#ThirtyThankfuls Day 17: Table fellowship.

I had the blessing of sharing meals with fellow believers twice today: eating tacos for lunch with a new pastor friend from another church whom I got to meet through a mutual friend, and then a dinner of grilled cheese and homemade soup with my family and a few folks from my church family.

Just the simple act of being able to look across a table of half -empty plates and say, “How can I pray for you?” is a sweet thing. The bond between believers, even those who have just met, is a marvel.

I know this is a little repetitive from the other day, but I’m just again reminded what a blessing it is to be part of the family of God. My Father is so gracious.

Plus, the tacos al pastor were really, really good. (Wait—a pastor eating pastor tacos with another pastor. That’s kinda funny. Okay, maybe just to me.)

#ThirtyThankfuls Day 15: A smelly “barn.”

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Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,
    but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” (Prov. 14:4 ESV)

It’s a busy day, a tiring day. There is much to do. I’m working late tonight, mainly because every night until Sunday is booked with something or other.

My office is dirty. My mind is cluttered. I want to get away and leave all of this behind, escaping with my books and my wife to a far-off place without dinging email alerts and ringing phone alarms.

On these days when the responsibilities are stacked and I need to stay on my grind, I remind myself of the verse above.

Because the easiest way to have a clean barn is to shoot your oxen–but that’s also the quickest path to an empty belly. A productive life is usually a messy life. That isn’t meant simply to glorify “hustle culture,” which can become quite unhealthy and unbalanced. Rather, it is to say that making things happen and taking care of my family means there will often be busy days and late nights.

So instead of being grumpy about my stacked to-do list, I’ll thank God for my fruitful (if cluttered) desk and keep at my task.

Goodnight, friends.

#ThirtyThankfuls Day 14: Christmas lights.

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Driving home last night, my daughters went absolutely bonkers when they say multiple houses with Christmas lights.

I know celebrating and decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving has arrived is sacrilegious to some, and I care not a whit. Even if I were the grinchiest Grinch to ever begrudge an early Christmas season, my too-small heart would have swelled to bursting last night at the chorus of overjoyed voices in the back of my minivan.

There is a special kind of magic with houses decorated for Christmas–a feeling that the Christmas season, which had seemed so far away during August’s brutal heat and October’s frustratingly mild weather down here on the Gulf coast, may actually arrive at long last. Even as the upcoming forecast for Thanksgiving week seems to mock us with its mid-60’s and rain, we will still be sweater-bedecked, singing carols, hanging lights, and putting up decorations. The excitement of Christmas, which I had admittedly begun losing in my 20’s and even early 30’s, is now returning in my early 40’s, thanks to the ministrations of my curly-headed children and their unbridled exuberance.

Christmas time is here, happiness and cheer. The first signs of the miracle have appeared, in the form of a few strands of multicolored lights.

#ThirtyThankfuls Day 13: My church family.

[Not our actual Thanksgiving Potluck–there’s not nearly enough meat in this photo.]

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Last night was our yearly Thanksgiving meal together as a church body. This group of just over 150 saints has been gathering together for about 2 1/2 years as a united body (the product of a merger between 2 very different Baptist churches). But the thing that binds us together is the only thing that makes the Church the Church: the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Paul says in Ephesians 4, “there is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” We were all adopted as sons and daughters of the One True God, and He is our glorious common bond. Blessed indeed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.

It hasn’t always been easy. The #ForeverPlague was a rough season, as there were very firm differences of conviction and understanding between church members about what was or wasn’t going on, and how we should respond collectively. As an elder, I will admit I made some mistakes in judgment and should have been more open to listen to those who disagreed with me. (I’m sorry for that, and have tried to repent of it directly to those to whom I should.) And then beyond that, there have been the typical conflicts that come up in a church full of redeemed sinners, especially one formed of groups with two very different sets of experiences and expectations.

But through it all and in spite of it all, I love those people. Last night, I was asked to give the closing prayer during our brief Thanksgiving prayer service, right before the meal. As I did so, I thanked God for the joy of the moment, the delight of the smells and tastes and sounds of a meal shared with family. And then we all enjoyed that meal together as a family.

I praise God for my church family. They are imperfect, as I am. They are also hopeful, as I am. God is good. He is growing our number slowly but steadily, bringing in new members from other places, as well as some who have trusted in Jesus and have come through the waters of baptism and covenanted with us. God is good, and He is gracious to our little flock. He has protected us, and He will not abandon us. All glory to Him.

#ThirtyThankfuls Day 12: The Beatles.

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I grew up in a Christian home in which secular music was generally frowned upon. Sure, there were exceptions made for some of the music from my parents’ era (and that could certainly have been questionable), but no modern music was typically allowed. So my musical world was mostly limited to church music and contemporary Christian music. I grew up listening to Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman, 4 Him and Carman, Degarmo & Key and Geoff Moore & the Distance. When we got really crazy, we’d break out some Whiteheart or Petra. Then, in the 90’s, I discovered Christian alternative and its various subgenres, so my playlist shifted to DC Talk, Newsboys, Audio Adrenaline, and The Supertones.

I did start listening to more secular and mainstream music around the time I was able to start driving on my own, and I was thrilled with the likes of Gin Blossoms, Cranberries, Ben Folds Five, and Nirvana. (Oh, and Weird Al–he’s been a constant throughout my life.) Top-40 radio, basically. Not much in the way of classic stuff.

It wasn’t really until college that I went back and really listened to The Beatles. I had heard a song here or there, but I never really *got* it. (I actually have a specific memory from grade school of a friend having an electric keyboard with the melody of “Yesterday” pre-programmed in it, and I listened to it with zero understanding of what the song really was.) But once I dove in, something in it just clicked with me.

I would joke (overly dramatically) that listening to the Beatles for the first time in earnest was like the scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy opens the door and the frame flips from black and white to color. While my musical experience was not so bleak as all that (I still listen to 90’s Christian and mainstream alt-rock fairly regularly), the addition of The Beatles kicked in some Technicolor richness to my sonic world.

I’m not as into their later psychedelic and Eastern mysticism stuff as I am the earlier records, though I can definitely appreciate the artistry. But there’s just something about the vibe of their music that makes me happy. Instant serotonin boost.

(If you appreciate the Beatles at all, and you haven’t yet seen the Peter Jackson documentary series Get Back, you really should check it out. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the band’s interpersonal dynamics and creative process.)

So, while it may seem oddly specific, I’m thankful for The Beatles. I like their music. It makes me smile.

This post was prompted by a video I found this week (thanks, YT algo). Here’s a delightful take on the Abbey Road medley, performed by The Sheffield Beatles Project.

#ThirtyThankfuls Day 11: Heroes.

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It’s Veteran’s Day here in the United States–a day we honor those who have served and continue to serve in the different branches of our armed forces.

The cultural discussion around military service is often fraught with all manner of experiences, feelings, and agendas. But today, I don’t want to argue about foreign policy or military leadership decisions.

I just want to say thank you to those who have devoted their lives to the service of others. I have had family members who have served in the military–cousins in the Army Corp of Engineers, grandfathers in the Army and Navy. I have friends who have served or are currently serving in active duty and as reservists.

I am not a military man. I confess, I don’t think I have the discipline. But I have a deep well of respect for those who have committed to protect and defend others — men and women who have committed to a cause greater than themselves and are willing to sacrifice all to complete their duties. I am humbled by the sacrifices of families who have given up missed birthdays and holidays, who have foregone months or years of memories never made because of trainings and deployments. I am moved by every video of a service member returning home to surprise their families, and the beautiful glimpse of heaven at their reuniting.

So, thank you to the men and women who serve our nation and defend the cause of freedom in far-flung places. Thank you to the spouses, children, parents, and friends of those who have borne this responsibility. Thank you to those who have paid the ultimate price, and my deepest thanks and sympathies to the ones who had to mourn their passing.

Service member, you are not perfect, and we don’t expect you to be. But we, your countrymen, see your faithfulness and your sacrifice, we are honored by your service, and we are forever in your debt. God bless you.

#ThirtyThankfuls Day 10: Medicine.

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I feel crummy today, y’all. Hence the reason I haven’t posted until 10 at night.

But I’m thankful for modern medicine that’s easily available at my corner grocery or convenience store. I’m thankful for simple remedies like ibuprofen and antacid and vitamin and mineral supplements. I’m thankful for the person who had the wisdom to put activated charcoal in a capsule so that you don’t have to try to choke down a slurry of the nasty stuff. I’m thankful for these little bottles and boxes that would have seemed outright miraculous just a few hundred years ago.

This daily examples of common grace are gifts that we shouldn’t take for granted.

So I praise my God for giving human beings the wisdom and ingenuity to take dominion over creation and use it to heal and restore. That’s a wonderous thing.

#ThirtyThankfuls Day 9: Hope.

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I found out this morning that one of our church members passed away yesterday.

He was an older gentleman with some health challenges, but all in all seemed to be doing okay until last week. He and his wife had dinner at our house a couple months back, and his wife has been to our house a handful of times since then for small-group fellowship. (Her husband’s hearing and mobility challenges make group gatherings tough, so he tended to stay home.)

He went into the hospital for some sudden health issues this past week, seemed to come through surgery just fine, and then took a sudden turn for the worse in the last few days. Today is a rare mid-week day off for me, so I was planning to visit him this afternoon if I could.

I didn’t know him super-well, but I was getting to know him better. Now, that will have to wait.

Death is an enemy, an unwelcome imposition that has no right being a part of God’s good world but for the fact that sin has poisoned everything it has touched. However, because we know Jesus, we have hope. Jesus came to defeat sin, death, and the grave, and all those who turn from their sins and trust in Jesus alone for salvation have a share in that victory. He rose again as the first fruits of the great resurrection to come, and on that great day, my brother will rise up with a new body, a body with a greater strength and keener senses that he ever knew in this life, a glorified body free of all stain and infection of sin. Even now, at this moment, my brother is rejoicing with the saints in the presence of his Savior.

Meanwhile, his widow, his children, and his church grieve his death. But we do so with the hope and confidence that we will see him again–not because of some vague and gauzy notion of the afterlife, but the solid and certain promises of God found in His word.

I’m sad today. Death is sad. Our hope in the return of Jesus and the future resurrection of the dead doesn’t preclude our mourning–even Jesus wept at the grave of a friend (a friend He fully intended on raising up to life). But it does give our mourning context. “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning,” the Psalmist writes.

So we embrace our grieving loved ones, wipe our tears, and wait for the dawn and the rising of the Son.

50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

I Corinthians 15:50-58 (ESV)