Where Are You Spending Thanksgiving Day? I have spent Thanksgiving Day in many different ways. So have you. Nostalgia always sends to the many Thanksgivings our family spent with my maternal relatives in Cincinnati, Ohio: Laughter. Food. Noisy conversation. Food. Football. Food. Alka Seltzer.
The uniquely American holiday that we know as Thanksgiving was only formalized in the 19th century by President Abraham Lincoln. But from the beginning of history, the virtue of thanksgiving is at the core of God’s people. One of the most memorable of all Biblical characters had a “Day of Thanksgiving” in a most unusual place. For little Trivial Pursuit, read the quote below and see if you can recall who uttered this declaration of praise and where he or she was at the time…
“Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!”
[Don’t spoil the surprise by reading ahead… insert Jeopardy theme music here…]
Give up? The man that uttered this faith-filled song of praise was none other than—Jonah the prophet. Where was he? In the belly of a huge fish. Not ideal. Instead of having Thanksgiving dinner, Jonah was Thanksgiving dinner.
Jonah found himself in this cozy spot because he had disobeyed the direction of the Lord. He had been given a mission to preach the word of the Lord to Nineveh, the capital city of the dominant oppressive regime at the time, the Assyrians. Instead, Jonah booked passage on a ship in the opposite direction. God intervened, Jonah went overboard, and a fish swallowed him up—or, down. With some time to think, Jonah finally began to process what had occurred to him. It was God’s grace that placed him where he was; he should be floating face-down in the Mediterranean Sea. Instead, Jonah was alive and well and about to receive a second chance to do the will of God.
On this Thanksgiving Day, I hope that you are in a far better place than Jonah was. The fact is however, you may be wondering what you could possibly be thankful for. Alone? Discouraged? Hopeless?
Several years ago, my wife and daughters spent Thanksgiving in a Ronald McDonald House in Chicago. A few blocks away, our son was in a hospital bed fighting a life-threatening infection. The day began with a festive spirit; several families worked together on side-dishes and a local corporation supplied turkeys. With all the preparations made and the dinner prepared, suddenly a wave of quiet sadness swept over the room. Perhaps it was just me, but I believe all of us in that instant remembered that we were missing someone special at the table. Our sons and daughters were not there. That day, thanksgiving was not a celebration, it was a decision. We discovered God’s grace had not abandoned us in our difficult time. From the belly of my fish, I was compelled to give thanks, a sacrifice of praise.
Thanksgiving is foundational to worship. Follower of Christ, we give thanks, not because life is good, but because God is good. Even if you are in a most difficult time of your life, know that God has not forgotten you. Take a moment today, and every day, to give thanks with a grateful heart.
“Okay, we go back to the basics this morning. . . .”
The red-faced coach held a football high overhead, so every single player on the championship team could clearly see.
“Gentlemen, this is a football!”
If you follow sports at all you have heard a passionate speech about “fundamentals.” You see, it’s easy for fans to get caught up in the things that have nothing to do with becoming a successful team. For example, I have a childhood memory of my mother, on rare occasions sitting down on the couch and watching a football game. She liked watching the Vikings because she loved their purple uniforms. I sometimes yell at the coach, through my television, demanding different plays. Doesn’t the coach see that these plays don’t work? The truth is that stylish uniforms and well-designed plays do not result in winning games. Well-coached teams, comprised of talented players, perform at their best when they execute the fundamental disciplines of their sport better than their opponent does. Pay attention to the fundamentals, and winning will take care of itself. The next Super Bowl champions began their journey years ago, by learning how to tackle, block, pass, catch, and kick. And, yes, what a football looks like.
Who was that frustrated coach? Vince Lombardi, coach of the Green Bay Packers, champions of the National Football League. One day earlier, a clearly inferior team had defeated them badly. Even the best need to be reminded of the fundamentals.
As a Christian leader, I am a coach. There can be no question about the missions that Jesus gave His disciples. “Go and make disciples,” was the clarion call and it continues to this day. If a good football coach clearly understands the basics of the game and how to teach those skills to his players, what are the fundamentals of disciple making? Am I clear about what those fundamentals are, and can I teach them to those I serve as a leader? Leader, if you have not done it for a while, sit down with a legal pad or tablet and make a list of non-negotiables for making disciples.
First, what qualifies as a “fundamental?” A fundamental is something that is basic and so critical to the makeup of the disciple-making process that it must be included in the process no-matter-what. Without it, you might be leading, but you will not be making disciples. Compiling a list of basic discipleship Sounds easy. It isn’t.
After much thought and after wearing out an eraser, here is my list of fundamentals of discipleship…
1. The Bible. This is where it all begins. Nothing else matters without an authoritative source, the final arbiter of truth and practice. For followers of Jesus, the Bible is that source. When we correctly interpret and diligently live out the directions of the Bible, we are hearing from God and doing God’s will.
2. Faith. Often, we speak about the beginnings of our discipleship as “coming to faith.” Faith is the realization that the gospel is true and that Jesus is trustworthy. Disciples, after all, are known as followers of Christ—Christians. Having come to faith, we continue to live by faith—trusting the Lord and the Bible.
3. Worship. Humans are created to worship, and we do. When a person follows Jesus, they acknowledge that only God as his or her Sovereign. Worship is proclaiming the worthiness of God, declaring our allegiance to God, and living under the Lordship of Christ through words, actions, and attitudes.
4. Jesus. The “second person” of the Holy Trinity was born into humanity; lived a sinless life; died to pay the penalty of universal human sin; rose from the grave; and is returning to rule the earth and to receive all disciples to Himself.
5. Holy Spirit. The “third person” of the Holy Trinity is God’s divine presence with and within the followers of Jesus. The Spirit accomplishes the new birth, transforms persons into the image of Jesus, and empowers Christ’s followers to accomplish the works of God in this age.
6. Grace. All that disciples receive from God and do for God are a result of grace—God’s unmerited favor. Human beings, as fallen beings, are incapable and unworthy. Grace transforms us and qualifies us for divine blessing.
7. Prayer. Followers of Jesus have direct access to God through prayer. Prayer is a two-way communication between God and God’s people.
8. Church. No one follows Christ alone. The Church exists as the community of the Spirit. It is the family of God, an inseparable source of nurture, support, and accountability.
Fundamentals are basic; that means that they are the foundation upon which the disciple constructs a life of integrity and service to the Kingdom of God. Effective disciple makers never leave the fundamentals, they build upon them and reinforce them often.
Work on your list, and may God bless your leadership.
David L. DeGarmo (D. Min.) serves Global University as Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Theology. Along with his wife Ruth, he is also a U.S. Missionary. He has extensive experience as an educator, missionary, and pastor.
David writes an additional blog on a variety of topics. Check it out...