel is the thrill of being desired—irresistibly, intoxicatingly desired. And since that genre is the most frequently visited Internet category among women, there is a lot of “desiring to be desired” out there. A lot. Since men’s idolatries get most of the attention, this is a short meditation aimed at bringing fairness to this imbalance.
The desire to be desired fits nicely into the story of evolution. The female must attract males in order to contribute to the survival of the species. So, she needs to get out there and be desirable. Some animals use vocalizations, others use physical displays. Humans use both. And human mothers seem pleased to help. They are often quite invested in helping their female offspring become highly desirable.
This cycle, however, is a disaster for humans. It is de-evolution. The desire to be desired did not serve those mothers very well. If they allow themselves a moment to reflect, misery was always close by. Perhaps the reason they pass it on to their daughters is that they have no viable alternative.
Sadly, the porn industry can profit from women with this desire. Some women pose nude because the thought of men desiring them is satisfying. It is horribly dehumanizing and shameful, but temporarily satisfying. Then other women have to compete with the women who pose nude, which is impossible but one has to try. They are always wondering who their spouses or boyfriends are really desiring.
Some women get married. But what are they to do when their husbands no longer seem to desire them, or someone else desires them more than their husbands? Divorce and aging can make the desperation even worse. Ugh.
The Way Out
The only way out of this bondage is fairly well known: desire being desired less, and desire God more. To desire less is done through confession and repentance. What could you confess? Narcissism, self-worship, fear of aloneness, a conviction that God is not so good—when possible, reach for something that is ruthlessly accurate.
To desire God more? That is a hard but wonderful path that can make you feel alive and satisfied.
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. (Ps. 73:25)
He fulfills the desire of those who fear him. (Ps. 145:19)
This is what we want to pass on to our children.
But the way out is not something we can easily find by ourselves. Just as men benefit when they talk to other men about their struggle with porn, women will be helped when they talk with each other about their struggle with being desired. So as the church mobilizes against pornography and for desiring God with men, it can also mobilize against the need to be desired and for desiring God with women. What we aim for is to be amazed that God desires us for himself.