Week of Thanks Day 1

One of the boundaries I set for this blog a while ago was that I would not post on Sunday. If I felt like writing on a Sunday, that was fine, but I would never give myself a deadline or goal of publishing a post on a Sunday. Even when I participated in the 12 Days of Christmas blogging challenge last year, I doubled up on a Monday to avoid posting on a Sunday. Sundays are about Jesus and family; they are for celebrating the Good News that Jesus brought, gathering with other believers, and learning and recharging for the week. On a practical note, for me they have become a day of baking, worship, family time, and making sure I have everything lined up that I will need for the coming week (such as meal prepping and weather-appropriate laundry). It’s my favorite day of the week, and I strive to fill it with things that bring me peace and God glory.

However, obviously, I’m breaking that self-imposed rule today. Today I want to start a short Thanksgiving blog series. Each post this week will talk about something I am thankful for and include a Bible verse to meditate on for the day, plus either a song or book recommendation and a recipe. I’ll also highlight posts from other blogs that have given me something to think about this season.

To kick this series off with, today’s post is centered around possibly the biggest blessing to come into my life this year: the church that I attend. Perhaps I should have saved something so big in my life for last, but if I’m going to post on a Sunday, it seems fitting to talk about church.

Verse of the day:

I was glad when they said to me,

“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”

Psalm 122:1

I’ve previously talked a little about the congregation I joined this year and the influence it has had on my life, and I think I could talk about it for hours and still find something new to bring up. Nowhere else have I encountered people so collectively determined to pursue, obey, and display Jesus. In no other group have I felt such a strong sense of belonging and like I am wanted. Even when I openly question things, the response I receive is without fail respectful and engaging. Like most (if not all) churches, it has its platitudes and default positions to fall back on, but when something is questioned or when I push back against an assertion that doesn’t seem quite right, I’ve come to expect a rarely-seen combination of humility and confidence in return. People of all levels are willing to study and contemplate and put in the work required to answer weightier questions, and they expect me to do the same. They trust that I can and will do the same. I couldn’t be more thankful for this environment and the friendships and spiritual growth that have come along with it.

A few weeks ago I went back through the prayer journal that I kept (inconsistently) last year and found the time when I started attending here. I watched a few sermons online before working up the courage to go in person. One night during November of 2021 I wrote the following words, the memory of which still floods me with a sense of relief and joyful apprehension:

“For so long I have only heard “go” when I prayed, and now the phrase “come home” is ringing in my ears and stirring my heart.”

The first time I visited wasn’t some perfect, magical experience, but I knew it was where I was supposed to be at least for the moment. I hoped, and oh how I prayed, that it would be such for more than just a short time, but I had no idea what this place and these people would come to mean to me. It’s incredible to look back and see how God moved not only in my life, but in other people’s lives at the same time. Someone I hadn’t yet met was praying for a community and ministry with people her own age to be involved in. A friend I hadn’t spoken to in about a decade showed up about the third time I visited, providing another layer of connection that I couldn’t have predicted or thought to ask for. Within a few months later a few other young adults found their way to the church. Because I have never before been one to fit in easily, it was a relief to watch others come and be welcomed just as warmly as I was. And what’s even better is that the elders and congregation as a whole are supporting those of us who have just recently come as well as those who grew up here. This is more than the “let’s find which ministry box you fit in best!” approach that I’ve been familiar with; this is older generations inviting the younger ones to ladies’ night out and men’s retreat, asking for help with decorating and teaching, and offering space for us to host regular hang outs for all young adults in the area where we study, sing, and play together (because let’s be honest, none of us have enough space or silverware to host on our own, and it is such an encouragement to be able to spend time with others who are in a similar place in life). Despite the fact that I grew up in a Christian family attending church on the other side of town, went to a Bible college for my undergrad, and lost count of how many congregations I have visited over the years, the truth of Scripture is clearer here than anywhere else I have been. I don’t know how to put into words how thankful I am to get to experience life like this.

Book Recommendations

Uncomfortable: The Award and Essential Challenge of Christian Community by Brett McCracken (2018)

It’s easy to dream about the “perfect” church–a church that sings just the right songs set to just the right music before the pastor preaches just the right sermon to a room filled with just the right mix of people who happen to agree with you on just about everything.

Chances are your church doesn’t quite look like that. But what if instead of searching for a church that makes us comfortable, we learned to love our church, even when it’s challenging? What if some of the discomfort that we often experience is actually good for us?

This book is a call to embrace the uncomfortable aspects of Christian community, whether that means believing difficult truths, pursuing difficult holiness, or loving difficult people–all for the sake of the gospel, God’s glory, and our joy.

Disruptive Witness by Alan Noble (2018)

We live in a distracted, secular age. These two trends define life in Western society today. We are increasingly addicted to habits―and devices―that distract and “buffer” us from substantive reflection and deep engagement with the world. And we live in what Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor calls “a secular age”―an age in which all beliefs are equally viable and real transcendence is less and less plausible. Drawing on Taylor’s work, Alan Noble describes how these realities shape our thinking and affect our daily lives. Too often Christians have acquiesced to these trends, and the result has been a church that struggles to disrupt the ingrained patterns of people’s lives. But the gospel of Jesus is inherently disruptive: like a plow, it breaks up the hardened surface to expose the fertile earth below. In this book Noble lays out individual, ecclesial, and cultural practices that disrupt our society’s deep-rooted assumptions and point beyond them to the transcendent grace and beauty of Jesus. Disruptive Witness casts a new vision for the evangelical imagination, calling us away from abstraction and cliché to a more faithful embodiment of the gospel for our day.

Tables in the Wilderness by Preston Yancey (2014)

In Tables in the Wilderness, Preston Yancey arrived at Baylor University in the autumn of 2008 with his life figured out: he was Southern Baptist, conservative, had a beautiful girlfriend he would soon propose to, had spent the summer living in southeast Asia as a missionary, and planned to study political science. Then God slowly allowed Preston’s secure world to fall apart until every piece of what he thought was true was lost: his church, his life of study, his political leanings, his girlfriend, his best friend . . . and his God. It was the loss of God in the midst of all the godly things that changed Preston forever. One day he felt he heard God say, “It’s going to be about trust with you,” and then God was silent—and he still hasn’t spoken. At least, not in the ways Preston used to think were the only ways God spoke. No pillars of fire, no clouds, just a bit of whisper in wind. Now, Preston is a patchwork of Anglican spirituality and Baptist sensibility, with a mother who has been in chronic neurological pain for thirteen years and father still devoted to Southern Baptist ministry who reads saints’ lives on the side.

He now shares his story of coming to terms with a God who is bigger than the one he thought he was worshiping—the God of a common faith, the God who makes tables in the wilderness, the God who is found in cathedrals and in forests and in the Eucharist, the God who speaks in fire and in wind, the God who is bigger than narrow understandings of his will, his desire, his plan—the God who is so big, that everything must be his.

Further Reading:

Aberdeen Church of Christ. (no date). “Just a Christian.” http://aberdeencoc.org/index.php/design-and-features/just-a-christian

Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, The. (2011). “Church of Christ.” Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Church-of-Christ

McAdams, Wes. (2022). “Bible Study Podcast.” Radically Christian. https://radicallychristian.com/category/podcast/

Tabb, Brian J. (2021). “What makes a ‘Good church’?” Themelios, 46(3). https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/article/what-makes-a-good-church-reflections-on-a-church-called-tov/

Okay, now instead of a single recipe, I have another article to share which is a list of 50 Easy Potluck Recipes from Taste of Home, because Thanksgiving is close enough to a potluck for many people and there are too many good recipes here to pick one! If you’re still deciding what to take to a Friendsgiving party or a family feast, this list has got your back! Unless you’re in charge of dessert.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking around! Most of my posts this week will probably be much shorter than this one. They are all about things that I am thankful for, but there are few things in this life that I’m as passionate about as this.

What’s one thing you are thankful for about your church or faith tradition?

Until the next chapter,

Jana

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