How to Celebrate Thanksgiving Well . . . Even if It’s Not Happy

I recently discovered 3 views on Thanksgiving that I had never noticed before. Perhaps they will help you better understand and live with thanksgiving .. . all year long.

1. Thanksgiving is an attitude, not just a day.

Look at the following Bible verses, especially the context for thanksgiving:

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

What’s the context? First, don’t miss the word with. “With thanksgiving” means it’s an attitude that is part of our lives. Instead of worrying, we are to be thankful. In every situation. In every circumstance of life. Even if you don’t have much in life to be happy about.

Several years ago, during the darkest, scariest, saddest time of my life, I was very anxious about my circumstances. During that time, Philippians 4 became a go-to passage for me. I decided to try to substitute worrying with prayer, presenting myself and my circumstances to God, trusting him with the outcome. I began to learn how to pray with thanksgiving! I learned to be thankful well before I received any answers from God. I discovered how to be thankful before God responded to my prayer—even if he didn’t respond as I wanted him to. I learned to trust him!

People who love God learn to trust him no matter what, in every situation and circumstance (see Philippians 4:11-13).

Thanksgiving is an attitude you can have year round.


2. Thanksgiving is sacramental and sacrificial.

The word for “thanksgiving” in Philippians 4:6 is also used in 1 Corinthians 11:23-24:

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

The word used in both cases is a form of the Greek word eucharistos. Sound familiar? Eucharist literally means “giving thanks” or “gratitude.” Eucharist became the word believers (sometime before 100 AD) used for the sacrament or celebration of the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion.

This is incredibly significant! As followers of Christ, we give thanks weekly, even daily, for Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, which bought for us eternal life with him!

Yet there’s more. Jesus celebrated this meal, this Lord’s Supper, and gave thanks to God shortly before he was betrayed, handed over to the authorities, tried, scourged, and finally crucified. Jesus was giving thanks—eucharisteo—as he entered into his deepest and darkest life circumstances.

Sometimes, thanksgiving is sacrificial, an act of surrender!


3. Thanksgiving is an act of worship.

That word, eucharistos,is defined in a Greek dictionary as an act of worship. Worship is more than something we do in a building one day a week. Like thanksgiving, it’s an attitude. Jesus said that our worship is about our hearts, not our locations (John 4:21-24).

Happiness is circumstantial, but true thanksgiving can be lived out despite the circumstances. Let’s live this and every day with thanksgiving, even if Thanksgiving isn’t happy.

How are you celebrating thanksgiving, in the truest definition for that word, this year? Please share by commenting below.


Small Group Leadership TIPS of the Week(s): January 11-22, 2016

Small Group Leadership TIPS of the past 2 weeks as Tweeted, posted on the Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn. (Last week I taught a one-week “intensive” Small Group Ministry and Discipleship seminary class at Cincinnati Christian University, and the week before that I was buried in preparing for it, so I’m catching up now!)

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Monday, 1/11/2015: Seek deeper vulnerability, but allow members to say “pass.” #authentic #community
Tuesday, 1/12: Encourage one another DAILY. Real community is more than a once-a-week thing. #authenticity

Wednesday, 1/13: Provide safe places to confess your sins to one another – 1:1, same-gender subgroup… #authenticity

Friday, 1/15: After you ask question, wait full 6 seconds to give ppl time to respond. Thx, @micahodor

Monday, 1/18: Practice mutual discipleship. Encourage… Instruct… Admonish… Pray for… one another.

Tuesday, 1/19: Care for the ppl in the group God has given you, not b/c you must but b/c you’re willing. #1Peter5 

Wednesday, 1/20: What do you study next? Answer as a shepherd, not a TV network programmer. 

Thursday, 1/21: When you pray together, spend time thanking God for all the ways he has and is answering your prayers. 

Friday, 1/22: Ask 1 member to keep and share a prayer journal that lists requests and how God answers them.

All Small Group Leadership TIPS

Follow Mike and Small Group Leadership on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networks by clicking on the icons in the “Connect with Mike” box in the right column.

Small Group Leadership TIPS of the Week: 11/23-27/2015

Small Group Leadership TIPS of the past week as Tweeted, posted on the Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn.

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Monday, 11/23: Each day this week, send a letter or email or call group mbrs to #thank them for what they bring to the group.

Tuesday, 11/24: Thank your #church leaders: Coach, SG Point Person, #Pastor, Other Staff. Txt, EM, or call.

Wednesday, 11/25: Thank God for grace today through your ACTIONS. #thanksgiving #Jesus #grace #serve

Thursday, 11/26: Love on, appreciate, and be thankful for your family. Be a model of #love. #thankful #blessing

Friday, 11/27: Instead of taking a break, leverage the #holidays with your group: Here are 7 ways:


Follow Mike and Small Group Leadership on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networks by clicking on the icons in the “Connect with Mike” box in the right column.

Seven Ways Your Small Group Can Celebrate the Incarnation This Holiday Season

What is your small group doing over the holidays?

“Many groups struggle with meeting and studying over the holidays, and this can be detrimental to the health of your group,” I wrote in my November column in The Christian Standard magazine. “Not only that, but this is a prime time of the year to help your group members grow in their faith and invite new people. Perhaps your group will take a break from its normal schedule, but that’s no reason to stop meeting.”

CLICK HERE to read my seven ideas for how your small group can get the most—and give the most—from now through New Year’s.


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Want to Be a Great Leader? Live with Integrity!

Our world is in desperate need for leaders with integrity. 

A healthy leader whom God will use to carry out his mission, bearing lasting fruit, is a person of high integrity. But you already knew that, didn’t you? Yet here’s the thing. Integrity is pretty easy to believe in and talk about; but it’s incredibly hard to live out.

Integrity has been defined as doing the right thing even when no one is looking. But it’s more than that. It’s telling the truth even when the facts might damage your reputation or your career. It’s obeying God even when it doesn’t make sense. It’s loving your spouse even when they hurt you. It’s keeping your promises even if you’d never be caught. It’s turning the channel when your favorite TV show “goes there.” It’s following God’s Word even when it’s inconvenient … or extremely difficult … or even if you’d be persecuted for it.

Integrity is impossible in your own strength. 

To live with integrity, you must first love God with all your heart, strength, and mind. Having integrity means you know God is in control of your world, no matter what the circumstances look like. Integrity and faith are intricately connected. Faith and living with integrity both look beyond the current circumstances of your life to something, Someone, bigger, more powerful, more important.

People of integrity seek God’s kingdom first, knowing he will take care of everything else. Living with integrity means you really do believe and trust in God.

“Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the Lord” (Psalm 119:1, NLT). I often don’t see immediate payoffs for keeping my integrity. My integrity costs me something, at least in the short term. But none of these circumstances can take away my joy or the blessings that come from doing the right thing, by following the instructions of the Lord, with God’s power. After all, he is in control.

People of integrity “do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths” (v. 3). We compromise with evil when we stray off his paths, the paths he has cleared, the paths he is walking ahead of us on, the paths he desires for us to walk. His Word is our map for these paths.

The writer of Psalm 119 confessed, “Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your decrees!” (v. 5). Being a person of integrity does not mean being perfect. It does, however, mean being honest, truthful about yourself, and transparent.

People of integrity are humble people. They confess their sins to God and to people they trust.

How do you know if you are living with integrity? The psalmist provided the answer: Then I will not be ashamed when I compare my life with your commands” (v. 6). How are you doing with this? As you read and meditate on Scripture, do you compare your life with God’s Word?

People of integrity are thankful people. The psalmist said, “As I learn your righteous regulations, I will thank you by living as I should!” (v. 7). Thanksgiving is coming up soon. Do you want to be truly thankful to God? Live as you should! In other words, live with integrity each day.

In the final verse in this great section, the psalmist says, I will obey your decrees. Please don’t give up on me!”(v. 8). I can relate with that, can’t you? Actually, it should probably say, “I will try to obey your decrees. Please don’t give up on me when I fail!”

Integrity is impossible without God, but it does take intentional, everyday effort on my part. The biggest thing for me that makes integrity possible is spending time with God each day, reading his Word, listening to him, and growing in my relationship with him. I learn what integrity is from his Word, and he gives me the strength I need to live his way.

Do you want to be a leader after God’s own heart? Live with integrity.

Lyman’s Legacy

I wrote yesterday about Lyman Coleman and his thoughts on small groups as an assimilation strategy for the church. Today, I want to share some more personal thoughts about Lyman.
I first met Lyman Coleman in 1992 when I wrote a feature article about him for The Lookout magazine (right). I had called Serendipity House, the ministry he founded, to set up an interview with him. His assistant put him on the phone and he invited me to travel to two cities with him on his training tour. The time I spent with him over several days had a profound effect on my life. He challenged me to throw my life into God’s passion for reaching lost, broken people through authentic community.
I watched as Lyman led those conferences, and when I began to lead small group conferences myself, I tried to lead the way I saw him do it (although, looking back now, there was no way I could lead like him. Coleman is a unique, creative genius). More than anything, however, I caught Lyman’s passion for people the church has not yet been able to reach. I still carry that passion with me today.

Lyman speaks ardently about the men he learned from, men like Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators, Sam Shoemaker, an episcopal priest who was influential in the beginnings of Alcoholics Anonymous, and Bruce Larson, pastor at University Presbyterian Church and the Crystal Cathedral. Lyman is known as a preeminent small group pioneer, but he points to others who had a profound influence on him. Besides those mentioned above, he talks about other people he did ministry with: Bill Bright, Elton Trueblood, Stacey Woods, Keith Miller, Roberta Hestenes, and of course his brother Robert (author of Master Plan of Evangelism among other books).

In an interview with Christian Counseling Today, Lyman said, “I was given the privilege of being around some people in my early life who planted within me a passion for reaching the world for Christ and for ‘binding up the wounds’ of the broken people in this world.” Lyman still lives out this passion as well as passing on the legacy that these pioneers gave to him.
My initial meeting with Lyman Coleman was a serendipitous moment. I thought I was interviewing him. As it turns out, God meant it to plant a passion for lost, broken people into me. I hope I can pass on that legacy to others.

Thankful Through the Valley

I am thankful today that I have the privilege of having a loving Father who is BIG and powerful! Bigger than any circumstance or situation, more powerful than anyone or anything that comes against me. I’m thankful that though he is so big, he also is concerned and involved in the minute details of my life. He is Jehovah Jireh, my provider. He knows me not only as one of millions of his creations, but individually, as his treasured child.

As some of my good friends and family know, this past year has been difficult in many ways as I’ve walked through a dark valley of the soul. But God’s promise in Psalm 23 is true. He has walked through this valley with me. I would not wish my circumstances over the past year on anyone, but I would wish that each of my friends and family could experience the Father’s closeness and power that I’ve felt during this time. I’m thankful that God is trustworthy and true. Draw close to him and he will never be far away from you. Delight yourself in him, and he will give you the desires of your heart (Ps. 37:4).

What are you thankful for?

Thanking God for Temporary
Thankful for God’s Jealousy, Vengeance, and Anger
Snow Day Devotional

Thanking God for Temporary

Temporary is a sweet sweet word.

When Jesus told people not to worry but to seek first the kingdom of God, he was telling them, and us, that stuff is only temporary.

When Jesus healed people of their diseases, he was telling them that their sicknesses were only temporary. All these people eventually died of something, and yet all of it was temporary.

When Jesus’ friend Lazarus was deathly ill, Jesus didn’t immediately run to his rescue. Why? Because Jesus knew it was all temporary.

Jesus told the thief on the cross next to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” In other words, this is just temporary.

I thank God for temporary.

To my friends Stan and Chuck, MS is temporary.
To my sister Kathy, Rheumatoid arthritis is temporary.
To my friend Terra, loss and grief are temporary.

Faith includes an acknowledgement of what is temporary and a conviction in what is eternal … and choosing to live by what is eternal.

My circumstances and yours are temporary, no matter how difficult they are or impossible they seem. Even if healing or reconciliation or freedom or stability never come in this lifetime, it is still all temporary.

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

What does temporary mean to you?

Thankful for God’s Jealousy, Vengeance, & Anger

I am thankful today for God’s jealousy, vengeance, and anger.

I haven’t always felt that way. In the past, as I’ve studied the Old Testament and read about God being a jealous God, seeing his anger burn against the people he created, and observing his vengeance, I frankly didn’t like it. I don’t like thinking of God that way. I want a God who is soft and cuddly, the prince of peace, the good shepherd. Basically I want a Teddy Bear God, not a Righteous Judge.

But God’s nature includes both, which allows him to provide us with exactly what we need. I’ve been taking a tour through the minor prophets lately and yesterday came to Nahum 1. The first thing Nahum says is,

The Lord is a jealous God, filled with vengeance and wrath. He takes revenge on all who oppose him and furiously destroys his enemies!

Wow … what a way to begin your book! Sure makes me want to keep reading! While these sentences are about God’s “burning anger,” it’s really about his power and the fact that he is in control (sovereign) over all things. The person who put up this church sign fully understands this!

While his anger may seem troubling, it is actually very comforting to realize that God has everything under his control.

I don’t have to worry about vengeance and wrath. He’s got it!
I don’t need to become angry over injustices in the world. He’s got it.
I don’t need to worry about natural disasters. He’s got it.
And He’s got me, regardless of the situation!

Verse 7 completes the picture: “The Lord is good.” I believe that. He’s got me!

To lead from the heart, we need an accurate and whole picture of God. A leader after God’s own heart is surrendered to him and trusts him. He’s got it!

Snow Day Devotional

I’m working from our kitchen table today, but it’s not easy to focus. Every so often, I look out the glass sliding doors into our back yard and watch the snow coming down. It really is awe-inspiring to watch as it covers the tree branches with its winsomely white artistry. (Picture at right taken by my wife, Heidi)

I stopped and read Job 37, reflecting on God’s power and wonder. Just as Job was encouraged to, “stop and consider the wonderful miracles of God” (v. 14), I stopped to reflect on what God might want to teach me in the snowfall.

“He directs the snow to fall on the earth…. Everyone stops working at such a time so they can recognize his power.”
– Job 37:6-7, NLT

I encourage you to stop today and, if it’s snowing (or raining or sunny …) where you are, to recognize God’s power. Read all of Job 37 and see what God wants to teach you today.

Thank you, Lord, for the snow today. You are in control over all your creation, over me, over your church, over every little thing that will happen in my day today and over everything in your universe. You, Lord, balance the clouds with wonderful perfection and skill. Help me to continue to recognize you in your creation and as you work in my life today.