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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving and Black Friday 11-25-2009

I like Thanksgiving. I think it is my favorite holiday because it has not been hijacked by commercialism. I like the sounds of family and friends laughing around the table. I like the fall leaves scattered about the lawn, the crisp mornings and the smell of turkey baking in the oven. I like what goes with it: cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad and pie (any kind of pie). And, most of all, I like dressing, the one thing that still divides the north from the south. Those from the north prepare bread dressing. Those with southern roots cook corn bread dressing. Turkeys come and turkeys go, but my wife’s corn bread dressing is to die for. She learned the recipe from her mother: corn bread, celery, onions, chopped boiled eggs, broth, butter and other ingredients I will never figure out. With giblet gravy, it is a meal in itself.

By Friday the tryptophan and carbohydrates have worn off. After missing the third quarter of the Thanksgiving ball game we regained consciousness enough to stumble into the kitchen for leftovers. Loaded up again, and slept the sound sleep of a thankful soul. And now we are ready to get on with the real business of the American holiday season: shopping!

Lines form in front of Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target long before the first gray light of day. A few spend the night there, camped out in tents on concrete sidewalks, huddled in parkas against brick walls, fulfilling a holiday tradition. Our pilgrim fathers knew nothing of this. They hunted and harvested and cleaned and cooked, but they never stood in lines in front of glass doors waiting for the opening bell. They never rushed through aisles searching for treasures that were sure to disappear. They never stood in check out lines that stretched to the back of the store. They had it easy.

Fifty years ago we eased into Christmas. No one had heard of Black Friday. We used Friday to digest the Thanksgiving feast. It was a quiet day, the day after we gathered at grandma’s with cousins and kin. Christmas decorations were not yet up, not even thought of. We savored the season. But today, we are jolted from Thanksgiving into Christmas.

Black Friday seems to symbolize our rush through life, our efforts to get the best deal, to be first in line. It seems to represent the commercialization of Christmas and threatens to turn Thanksgiving into a season of “thanks getting.” Don’t get me wrong. I like a good deal and deep discounts. I want the American economy to thrive. But, along the way, I hope we cultivate a thankful heart and grateful spirit that is not measured by the sum of what we can get at the cheapest price. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ants 11-18-2009

We have ants. We have kept them at bay inside the house, but outside, that is a different matter. A single dropped crumb on the patio and the next morning a stream of ants appear, hundreds of them in a neatly organized operation to dismantle the discarded food and store it in bits and bites for later use.

How do they do this? Do the wandering scout-ants have cell phones? When they make a discovery do they place a call back to home base and say, “Send the troops. We have food!” Who organizes the operation? Who tells these worker ants to answer the call, and who plots the route, usually the shortest and least obstructed line to the treasure?

If they were humans, the searchers who discovered the food supply would immediately stake a claim, lay title to it and horde it so that they could be wealthier than all the other ants. They would let the weaker ants in the colony starve. And, they would probably spend most of their time in “ant court” defending the right to their possessions. “Ant lawyers” would probably claim the greatest portion of the wealth.

Why can’t we learn from these little creatures? Every year a billion people on the earth die of starvation. Every day 25,000 children, world wide, whose stomachs are bloated and empty draw their last breath. They die in remote villages far from public scrutiny. Over half the world’s population, three billion people, live on less than $2.50 per day.

I have to admit this convicts and alarms me. I need to be more like the little critters who invade my patio. I need to sound the alarm, send out the signal, marshal others and join them in distributing food and resources to those who need it. But how do we do this? How do we know that our gifts get to the people and places where they are needed? There is so much graft and corruption in the world that charitable gifts are often routed into the pockets of the greedy.

I guess the best thing is to be alert to opportunities. When a beggar approached me on a parking lot in downtown Dallas, I took him across the street to Subway and bought him a sandwich. Unfortunately, as I listened to him, his story seemed to unravel and I am not sure it was the best thing to do. But it was something. When one of our church members returned from Kenya and made an appeal for people she knows who are starving, I sent a check. When I visited Tillie Bergin at Mission Arlington and saw the difference she was making among the poor in the inner city, I sent a gift. It’s not much. But, for me it is a start. If all of us gave more generously we could make a difference, like the ant.

Proverbs says, “Go to the ant … consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” (Prov. 6:6-8). John, describing true repentance and faith, said, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” (Luke 3:11)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fort Hood 11-10-2009

Two weeks from now we will gather with family and friends for Thanksgiving, a peculiar American tradition, peculiar because it is unique to our country and its history. As we have done many times before, we will do so against the backdrop of a tragic evil. Looming in the backs of our minds will be images of Fort Hood and the innocent men and women who were slain.

I must admit that this crime has raised deeper feelings of anger and resentment in me than most. Perhaps it is because the crime was committed by one who wore the uniform of our country and was perpetrated against young men and women who had volunteered to place their lives in harms way for the rest of us. Perhaps it is because he was a trained psychiatrist who was supposed to identify and prevent this kind of insanity. Or perhaps it is because it could reflect a radical religious element that somehow celebrates innocent bloodshed and slaughter as something heroic. If it is the latter, we must remind ourselves it is the twisted tenets of this radical element that we are to abhor and hate, not the person or the people.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I have decided to focus on those who are truly heroic rather than the perpetrator of this crime. I will focus on Kimberly Munley, the Fort Hood police officer who sought out the killer and stood her ground exchanging gunfire with him to end the slaughter. I will focus upon nineteen year old Amber Bahr from Wisconsin who, after being shot herself helped drag her buddies to safety and tore up her jacket as a makeshift tourniquet to save a fellow soldier. These women are truly heroic because their first thoughts were for the safety and welfare of others. They are heroic because they were willing to lay down their lives that others might live. I will focus upon the thirteen who gave their lives, the twenty-nine who were wounded and the thousands, both military and civilian, whose bravery and unselfish sacrifice go unknown and unreported every day, those who choose goodness and grace in obscure places without thought of reward.
I will choose to believe the Bible’s promise that goodness and grace ultimately overcome hatred and violence. I will believe this because God has not only declared it to be true; He has demonstrated it by the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. As the Scripture says, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know … what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” (Ephesians 1:18-21). Because of this, I will seek to follow His instruction, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:20). And, when we gather with family and friends in a couple of weeks, I will give thanks.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Understanding the Bible 11-1-2009

My wife and I took Saturday off for a quick trip to southwest Arkansas, a chance to see the changing leaves in the Ozarks. The hills were ablaze. The change in scenery was invigorating. We celebrated the zenith of our trip eating dinner at Queen Wilhelmina State Park with a view of the Ozark hills in the distance.

We struck up a conversation with a couple from Oklahoma. He was a semi-retired math teacher. When I mentioned I was a minister, the conversation changed. I have seen this happen many times. But this one was a bit different. Fire entered his eyes as he told me of his recently purchased assault rifle, his membership in the NRA and his commitment to the right to bear arms. He then proceeded to explain how Jesus identified Barack Obama as the Anti-Christ. His reasoning was based on an interpretation of Jesus’ statement in Luke 10, that He saw Satan fall like lightening from Heaven. He had seen a wildly popular video on youtube and was convinced.

“If you read it in Hebrew, the original language,” he said, “you will find that the words Barack and Obama are the words he used.” I listened to him waxing eloquent about the evils of our President for a few moments, as if he were rallying recruits for a revolution to reclaim our government, before informing him that the passage he quoted was written in Greek, not Hebrew. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew. The New Testament was written in Greek.

The wind had been robbed from his sails and the fire in his eyes dimmed a little. But his mind was made up, and something as trivial as a mistake about the language wasn’t going to dissuade him. After all, he explained, he had read Strong’s Concordance. After I got home I looked it up. The video he had seen admits the text was written in Greek, but does some fancy foot work mixed with a little imagination to reconstruct Jesus saying, “I saw Satan as baraq ubamaw.”

It was a reminder to me that we get ourselves in trouble when we build our beliefs on obscure and questionable interpretations of the Bible, especially when we go to great lengths to make the Bible say what we want it to say. Whole denominations, sects and cults have been created around disputed passages. We need to build our faith on the clear and plain sections of Scripture. The most obvious and apparent meaning is almost always the right one. The Bible was not meant to be a puzzle or an obscure book that only the most educated or imaginative could figure out. The Bible was given to us so we could discover the important answers to the meaning and purpose of life, and, most importantly, so we could have a relationship with God that changes us to reflect His character. If we want to know what the character of God looks like, we need only look at Jesus without trying to reinterpret what He said.