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Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Thanksgiving and Black Friday

 Its that time of year: crisp and cool mornings, children kicking through leaves scattered about the lawn, football stadiums packed with cheering fans, parades with marching bands and the smell of turkey baking in the oven. Once again, after the Covid interruption, laughter fills our homes where family and friends gather around the table.  I like Thanksgiving and everything that goes with it: cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad and pie (any kind of pie).  And I like 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.

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

 Black Friday isn’t what it was. Online shopping and some stores opening their doors on Thursday have taken some of the zap out of it.  At its peak, lines would form in front of Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target on Friday long before the first gray light of day.   A few spent the night camped out in tents on concrete sidewalks.  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.  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.

 May the words of the Apostle Paul echo in our heart throughout the holiday season, “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).

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Thanksgiving Together

 The trees have turned. Many have dropped their leaves.  Winter is at the door, and Covid has loosened its grip.  Thoughts turn a shared table overflowing with turkey, dressing, giblet gravy, pumpkin pie and “home.” This year is especially meaningful after last year’s isolation and zoom.  It just wasn’t the same.  Many are making plans to travel. I like Thanksgiving and the American traditions that go along with it.

 Thanksgiving is special to the American experience. George Washington signed the first Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789.  But the official annual holiday began in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln set aside the fourth Thursday of November as a day for giving thanks.  When he issued his proclamation, our nation was embroiled in Civil War. Young men by the thousands lay dead on the battlefields.  Families were gripped with grief.  But a wounded nation found solace for its soul by seeking a grateful heart.

 In times of prosperity and want, in times of war and peace, throughout the Great Depression, the Great Recession and last year’s pandemic we have paused as a nation on this final Thursday of November to remember and to be thankful.  For this one day, at least, we make sure that the homeless and the hungry are fed. On this day, we lay down our tools and gather around tables with those whom we love the most.  We are not burdened with the buying and giving of gifts.  We simply pause to enjoy one another and the goodness with which God has blessed us. 

Nothing is more important than cultivating a grateful and thankful heart.  We all experience blessing and loss.  God sends his rain on the just and the unjust.  The faithful and the unfaithful must weather the same storms. We all experience life and love and loss that we do not deserve. We often cannot choose our circumstances but we can choose our response;  bitterness and resentment, thankfulness and gratitude. The former leads to death.  The latter leads to life. 

 The Bible is clear about the importance of thanksgiving.  The Psalms are filled with thanksgiving and praise.  Jeremiah envisioned desolate Jerusalem restored with gratitude saying: “the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.’" (Jer. 33:11).  Paul wrote, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”  (Colossians 2:6). 

Monday, November 8, 2021

Believe It Or Not

 “Believe” is an interesting word.  Sometimes we use it to indicate doubt. If we are not entirely certain of something, we will say, “I believe so.”  For instance, if someone asks, “Are your friends joining us for dinner?”  We will say, “I believe so.” Meaning, I think they are, but I am not quite sure.

 Sometimes we use “believe” to indicate our agreement.  If you point to an airplane and ask, “Do you believe this is an airplane?” I might say, “Yes, I believe that is an airplane.” 

 At other times we use the word “believe” to indicate our confidence in someone. We could also use this term with respect to the pilot of the airplane. We could believe in him, meaning we have confidence he can fly the airplane.

 The word translated “believe” in the Bible actually means “faith.” We don’t have a verb form of “faith” in our language. We cannot say, “I faith you.”  We are left with our word “believe.”  In this case, if we believe in the airplane and the pilot, we must climb aboard the airplane, follow instructions and actually fly in it. We trust both the airplane and the pilot to take us aloft thousands of feet in the air.

 The “faith” meaning of the word changes how we understand key passages in the Bible.  For instance, when Jesus says,“I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me shall never die,” he is actually saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who puts his trust and absolute faith in me shall never die.” 

 There are many who “believe” in Christ and “believe” they are Christians.  They use the term like the first example.  They are not quite sure, but they think it might be true, or hope it is.

 Then there are others who “believe” according to the second definition. They give mental assent believing that Jesus is the Son of God, but it doesn’t make much difference in their lives. 

 Still others fall into the third category.  They believe in Jesus in the sense that they have confidence in who he claims to be. They think he is a good person, that he spoke the truth, that he would get their vote among the other religious leaders in history.

 But moving into a faith relationship with Jesus Christ requires the New Testament kind of “believing.”  We must trust Him with our lives.  In this case we don’t have to understand or know everything, just like we don’t have to understand or know everything about flight and airplanes in order to fly. When the Bible says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved,” it means more than wishful thinking, mental assent or even having confidence in Christ.  It means we must place our complete faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  Like flying, we must follow His instructions and trust Him.  If we do this, He will save us.

 We demonstrate this “faith” kind of believing by doing what He says. (Matthew 7:24-27; John 14:15).  We live according to His Kingdom that is ruled by kindness, gentleness, thoughtfulness, humility, hope and love. (Colossians 3:5-17).

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Power of Encouragement

 The length of every football field is 100 yards. Every pitcher’s rubber is sixty feet six inches from home plate. The bases are ninety feet apart. Every basketball hoop is ten feet high, and every free throw line is fifteen feet from the backboard.  Every tennis court is 78 feet long. The service line is 21 feet from the net. But when the game is played, all things are not equal.  One athlete is playing before the home crowd and the other isn’t.  The cheers that fill the stadium make a difference. We have all seen it, the power of encouragement.  It is what sports calls the “home field advantage.” 

Unlike last year, when the World Series was played with eerie silence amid cardboard cutouts, this year’s classic was greeted with thunderous crowds that vibrated the stands and echoed in the rafters. In Houston Astros fans were quick to forgive any past sins and welcome their heroes with standing-ovations In Atlanta the Braves fans tomahawked their way through three games and went delirious with a first inning grand slam in game 5. In all of sports, it is a different game when fans are present cheering the home team.

 We also know the ravages of discouragement.  Discouragement can paralyze and make it impossible to act. It can steal our confidence and throw us into a downward spiral.  We feel it when the stands go silent. We see it in the faces of the losing team in the waning moments of the game.

 We are all players on the field. We are all listening for the voices that will lift us up and cheer us on.  And we are all vulnerable to the voices of discouragement from within and from without.

 When a broken-hearted father received the devastating news that his daughter was dead, Jesus said, “Stop fearing, only believe!” He then proceeded to the man’s home and, in the privacy of their bedroom, gently raised his daughter to life.  (Mark 5:36).   The Adversary whispers into our ear words of discouragement and doubt.  But God’s voice is always the voice of encouragement. God is our constant encourager.  He believes in us.  He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 13:5). 

 Every day we need encouragement.  And every day we encounter people who need to be encouraged: the clerk in the Walmart checkout line, the waitress working two jobs to feed her kids, the aging aunt confined by her infirmity to a nursing home, children struggling with the stress of school.  Perhaps the most spiritual thing you can do today is to encourage someone.  It might be the most important thing you ever do.