By / Nov 25

For many, love, family, and favorite foods stir up happy dreams of coming home for the holidays. For others, gathering with family is more like a nightmare. Dashed hopes, unmet expectations, and disappointments lead to family fissures and intentional distancing. While this applies to any family relationship, this can be particularly difficult with in-laws. But, in the midst of what seems impossible, the good news is that God can bring hope into the most hopeless and hard relationships.

Everyone has a dream

The mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship can be especially complex. Each woman comes to the newly-created family with a dream. A mother-in-law may dream of carrying on with her traditions. Or, she may look at the relationship as a way to start over and make right what she did wrong in the past. Likewise, a daughter-in-law may dream of starting traditions of her own. And while she knows confidence in her new role will take time, she expects respect for her desire and effort. 

So, what could go wrong with wanting to spend time together as a family? Us! Our broken world and our own broken hearts stain our best efforts. Sin twists our good desires into unreasonable expectations. Unmet expectations can lead us to manipulate or guilt trip those we love best, and we get full of anger and resentment. But our emotions shouldn’t control us. We can ask God to show us where our good desires went wrong and plead for the grace to change. 

One year I started to dream of a holiday celebration with those I love most. Like a playwright, I turned my precious dreams into a complete story. I planned to a fault. I wrote mental notes of every scene imaginable. No one had access to the script, but I expected everyone to play their part in my dream perfectly. It didn’t take long, though, to realize that each person in my family came with their own dreams. I was surprised and hurt by unmet expectations.  

I’ve recently written a book with my daughter-in-law Stacy titled, Making Room for Her: Biblical Wisdom for a Healthier Relationship with Your Mother-In-Law or Daughter-In-Law. Writing together has helped us have some good conversations. We’ve learned a lot about loving each other well. Frustrations are certain. But we need to remember that we love each other, and our expectations usually arise out of good intentions. 

A better dream

Though working through these relationships can be frustrating, the answer isn’t to throw our hands up in the air and give up. God created relationships to help us see what his real love looks like. Your relationship with your mother-in-law or daughter-in-law — and every family member — is no exception. Our relationships are designed to not only show us what God’s love for us looks like, but also so that we can embody that kind of love. If you give up now, you’ll miss out on a chance not only to know God better, but to become more like him. 

Maybe you think, “Holidays will always be tough. You don’t know my in-law. I can’t love her. I’ve tried and tried — nothing I do makes any difference.” Here’s the truth: When you received Christ’s salvation by faith, God forgave you, and he did not leave you to try and live the Christian life on your own. He filled you with his Spirit (Gal. 3:14), and will do in you what you cannot do for yourself (Gal. 5:13–15; 22–23). 

Love for your in-law is the fruit that grows in your life by the Spirit’s power working in you. Notice what this means: You cannot produce this love on your own. Let this truth encourage you. Love is a fruit of the Spirit. If you could naturally love your in-law, it would be a fruit of your personality or your emotional intelligence. True love never happens without God’s Spirit working in you. 

God’s bigger dreams 

How does love keep growing in your heart? The same way it began: by faith in God. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). And God’s Word assures us that he loves us and will give us all we need to produce the fruit of love. Even in the most difficult of in-law relationships, God fills us with his Spirit so we keep growing in his love by faith. Only he can do it, so let’s ask him. Here are a few ways you can pray for you in-law relationships this season. 

Ask God for love. Pray for more love for him, your husband, and your in-law. Commit to pray for your in-law. Let your life and words be filled with courtesy and grace. 

Ask God for contentment. Pray for rest in your in-law role (Phil. 4:10–13). Take stock of how God blesses you every day, no matter how your role changes. Add your in-law to your list of blessings. Embrace her as a companion to your entire family. Realize her presence brims with beautiful potential. Trust in the Lord and take delight in him (Psa. 37:3–6). Commit your way to him and he will give you more love, joy, and peace. Choose to view your in-law in the ways you hope she’d view you. Trust God to help you grow to cherish her presence in your life.

Ask God to help you recognize your blind spots. Pray he’s help you repent quickly of jealousy and pride. Stop comparisons. Don’t view your relationship as a competition. Your in-law does not have it all. She needs your support, not your insecurity. Just like you, your in-law has problems, trials, and weaknesses. Ask God to help you learn to celebrate your in-law’s joy and success. Seek to reconcile, not to win. 

Ask God to help you forgive. The natural barriers between mothers- and daughters-in-law can make unforgiveness grow. We all need constant reminders to forgive. Has she hurt you? Has she wounded you? Ask God for a heart to forgive any slights. Don’t wait until you feel like it or she apologizes. Talk to her when the time is appropriate, and be ready to forgive her. Committed love promises forgiveness. And do not allow self-pity to eat away at your relationship. As you repent and forgive, God will teach you to love your in-law for who she is, not for what she will give you (Eph. 4:31–32). 

Our dreams for the holidays and for our lives are so small. God’s dream is always greater than we can imagine (Eph. 3:20). Your relationship with your in-law is a building block toward God’s greater vision. Begin now to ask Christ to make your in-law relationship part of his strong foundation for many faithful generations of your family to come (Isa. 58:12) — and to make this a happier, enjoyable holiday. 

By / Nov 20

In this episode, Josh, Brent, and Lindsay discuss Coronavirus being as bad as it has ever been, the CDC warning people not to travel for Thanksgiving, the FDA approving at home rapid tests, Biden filling the west wing, and Michael J. Fox. Lindsay also gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Jared Kennedy with “Why every Christian should care about family ethics: Understanding what the Bible teaches and recognizing we’re all part of a family,” Jamie Aten and Kent Annan with “What you need for Spiritual First Aid during COVID: Biblical and research-based guidance to help churches respond to needs in a disaster-filled world,” and the ERLC staff with an Explainer on “What you should know about the COVID-19 RNA vaccines.” Also in this episode, the hosts are joined by Dr. Russell Moore for a conversation about life and ministry. 

About Dr. Moore

Russell Moore is President of the ERLC. In this role, he leads the organization to connect the agenda of the kingdom of Christ to the cultures of local congregations for the sake of the gospel. He holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of several books, including The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home, and The Courage to Stand Facing Your Fear without Losing Your Soul. He and his wife Maria are the parents of five boys. You can connect with him on Twitter: @drmoore

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. It’s as bad as ever
  2. CDC Warning for Thanksgiving
  3. FDA approves first rapid at-home test
  4. Biden fills his West Wing
  5. Race To 2020
  6. RUMOR VS. REALITY
  7. Americans’ finances are in best shape in decades
  8. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Authorizes First COVID-19 Test for Self-Testing at Home
  9. The Lucira COVID-19 All-In-One Test Kit
  10. Michael J. Fox is retiring from acting due to declining health

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By / Nov 19

Parenting is hard work. And sometimes the hardest part is maintaining a clear focus on the goal. As a follower of Jesus, my primary goal is to lead my kids to be followers of Jesus. I want them to see him and respond to him with grateful hearts. And so, our attempts to raise thankful kids is rooted in our desire to lead them to respond to the gospel.

Growing in gratitude as a family is more about heart cultivation than behavior modification. We think about it, pray about it, and are trying to be intentional with our boys. But the jury is still out on whether we will have any measure of success in helping our sons develop thankful hearts. While we don’t have what I’d call a comprehensive plan, there are some foundational convictions that guide our efforts.  

Here are four practical steps we take as we pursue the development of our kids in the area of thankfulness:

1. Ask God to give you a tender, thankful heart.

Pride, entitlement, bitterness, and discontent quickly choke out humility and gratitude. I must ask God to “create in me a clean heart.” Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” When we truly believe that everything we have and experience is an unearned favor from God, then the overflow (what comes out of our mouths) will be genuine gratitude. And the more I express thanks to God, the more that will produce gratitude toward others. Remember Paul told the Corinthian church, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). The scariest thing about parenting is that our kids often follow our lead. They imitate us. That’s why gratitude has to begin with us.

The root of our discipleship efforts with our kids is directly tied to our own pursuit of discipleship. We won’t be able to lead our kids to anything if we’re not actively pursuing and practicing it ourselves. “Do as I say and not as I do” is not an effective discipleship strategy, unless hypocrisy is what you are going for. The honest truth is that we will never consistently advocate for something in others that we don’t first value for ourselves. Learning to recognize and respond to acts of kindness, small and great, is key to cultivating and maintaining a humble heart.    

We won’t be able to lead our kids to anything if we’re not actively pursuing and practicing it ourselves.

2. Make thanksgiving a primary part of your family prayer times.

One of the major things we ask our kids to do when they pray is express thanks to God. Often, we lead them by asking simple questions: What did you enjoy today? What was the best part of your day? This is a critical part of our family prayer times every night. We also use mealtime prayers to genuinely call out the goodness of God. It’s important to acknowledge that what is on the table is God’s doing, his provision. Whether they understand it or not, they need to hear that we are sustained and kept by the goodness of Jesus. During these family prayer times, we repeatedly express gratitude for the gospel. Neither of my sons have surrendered themselves to Jesus, but they regularly articulate thanks for the cross and the sacrifice of Jesus. And I’m hopeful that one day those expressions of gratitude will lead to conviction and repentance.

3. Say “thank you” a LOT as a family!

It’s easy to take things for granted, to assume blessings and kindness. But when we talk about the many good things we experience and express gratitude, we help each other notice generosity. But don’t just focus on current experiences. Recall past grace. Help your kids remember the trail of goodness behind them. The blessings of the past are still worthy of thanksgiving. As parents, we need to say “thank you” to our kids. They need to hear that we appreciate and value their expressions of kindness and care for us and each other. My mother was a huge proponent of writing thank you notes, and we’ve tried to continue that with our boys. Formulating ways to articulate your gratitude in writing drives it further down in your heart. I told my oldest just the other week, “You become what you do.” The more you speak words of thanks, the better chance you have of becoming genuinely thankful.

Requiring our kids to say “thank you” won’t guarantee a grateful heart, but not saying it will surely lead them to thanklessness. Repeating it is a steady reminder that I didn’t do this myself, someone did it for me. I didn’t deserve it or earn it. Saying “thank you” is an acknowledgement of God’s grace, not our goodness.

4. Give them chores and opportunities to serve.

Nothing breeds entitlement quite like having everything handed to you without any effort or responsibility. Our boys can easily think it’s nothing to keep the house clean, the jungle of our yard tamed, and a steady supply of clean clothes in their closet. Giving them responsibility in our home can cultivate a new appreciation that leads to thankfulness. Help your kids find ways to serve each other, and capture opportunities to serve as a family. When you give yourself away for the sake of others, you are reminded of the One who gave himself away for you. And that should cause your heart to erupt with thanks.

God-honoring gratitude is more of a gospel response than a social grace. In every part of our parenting we should be laying a framework for how our kids should respond to God. But if we aren’t careful we can focus on what is socially acceptable and miss the heart of growing in gratitude. We want to lead our kids to recognize the overwhelming goodness of God demonstrated in the gospel and in every good gift we receive. And we want them to respond to others from the overflow of understanding how God has treated us Christ Jesus.     

In a culture that’s consumed with outward appearances and social media profiles, we can easily get caught up in making sure our kids act right. When they excel in the social graces it may make us look good, but I am reminded that while we are impressed with outward appearances, God is searching hearts. He’s looking for humble hearts, grateful hearts.    

By / Nov 23

Today, Americans celebrate a national holiday set aside to give thanks for the blessings of the preceding year. But there is more to Thanksgiving than you may realize. Here are five facts you should know about the holiday:

1. The Pilgrims who traveled on the Mayflower and landed on Cape Cod were not the first Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving. The “Feast of the First Thanksgiving” was held near El Paso, Texas in 1598 — twenty-three years before the Pilgrims' festival. And at the Berkeley Plantation on the James River in Virginia, settlers celebrated Thanksgiving on December 4th, 1619 — two years before the Pilgrims' festival. As historian Robert Tracy McKenzie, author of The First Thanksgiving, notes, the early Plymouth settlers celebrated in 1621 could more accurately be called the “First American Protestant Christian Thanksgiving North of Virginia and South of Maine.”

2. The first Thanksgiving at Plymouth was a secular event that was not repeated. (A Calvinist Thanksgiving occurred in 1623 and did not involve sharing food with the Native Americans.) 52 Pilgrims and approximately 50 Native Americans attended that celebration. According to participant Edward Winslow, the feast consisted of corn, barley, fowl (including wild turkeys), and venison.

3. George Washington was the first to issue a presidential Thanksgiving proclamation. On October 3, 1789 in New York City, Washington proclaimed Thursday the 26th of November 1789 a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” devoted to “the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” The Continental Congress supported similar thanksgiving proclamations through 1784. President Jefferson, however, opposed this type of proclamation, saying, “"I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises…Certainly no power to prescribe any religious exercise, or to assume authority in religious discipline, has been delegated to the general government. …But it is only proposed that I should recommend, not prescribe a day of fasting and prayer.”

4. Sarah Josepha Hale, an editor and the author of the classic nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, is the person most responsible for making Thanksgiving a national holiday. Prior to 1863, the holiday was largely a celebration held in New England and unknown in the Southern states. Hale proposed that it be a national holiday in 1846 and advocated it for 17 years before convincing Abraham Lincoln to support legislation establishing a national holiday of Thanksgiving in 1863.

5. For 75 years after Lincoln issued his Thanksgiving Proclamation, succeeding presidents honored the tradition and annually issued their own Thanksgiving Proclamation, declaring the last Thursday in November as the day of Thanksgiving. However, in 1939 the last Thursday of November was going to be November 30. Retailers complained to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that this only left 24 shopping days to Christmas and convinced him to move Thanksgiving up one week earlier. Since it was believed most people do their Christmas shopping after Thanksgiving, retailers thought having an extra week of shopping would encourage Americans to spend more.    

By / Nov 24

Some of us can’t wait until the holiday season gets here. Others, if we’re honest, can’t wait until it’s over. These days will be filled with food, sports, and for many of us, lots and lots of friends and family. The different types of people—and various dysfunctions—can be overwhelming. Gathering together can cause a mix of emotions to arise, and all of this often converges at our holiday gatherings around a dinner table.

In these moments, it’s easy to become distracted, detached or even fake in the way that we interact with the people around us. We chalk up these reactions to “just getting through the day” or even justify them as “keeping the peace.” But underneath all of this is usually a false belief about those around us. It’s easy to forget that our identity is in Christ and, as a result, we resort to treating others as commodities during the holiday season.

In Matthew 22:37-40, Christ speaks of the first and second greatest commandments. He tells the Pharisees, Sadducees and all those who would hear,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

All of scripture can be summed up in these two commandments, and they are to drive everything we do as Christ’s followers. But what does it mean for God’s people to love him with all that they are and to love others as ourselves during the holidays? Instead of getting lost in a game on TV, isolating ourselves with the same group of people year after year, or even putting up a facade of niceness in order to get through the day, we should allow the scriptures to reorient our minds and hearts as we prepare for our holiday gatherings.

I have four suggestions, flowing from these commandments, as we think through our time with family and friends this week:

1. Remember that everyone around you is created in the image of God.

When we gather with a group of people, we’ll often gravitate toward those like us. We might avoid some people based on their lifestyles, political views or even religious views. This natural tendency of all humans is rooted in a prideful arrogance that, without realizing it, denies the fact that all people are created in the image of God, thus having dignity and worth.

It’s easy for us to categorize people based on politics, religion, sexuality, parenting styles or a number of other factors. This categorizing of people is not something that Christians should embrace. Rather, we should seek to remember the fact that we have more in common with everyone around us than we realize.

If believe Christ’s words, then we’ll love our neighbors—regardless of how difficult it is—and seek to be present with them during the time the Lord has ordained for us to be together. As Christians, we need to work to be present with those around us, loving those who many might see as our enemies, rather than broken people created in God’s image, who are worthy of our respect and attention.

2. Remember that some are suffering around you.

How many times this season will you ask or be asked, “How are you doing?” These simple, rote greetings are not harmful in themselves, but they often serve as a way to avoid being present with people and engaging them in conversation. It’s wise to remember that many people that you’ll greet this week aren’t doing well. Many are suffering through various trials. Some are secretly struggling with sin. Others are suffering with illness or infertility. Many are going through marital or familial trials. And some are dealing with extreme loneliness.

Your presence can be a means of God’s grace in their lives. It can be one of the many ways that God reaffirms his love for them during this season. Loving your neighbor this week might be as simple as asking good questions, engaging them in conversation, being careful with your words and affirming your love for them in a tough season.

3. Remember that some are rejoicing around you.

Holiday seasons bring out many joys in our friends and family. Many people around you this week will be rejoicing at God’s provision and grace in their lives. Many will be rejoicing about without even being aware of the grace of God. They might be excited about something you don’t know anything about. Loving your neighbor means taking the time to find out what’s going and rejoicing alongside of them.

Simply asking questions about what excites them and seeking to learn more about their lives can be a simple way of loving your neighbor and being present with them. You might even get an opportunity to speak of where true joy and everlasting peace comes from as you interact.

4. Remember that you are called to be present with those around you.

The ministry of presence is not an easy task, but it’s a worthy task for the people of God. This holiday season, we’re each given a gift of being around those who are made in the image of God. We should take advantage of every moment we have together. We need to remember that our presence will look different with all people because each person we’ll encounter is a person made in God’s image, and many will have a mix of emotions and circumstances. By being there, you can point them to the One who gives hope, comfort for the weary and lasting joy. This might be the first—or one–hundredth—step to developing a deeper relationship with whoever God has put in your life.

Regardless of where you find yourself today and throughout this season, remember the first and second greatest commandments from our Lord. You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. And you are to love your neighbors as yourself by being present with them, despite the desire to avoid conflict, difficulty or sheer discomfort. This task is great, but the Lord has give you his Spirit and will provide the means for you to be his ambassador as you love those around you.

By / Nov 25

The Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony weren't the first Europeans to settle in North America, nor were they the first permanent English colonists. But because of our annual celebration of Thanksgiving, and our hazy images of their 1621 meal with Native Americans, the Pilgrims have become the emblematic colonists in America's national memory. Although modern Thanksgiving has become largely non-religious—focused more on food, family, and football than explicitly thanking God—the Pilgrims' experience reveals a compelling religious aspect of our country's roots.

Although people often refer to the Pilgrims as "Puritans," they technically were English Separatists, Christians who had decided that the state-sponsored Anglican Church was fatally corrupt, and that they should found their own churches. (The Puritans, who would establish Massachusetts in 1630, believed in reforming the Anglican Church from within.) Establishing independent churches, however, was illegal. Under heavy persecution, some Separatists decided to move to Leiden in the Netherlands around the same time that the Virginia Company founded Jamestown in 1607.

The Netherlands offered the Separatists religious liberty, but the Pilgrims also became concerned about the negative influences of living in such a culturally diverse society. So in 1620, 102 settlers sailed to America on board the Mayflower. Their final Old World port was Plymouth, England, which supplied the name for their new settlement in what became southeastern Massachusetts.

All adult men on board the ship signed the "Mayflower Compact," which many consider the first written constitution in American history. It is a very brief document, but it powerfully articulated the colonists' commitment to God and government by common consent. It reads, in part:

"Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation."

Documents such as the Mayflower Compact leave little doubt that the New England colonies were founded primarily for religious purposes.

The Compact noted Plymouth's legal connection to Virginia (they shared the same charter), but their southern neighbors were less motivated by religion than were the New England colonists. Some today may exaggerate the secular nature of Virginia, however; among the first laws of that colony was a demand that the people honor God, to whom they owed their "highest and supreme duty, our greatest, and all our allegiance to him, from whom all power and authoritie is derived." The recent news that the foundations of the oldest Protestant church in America have been discovered at the site of the Jamestown fort also reminds us of the southern colonists' faith.

Although our records for the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth are sparse, we do know that in 1621 the Pilgrims held a three-day celebration with allied Indians, in observation of a good harvest and in gratitude for God's help in passing through the trials of the first year of settlement (half of the settlers had died in that scourging winter). And yes, they had a "great store of wild turkeys" to eat for the festival.

The American colonies, particularly in New England, continued the tradition of holding thanksgiving days into the Revolutionary era, when the new American nation also picked up the practice. The Continental Congress and American presidents, beginning with George Washington, regularly proclaimed days of thanksgiving. In 1789, the first year of his presidency, Washington declared that the last Thursday of November would be a "day of public thanks-giving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God."

Thanksgiving became an annual holiday in America during the Civil War, and Congress made the fourth Thursday of November an official national holiday in December 1941, shortly after America's entry into World War II.

Thanksgiving historically was about "thanks-giving" directed to God. This is an instructive lesson, not only for better understanding our history, but also for curbing the temptation to make Thanksgiving into a holiday of over-consumption. The Pilgrims remind us that Thanksgiving is not all about turkey and touchdowns.

By / Nov 27

Today, Americans celebrate a national holiday set aside to give thanks for the blessings of the preceding year. But there is more to Thanksgiving than you may realize. Here are five facts you should know about the holiday:

1. The Pilgrims who traveled on the Mayflower and landed on Cape Cod were not the first Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving. The “Feast of the First Thanksgiving” was held near El Paso, Texas in 1598 — twenty-three years before the Pilgrims' festival. And at the Berkeley Plantation on the James River in Virginia, settlers celebrated Thanksgiving on December 4th, 1619 — two years before the Pilgrims' festival. As historian Robert Tracy McKenzie, author of The First Thanksgiving, notes, the early Plymouth settlers celebrated in 1621 could more accurately be called the “First American Protestant Christian Thanksgiving North of Virginia and South of Maine.”

2. The first Thanksgiving at Plymouth was a secular event that was not repeated. (A Calvinist Thanksgiving occurred in 1623 and did not involve sharing food with the Native Americans.) 52 Pilgrims and approximately 50 Native Americans attended that celebration. According to participant Edward Winslow, the feast consisted of corn, barley, fowl (including wild turkeys), and venison.

3. Sarah Josepha Hale, an editor and the author of the classic nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, is the person most responsible for making Thanksgiving a national holiday. Prior to 1863, the holiday was largely a celebration held in New England and unknown in the Southern states. Hale proposed that it be a national holiday in 1846 and advocated it for 17 years before convincing Abraham Lincoln to support legislation establishing a national holiday of Thanksgiving in 1863.

4. For 75 years after Lincoln issued his Thanksgiving Proclamation, succeeding presidents honored the tradition and annually issued their own Thanksgiving Proclamation, declaring the last Thursday in November as the day of Thanksgiving. However, in 1939 the last Thursday of November was going to be November 30. Retailers complained to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that this only left 24 shopping days to Christmas and convinced him to move Thanksgiving up one week earlier. Since it was believed most people do their Christmas shopping after Thanksgiving, retailers thought having an extra week of shopping would encourage Americans to spend more.

5. Each year the President officially declares a day of National Thanksgiving and every president Since Harry Truman has pardoned a turkey for Thanksgiving.

Other Articles in the 5 Facts Series:

Cooperative Program  •  Military Suicides • Gambling in America • Truett Cathy • Hunger in America • Suicide in America • Christian Persecution • Civil Rights Act of 1964 • Supreme Court’s contraceptive mandate decision • Fathers and Fathers Day • Euthanasia in Europe •Marriage in America • March for Life • Abortion in America • ‘War on Poverty’

By / Nov 27

Thanksgiving Day, commonly marked by celebrations with family, friends, feasts, and football, is one of those holidays rooted in tradition and firmly embedded in the American experience. Turkey may well be the staple fare, but gratitude is the dressing that makes the meal. It’s a table inviting to all.

But for the follower of Jesus, every day, not just the fourth Thursday in November, ought to be a day of thanksgiving and remembrance. We are called to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18), whether in feast or famine. We should, like the psalmist, “remember the deeds of the LORD” and his “wonders of old,” “ponder[ing] all [his] work, and meditat[ing] on [his] mighty deeds” (Ps. 77:11-12).

Perhaps no one has demonstrated a heart of gratitude better than the Apostle Paul. To the church in Philippi he wrote: “I thank my God in all remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:3-5). The church persecutor-turned-apostle opened his letters to the believers in Ephesus and Colossae and to his fellow laborer Philemon with similar thanks-filled words and equal joyful candor.

And he did so, remarkably, from prison.

Friends across the ocean

Two millennia later, here in the “land of the free,” my mind turns back this Thanksgiving, in remembrance and thanksgiving to God, to some special people I’ve encountered along my journey as well. Family and friendships born in the American context immediately flood my thoughts, of course. But I’m thinking in particular about some newfound friends—brothers and sisters—whom I met across an ocean, over in the Middle East, not long ago.

The calendar reads August. I, along with a small team from my church, have just arrived in the hot Middle Eastern sun, safely distanced from mortar fire and the clear and present dangers of ISIS, to minister to a band of believers heavily persecuted for their faith in the Lord Jesus. Our team of seven—six adults and a one-year-old child—would spend a week teaching, worshiping with, and seeking to encourage a gathering of two dozen believers. This would mark my third trip of its kind in four years.

These converts from Islam, a few of whom I had met on previous trips, are well acquainted with suffering, I soon realize. Many of them cannot get preferred jobs on account of their faith. None are free to speak of Christ openly or to worship with other believers congregationally. One has not experienced fellowship with other believers in more than a decade. Another, a young woman in her 20s, has endured beatings and broken bones from a Muslim brother. Several have been detained and imprisoned for their faith. Others are blacklisted from and barred return to their native land. Theirs is a homeland downright hostile, not merely inhospitable, to anyone bearing the name Christian.

The Apostle Paul’s declaration that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12), I ponder, must mean something altogether different to them than to what I’ve known under a free church and a First Amendment. Christ’s admonition to the church in Smyrna to “be faithful unto death” (Rev. 2:10) surely carries pronounced meaning in their daily lives. Their testimonies of affliction and abuse, after all, sound more like harrowing scenes from first-century churches in Asia Minor than from the Christianity to which the church in America is accustomed.

A profound joy in suffering

Yet, noticeably, none of these beleaguered saints initiates talk of his or her own plight. Only point-blank questioning yields distressing insights. Instead, I find, all possess a “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7), and “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Pet. 1:8). Theirs is the kind of joy the world promises, in fame and fortune, yet fails to deliver. They, like Moses, have “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt,” for they are “looking to the reward” found in a crucified and coming King (Heb. 11:26). They gaze, beamingly, heavenward toward an inheritance ultimately theirs.

Much like what I shared following my first Middle East trip among Muslim-background believers, I witnessed worship without performance, a joy that could not be measured, and a thirst for the Word that could not be quenched. They gathered for Bible study sessions early and stayed late. I was the real student.

Then, building to crescendo, our week together concluded with a touchstone event: a wedding, two of the persecuted believers uniting their lives as one. The bride and groom, in fact, insisted that our team of Americans—people whom they had never met—organize the trans-Atlantic trip to align with the wedding day. And the seven of us, once strangers from the States, were welcomed as the guests of honor. It was a wedding and a feast, days long in preparation, I shall never forget.

Sitting here back across the Atlantic, on the eve of Thanksgiving, I can’t help but think that such an ending to our journey, a wedding, was only fitting, a picture of an “already, but not yet” kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ and his bride, the church, for whom he laid down his life.

The love letter of Almighty God to sinful man, after all, closes with the wedding of all weddings, “the marriage of the Lamb” featuring the once slain but now risen and reigning Lamb, King Jesus, and his bride, the church, rescued and redeemed (Rev. 19:7). The invitations have been printed, and a world full of strangers—as I once was—with nothing to offer but garments stained by sin, have been invited to share in that altar and taste of that feast. That’s good news. Indeed, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9).

Yes, I have much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. So does everyone else, for that matter, who has received “such a great salvation” in faith and repentance (Heb. 2:3).

Today and every day, let’s thank God for this indescribable gift, blood-bought by his Son, the Lord Jesus. Let’s thank him upon every remembrance of our brothers and sisters suffering persecution in the Middle East and around the globe. Let’s “remember their chains” (Col. 4:18). And, above all, let’s not neglect to extend an invitation to all who are thirsty to “come” and to “take the water of life without price” (Rev. 22:17).

There’s plenty of room at the table. Thanks be to God.

By / Nov 26

I know the job search blues, that feeling of hopelessness and despair when you work so hard at your job search, sending out countless resumes, going on interview after interview but still no job offer. You ask yourself, “Will I ever land a job? “

I was unemployed last Thanksgiving. I recall vividly having those feelings of awkwardness when meeting with friends and relatives over the holidays. People wonder if they should ask you about your job search and how you are doing. They figure that you would bring it up if you wanted to talk about it. If people hear that you lost your job, some say, “That’s a shame.”

However, it is important to know that the majority of those who are unemployed have nothing to feel ashamed about. In many cases, there was a reduction in force due to the economy, and there are many who were “let go” who were very good employees. It is important for those who are unemployed to not feel ashamed. When I run job groups, I ask people to introduce themselves and tell others their occupation. One person replied that her occupation is unemployed. “Unemployed” is not her occupation. She still has the same education, skills and experience as before. No one can take that away from her.  She can still feel proud of her past accomplishments and experience and not let what just happened to her overtake those many positive past experiences.

The holidays are a wonderful time to network with family and friends. Networking is all about building relationships for mutual benefit. If you have a friend who is unemployed, a word of advice is to sincerely offer to pray with him or her and also to connect them to those you know for networking purposes. A few good friends offered to do this for me and it was greatly appreciated. It is equally important for those who are unemployed to realize that their family and friends are also going through their own trials as well.  Be willing to ask others how you can pray for them too.  Although they may not be unemployed, they also have problems, i.e. experiencing health issues, relationship issues, etc. The mutual support of one another goes along way in navigating the challenges of life.

How to beat the job search blues? Don’t do it alone. Get support. Develop job search skills by joining a job search group.  Get a career coach.  Get a job search buddy.  Ask a few friends if they would be willing to pray for you regularly. Enhance your skills. Join a professional association. Network. Volunteer. Apply to jobs online. Get an internship. Take classes. Become a consultant. Stay focused and persevere. As Dale Carnegie once said, “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”

However, the ultimate way to beat the job search blues is to remember that as Christians we have our identity grounded in our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.  We are unconditionally loved by the God of the universe. His love for us is not dependent on our performance or employment status. Our security and significance are in Christ, not in our occupation. I am secure in His love (Romans 8:35-39); I am His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10); I am complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10).

We are Christians first and then whatever occupation second. This is so countercultural. Maybe I believed this in my mind but I struggled to believe these biblical truths in my heart. When I daily prayed and meditated on the Scriptures and asked God to help my unbelief, he changed my heart. This gave me tremendous confidence to trust him going forward through all the uncertainty. Our hope and confidence is in Christ. God is always faithful. This makes all the difference.

1 Thessalonians 5:16 says “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Of course, I was not thankful for my joblessness, but I was able to give thanks in my circumstances because I have a God who loves and cares for me, provides for me, walks with me, and will carry me through all my circumstances. I encourage you to spend some time journaling all the reasons why you are thankful. This alone can lift your spirits and cure you of the job search blues.