Tag: thanksgiving

Podcast: Thanksgiving and Faith


Yesterday I preached from Luke 17:11-19, on the healing of the 10 lepers. You remember the story: Jesus healed 10 lepers, but only 1 of them returned to thank him. But, there is certainly more to this lesson in thanksgiving. Here’s the audio which runs about 16 minutes. I hope you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Gratitude by Louie Schwartzberg

On the eve of Thanksgiving watch this video by filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg.  Try to view this on the largest screen possible because the photography is stunning.  Schwartzberg captures gratitude, and the reasons for it, in this memorable TED talk and short film.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Back from the farm

Amy, Wesley, and Debbie at Amy and Randy's farm in Tennessee.

Debbie and I just got back from Thanksgiving with our daughter Amy, her husband Randy, and our grandson Wesley at their farm in Santa Fe, Tennessee. They live out in the country in the rolling hills of south central Tennessee, and do not have cell phone service or internet access at their farm.  So I spent a week of being “unplugged” from the grid and the Blackberry.  Except, of course, for the occasional trip into Spring Hill to the local Starbucks.  We had a great time and Debbie will post more photos of the farm on her Goodthoughts blog soon.   Happy belated Thanksgiving!

Sermon: A Thanksgiving Prayer

Here’s the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow, from Ephesians 1:15-23, titled A Thanksgiving Prayer.  Have a wonderful Lord’s Day tomorrow, and a great Thanksgiving season! 

A Thanksgiving Prayer


Ephesians 1:15-23 NIV
15For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit  of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.22And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

What Are You Thankful For?

We always seemed to have trouble developing our own family traditions.  When our girls were small, Debbie and I wanted to give them meaningful experiences, and create our own family traditions.  One night we decided that we would sing the blessing before supper.  Now that sounds like a meaningful moment.  Our girls would grow up and tell their children, “When we were little, we used to hold hands around the table and sing our blessing before meals.”  At least that was the picture Debbie and I had in our heads.  

Our girls grew up about the time the Osmond Family was famous.  Donnie and Marie were idolized by our girls, and they would watch “The Donnie and Marie Show” religiously.  Oh, and there was The Partridge Family, too.  Singing kids with a talented mom, who traveled around the country singing to sellout crowds.  And, of course, The Sound of Music with the Singing Von Trapp Family.   Amy and Laurie took it all in.  

So, it was in that media culture that we found ourselves gathered around our dinner table one night, when I announced, “Tonight we’re going to sing our blessing.”  I forget what it was we were actually going to sing, but it didn’t matter.  We were not the Osmonds.  Or The Partridge Family.  Or the Von Trapps.  Did I mention that we didn’t have any accompaniment?  Well, it didn’t matter.  We probably hadn’t gotten more than a few off-key notes out when Amy and Laurie collapsed in laughter, and that was the end of the Warnock family tradition of singing our blessing.  

But, we were not deterred by that experience.  Debbie and I were still on a quest to make meaning for our kids’ lives.  So, on one Thanksgiving I announced, “Today, before we eat, we’re going to each share something that we’re thankful for.”  This went over only slightly better than the singing blessing, and was met with cries of “Do we have to?” and “I’m hungry.”  But, we plowed our way listlessly through the typical things that we are thankful for — friends, family, and the food.  And maybe some other stuff, too, but I don’t remember.   We pretty much gave up on the idea of creating family traditions after that.  

Thankful for Faith

And, maybe this year at your table, or wherever you are this Thanksgiving, you’ll take time to go around the table and share your reasons for being thankful.  And, they will probably be pretty typical, too.  Friends, family, enough to eat, God’s blessings, and so on.  We tend to give thanks for either “things” or people.  And, that’s good — nothing wrong with being thankful for either of those.

But Paul expresses thanks for something rather strange — the faith of the Christians in Ephesus.  Paul says, 

“For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16I have not stopped giving thanks for you,”

Now, what is the big deal about that?  Well, remember the story of Paul in Ephesus?  Ephesus was a major city in what is now western Turkey.  Ephesus was a crossroads of trade and commerce, and it was not a Jewish city; it was a Roman city.  You know how cities are known for an outstanding landmark, such as Paris with the Eiffel Tower; Seattle with the Space Needle; Rome and the Coliseum; and, New York with Broadway, Grand Central Station, and the Statue of Liberty.  Well, Ephesus had its famous landmark, too — The Temple of Artemis, sometimes referred to as The Temple of Diana.   

It was described by Antipater of Sidon, who compiled the list of the Seven Wonders:

I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, “Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught [anything] so grand”. [1]



It was in the shadow of the temple to Artemis that Paul began preaching in Ephesus. Now, in Ephesus along with the worship of the pagan goddess Artemis, there were those who practiced witchcraft and sorcery, those who were diviners claiming to speak with the voice of the gods.  It was not lack of spirituality that was Ephesus problem, it was the very vibrant spirituality of the dark side, of paganism that permeated the city.  

That’s why in Ephesians 6, Paul says, “2For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Paul was in a war for the hearts and souls of the people of Ephesus.  In the three years Paul spent in Ephesus amazing things happened:
  • The first Ephesian Christians experienced their own Pentecost, receiving the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, and prophesying.  God was validating this Gentile experience as every bit as genuine as the Jewish Pentecostal experience.
  • Paul began with a group of about 12 men, not counting women, and from there began to speak in the synagogue, and then in the debating hall of Tyrannus.
  • Paul preached there for almost 3 years with astonishing results.  Miracles occurred as handkerchiefs and aprons that Paul touched were taken to the sick and they recovered and evil spirits left them.  
  • Luke says in Acts 19:17 — “the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor.”  
  • But opposition came to, most strongly from Demetrius the silversmith who crafted small silver shrines to Artemis, which he sold for a tidy profit — a profit that Paul cut into.  A near-riot ensued, with the people shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” for over 2-hours.  
  • So, Paul decides to leave Ephesus and as he departs he warns the Ephesian church leaders that others will come in and try to tear the church apart — and some will be from among their own number!
Now, fast forward in time to the last years of Paul’s life, in prison in Rome.  Word has reached Paul that this church in Ephesus, where he spent almost three years, that this church is still strong and vibrant, and alive, and thriving, even though it still lives in the shadow of the mighty Temple of Artemis of the Ephesians.  
You can see Paul dictating to his amanuensis, his secretary, “Take a letter to the church at Ephesus.”  And so Paul begins to pour out his heart to them, telling them of God’s great blessings, and then turning to a personal point.
He has heard of their faith, and he has not stopped giving thanks for them.  
  • He is thankful that the cult of Artemis has not overwhelmed them.
  • He is thankful that they are faithful to Jesus in their daily lives.  That they do not go to the temple of Artemis as all their friends and neighbors do.  That they stand firm in their conviction.
  • He is thankful that after he left that the church had heeded his warnings, had watched out for those who sought to destroy it, and had survived.  
  • He is thankful for their faith in God, their faithful practice, and their effectiveness because he has heard about them recently.  
Paul’s Prayer of Thanksgiving
Which brings us to Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving for them.  Paul says “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”  And here is what he has been praying for them.  Here is Paul’s Thanksgiving prayer for the Ephesians:
  • That God would give them the spirit of wisdom and revelation so they could know God better;
  • That the eyes of their hearts might be enlightened to the hope to which God has called them;
  • That they remain aware of the power of the resurrection, not only in Jesus’ life, but in theirs as well;
  • That they understand that Christ has all power and authority in the present age, the age to come, in this world and in the church.
In other words, Paul’s Thanksgiving prayer is that they – 
  1. know God better; 
  2. see hope clearly;
  3. live in resurrection power; 
  4. acknowledge Christ as Lord.  




Our Thanksgiving Prayer

Like Paul, we are thankful when we look around at friends and family and our nation and the vitality of the church in other places around the world.  We are not that different from ancient Ephesus in that we as believers live in the shadows of the gods of this world — greed, indifference, hatred, violence, selfishness, sensuality, and many, many more.  In contrast Jesus calls us to live lives of grace, generosity, hospitality, peace, love, care, and humility.  So, when we look around we are gratified that faith is alive and doing good in our world.
When I was in San Diego, I heard J John, a Greek-born Christian who speaks with a British accent.  To say that J John is energetic is like saying Bill Gates has money.  J John is a bundle of energy and has one of those “you-can’t-help-but-like-him” personalities.  He told of flying one day, and seated next to him, a woman began to engage him in conversation.  J John  said he usually tries to avoid telling people that he is an evangelist, a preacher, because that tends to shut the conversation down.  So, this lady asks him, “What do you do?”
J John said, “I’m work for a global enterprise.”
“Oh, really,” she replied.
“Yes, we have locations all over the world, in almost every country.”
“Amazing,” she replied.
“Yes, we have hospitals, schools, clinics, feeding programs, clothing banks, we do disaster relief, take in countless numbers of orphans, and do more good than I can even remember.  We look after people from birth to death and we deal in the area of behavioral alteration.”
“Amazing,” said the woman, “What’s it called?”
“It’s called Christianity,” he said.
“Really!” And then he continued to tell about the rest of their conversation.
But, my point is, and J John’s was, faith is alive and well.  We are thankful when we hear about it still existing from modest beginnings in places like Africa, and South America, and Asia, and Europe, and Australia, and on every other continent on the globe.  Faith is alive, and for that we should be thankful today.
But, Paul, and we cannot stop with being thankful for hearing about faith, we must continue to support that faith and the faithful with our prayers for –
  • Wisdom and revelation so we can know God better.  We do know God better even in the last 100 years.  We have moved from hatred of fellow Christians who hold differing theological views to a dialogue of siblings in God’s great family.  We must know God better in how we govern ourselves and how our nations solve international problems — we cannot continue to turn to war as the first recourse in settling global crises.  
  • The eyes of our hearts need to be open so that we can see clearly the hope we possess and that we have in Christ for the world.  The hope of racial reconciliation, the hope of the end of poverty and hunger, the hope of the incoming of the Kingdom of God.  That’s why Paul healed, not because of spiritual mumbo-jumbo, but because the Kingdom of God was breaking in right in front of the Temple of Artemis.  The Kingdom of God was displacing the dominion of Diana.  In Ephesus, about 300 or so years after Paul writes this letter, John Chrysostom leads a band who finished demolishing what was left of the great temple of Artemis.  The Hagia Sophia, the grand ancient church in Turkey, now contains columns from the temple of Artemis.  The kingdom of God is the hope of the world, and our eyes need to be open to that hope, the hope we have in Christ.
  • The way we live should reflect the resurrection power, the first-fruits of God’s kingdom.  The resurrection of Jesus was both God’s way of validating the ministry of Jesus, and God’s defeat of the forces of death and darkness.  Those forces were resident in the Temple of Artemis, and it is the resurrection of Jesus that seals their fate.
  • We need to pray for our awareness that Jesus is Lord, not Ceasar or Artemis, and that we do indeed serve a living Savior who’s in the world today.  
So, this Thanksgiving, be thankful that faith is alive and that we hear of it all across this land.  But pray that we will know God better, see hope clearly, live in resurrection power, and acknowledge Christ as Lord of all. That’s a thanksgiving prayer we can all pray this week.  


This week we went over 40,000 views and still going!  Thank you for stopping by now-and-then, and making this a real gathering place for the small church community

Seth Godin said “thanks” better today than I can —

Every time you read something I write here, you’re giving me a gift… attention. It’s getting more precious all the time, you have more choices every day, and it’s harder and harder to find the time. I know. I’m grateful. I’m doing my best to make your attention worth it.

So, have a great Thanksgiving. And thanks.

So, thanks from me.  And have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day! — Chuck

Smile, It’s Thanksgiving!

Smile, It’s Thanksgiving!

Philippians 4:4-9

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.


Little Johnny and his family were having Sunday dinner at his grandmother’s house. Everyone was seated around the table as the food was being served.

When little Johnny received his plate he started eating right away.

“Johnny, wait until we say our prayer.”

“I don’t have to,” the boy replied.

“Of course you do,” his mother insisted. “We say a prayer before eating at our house.”

“That’s at our house,” Johnny explained, “but this is Grandma’s house, and she knows how to cook.”


Well, if you find yourself like little Johnny, feeling you only have to pray to ward off some disaster, gastronomic or otherwise, then do I have something for you today. Thanksgiving is just around the corner again, and here come all those reminders to be thankful. In the passage we just read, Paul encourages us to “rejoice always” and to do everything, particulary our praying, with thanksgiving.

Despite what you have heard and will hear that everyday should be a Thanksgiving day, or we should do thanks-living instead of thanksgiving, or any of the other clever phrases that are bandied about at this time of year, the truth is we hear a lot about being thankful, but beyond that don’t do much about it.

We do some things to express our thanks. I grew up in a household where we always said a prayer of thanks before meals, and Debbie and I still do that today. We are thankful for what we have to eat, and we stop and acknowledge that God is the giver of not only everything, but this particular meal we’re about to enjoy. If we’re with other folks, I usually say, “Well, let me pray for this and then we can all eat.” Which is received in the spirit I intend it — one of thanksgiving to God. Plus, I keep it short, out of respect for others who do not normally have this practice, and so the food won’t get cold.

But that aside, how do we rejoice always? Or is that just one of those really nice sounding spiritual aphorisms that we all say, but few of us do, or even know how to do? Well, I think I might have the answer for you tonight. I did not discover this, and I’ll tell who I got it from in a moment, but here is the secret to rejoicing always: Smile.

Yep, that’s it — smile. Right about now you’re wondering if you can get a refund on your ticket, but then you’re remembering that you didn’t actually have to pay to get in, so you can relax. I’m serious. Smiling is the key to this whole business of thanksgiving. Here’s what smiling can do for you:

• 72% of people think of those who smile frequently as being more confident and successful.

• 86% of people say that they are more likely to strike up conversations with strangers if they are smiling.

• Bosses are 12% more likely to promote people who smile a lot.

• Research shows that 65% of communication is non-verbal (many claim an even higher percentage).

• Non-verbal communication comprises facial expressions, eye movement, gestures, posture, and all other bodily signs-primarily facial expressions.

• The effects of a smile are so powerful that even a smile on the telephone produces positive results.

• When someone comes into a room, people are automatically drawn to their face, and a smile provides a warm greeting.

• Studies show that happiness is a by-product of smiling, not the other way around as most people assume.

• Research shows that when two people in conversation use the same kind of body movements and gestures (such as smiling), they will experience greater empathy for each other, which they may not even consciously notice.

So, this is not bad. Smiling actually does more than give you little smile lines, for which the cosmetic companies have developed remedies, as if smiling were detrimental to your health. Just the opposite — smiling is good for you, not to mention the folks that have to look at you. As a matter of fact, not only is the act of smiling good for you, but even the word S-M-I-L-E brings a…well, you guessed it… smile to our faces. So much so that here are some of the acronyms that organizations have made from the world SMILE.

SMILE  Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences Program
SMILE  Semiconductor Microcavity Light Emitter
SMILE  Service Makes Individual Lives Exciting
SMILE  Signal, Mirror, Interior, Lights, Engine (drivers education)
SMILE  Single Mothers in A Learning Environment
SMILE  Smart Management Interface Local Exchange
SMILE  Smart-Power ICs (Integrated Circuits) for Lighting Applications
SMILE  Spatial Multiplexing of Local Elements
SMILE  Spiritually Minded Is Life Eternal
SMILE  Stanford Medicine Information and Learning Environment
SMILE  Students Making It a Little Easier (freshman orientation in West Caldwell NJ)
SMILE  Students’ Mobilization Initiative for Learning Through Exposure (Indian youth initiative)

Okay, so some of these are better than others, but the point is we like the word SMILE. Then how do we do this? Well here are a few pointers —

Smile. Smiling is the beginning of laughter. Like laughter, it’s contagious. Pioneers in “laugh therapy,” find it’s possible to laugh without even experiencing a funny event. The same holds for smiling. When you look at someone or see something even mildly pleasing, practice smiling.

Count your blessings. Literally make a list. The simple act of considering the good things in your life will distance you from negative thoughts that are a barrier to humor and laughter. When in a state of sadness, we have further to travel to get to humor and laughter.

When you hear laughter, move toward it. Sometimes humor and laughter are private, a shared joke among a small group, but usually not. More often, people are very happy to share something funny because it gives them an opportunity to laugh again and feed off the humor you find in it. When you hear laughter, seek it out and ask, “What’s funny?”

Spend time with people who have successfully incorporated humor into their lives. These are people who naturally take life lightly, who routinely find ordinary events hysterical. Their points of view and their laughter are contagious.

Dr. Dale Jorgenson, a social organizational psychologist, has found that smiling at others may benefit the smiler in that, when you smile at people, they are more likely to smile at you. The more often this happens, the better the mood of the smiler. When reviewing self-reports handed in by students assisting with his smile research, he correlated the frequency of returned smiles with how favorable their moods were.

“The correlation between the number of smiles they reported receiving in return and their mood was extremely high (80 percent or better),” he said. “The more they got smiled at in return, the more favorable their mood was.”

The evidence is in — smiling is good for us, for others, and produces real positive results in our lives. But, what about the times you don’t feel like smiling. When you’re sad, depressed, grieving, angry, or hurt. How do you “rejoice always” then?

Listen to the story of Thich Nhat Hanh. Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk, who is 81-years old now. Nhat Hanh was born in Viet Nam in 1926, became a Buddhist monk as a teenager, and grew up in a country torn apart by war his entire life. Nhat Hanh founded the United Buddhist Church, and worked for peace in his country. He was a friend of Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk who said he felt closer to Nhat Hanh than many Christians with whom he knew.

Thich Nhat Hanh was nominated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work for peace during and after the Viet Nam war. The communist regime in Viet Nam was so suspicious of Nhat Hanh, that he was exiled from his native land for decades, only returning in 2005 to give some talks and visit his fellow monks again.

Nhat Hanh created what he called “engaged Buddhism” — today we would call it “missional” — Buddhism that was involved in helping the victims of war, and then other marginalized people around the world.

Buddhism is predicated upon the idea that all of our suffering is caused by ignorance, and so Buddhists seek enlightenment which means an end to suffering. But Thich Nhat Hanh also believes that there are practical ways in which we can make this world, and our lives, better. He tells his students, “To suffer is not enough. You must enjoy the blue sky, a baby’s eyes, the green grass.” Thich Nhat Hanh also founded a Thanksgiving Day for Buddhists, patterned after the American Thanksgiving, because he thought they needed a day to give thanks.

In Buddhism, there are meditation exercises. Now we are not going to become Buddhists tonight, but one that I find particularly helpful is this: Sit quietly for a moment and as you breath in say, “Breathing in, I calm body and mind.” And you calm yourself.

Then, you say, “Breathing out, I smile.” And you smile. Really.

I was listening to a CD of Thich Nhat Hanh giving this talk on “Being Peace” as he leads the audience in this exercise. I guess he has his eyes open, because he says gently, “You do not smile so much. Let’s try again.” Again, the “breathing in, I calm body and mind” then, “breathing out, I smile.” Still not satisfied with the results, he tells the audience, “Maybe you can practice some more later.”

Listen to what Nhat Hanh says about smiling:

“Even though life is hard, even though it is sometimes difficult to smile,we have to try. Just as when we wish each other “Good morning” it must be a real “Good morning.” Recently a friend asked me, “How can I force myself to smile when I am filled with sorrow? It isn’t natural.” I told her she must be able to smile to her sorrow, because we are more than our sorrow.”

“A human being is like a television set with millions of channels. If we turn sorrow on, we are sorrow. If we turn a smile on, we really are the smile.”

“Smiling is very important. If we are not able to smile, then the world will not have peace.”

To which I would add, if we are not able to smile, the world will not know that we know the Prince of Peace.

And that’s it. Smiling. Which amazingly does change your frame of mind, your physiology, and your life. And even in those times of great sadness or disappointment, if we can smile at those experiences, we can find our way through. We smile, not because we seek enlightenment, but because we seek the Light of God. We smile because we know that God is, in Rick Warren’s words, “Bigger and better and closer than we can imagine.” We smile because we are thankful. Go ahead, try it. Smile, it’s Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving message

I just posted a Thanksgiving message that I’ll preach tonight at our community Thanksgiving service.  Titled Smile, It’s Thanksgiving!  it’s a brief message based on Philippians 4:4-9 where Paul encourages us to “rejoice always.”  I hope your Thanksgiving is a wonderful time of good food, friends, family, and smiling!  Happy Thanksgiving!