Thursday, December 9, 2021

Thanksgiving and on to Christmas!

I wanted to share this meaningful reflection on Thanksgiving from Brady Bobbink:

Every place I go shows the broad loss of Thanksgiving as a day of thoughtful remembrance. For those of us who desire to be authentic and maturing followers of the Abba Father of our Lord Jesus, the creator and sustainer of all, we will have to work more consciously and intentionally to root into our own hearts and the hearts of those around us the power and place of being thankful to the Lord. You will get little to no help from your culture on this one. Remember Paul writing to Timothy and the church at Ephesus, reminding him/them of this distressing reality: “ But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves… lovers of money…not lovers of God… unthankful…” (ungrateful in other translations).

Thankfulness has a direct relationship to the issue of egocentric love. Thankfulness requires space in our hearts and minds for something other than the self and its incessant demanding desires. Oh, I know all about being a “self-made” man. But that is a narcissist’s fable –– an American legend. Fake news! No one makes him or herself. From the beginning we are made, and all the chances we have to use our physical strength, our creative minds, and the freedom of our will, are all gifts from the Creator’s love. Paul says it concisely in 1 Cor.4:7 when he asks, “What do you have that you did not receive?”

I think this year thankfulness will require more thoughtfulness from each of us. It is still Covid-time. There have been many losses both great and small. Things anticipated, maybe even taken for granted, have been lost. In such times we likely will not be propelled easily by our emotions to offer rich and deeply grateful thanksgiving. I get that! But I came across the quote from Helen Keller and she inspired me to slow down and see the rays of the Lord’s light in the midst of darkness and the faith to hold tightly to the vision of confident hope in God’s love and promises to us in Jesus. She said: “For three things I thank God every day of my life: thanks that he has vouchsafed me knowledge of his works; deep thanks that he has set in my darkness the lamp of faith; deep, deepest thanks that I have another life to look forward to –– a life joyous with light and flowers and heavenly song.” –– Helen Keller

One of my most meaningful Thanksgiving traditions (going on 5 years now!) is that I get together with 2 good friends, Peter and Paul, and our wives/girlfriends for fajitas on Black Friday and spend a significant amount of time sharing about the things and people and qualities in one another that we are thankful for. If the giving thanks part of your Thanksgiving took a back seat to the feasting part, I encourage you to carve out some time in the next couple of weeks for purposeful gratitude before we plunge full force into this next season of of adding even more gifts to our list of things to be thankful for!

New to Jesus

One of the sweet blessings of this year has been the number of students, and especially young women, who are approaching Jesus for the first time. One of our women pastors is leading a Bible study for a team on campus. One of the young ladies attending doesn't have a Christian background, and when she was asked why she came, she said "I prayed that I would make this team, and when I did, I figured I should do God a solid and go to a Bible study." Now she is actively learning about Jesus and his plan for her. I love it! Reminds me of Paul saying "So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer." God can use even our weakness to show his glory.

Another story reminds me so much of these sweet words from the Christmas narrative: "Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.'” A young woman doing graduate work at UTD doesn't have any Christian family or background, but was aware of a FOCUS ministry at her undergraduate university. She was into spirituality, tarot cards, and numerology, and this past summer kept seeing the number 122 in different places. Trying to understand, she googled "122 Bible verse" and Hebrews 12:2 popped up: "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." So she saw a FOCUS yard sign on campus and signed up for Fall Camp online! She is now in a core, has become a Christian, and is eager for her family to come to know Jesus as well. Doesn't that remind you of those eastern astrologers following a star but finding Jesus!? God, in his grace, speaks to us in our language rather than demanding that we first learn his. God is good! I'm definitely crying after writing that!

A Couple of Highlights

We had our UTD ministry Christmas party and service last Friday. Our theme was "Christmas Morning." This is my sweet staff team. They are amazing! And how did we ever end up with twice as many women as men at UTD!?

These are the four student small group leaders I mentor this year. They are so sweet and encouraging to me. Working with them is a delight!

We did it! Thanks to my brother Casey's leadership, we were able to raise our entire goal in one student giving day + Giving Tuesday. A massive THANK YOU to all who took part!

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