Gratitude, Day 15—Thanksgiving Day


I’ve said more many years that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There are just so many things that are right about the day.

For example it’s a celebration of those early thanksgivings our forefathers held because they lived to bring in a new harvest. I mean, life was not something they took for granted. So they wanted to express their gratitude for life and food.

What’s more they invited native Americans to join them, not as guests but as contributors and participants. They recognized the role their new friends played in making it possible for them to have success in their endeavors.

And of course they were thankful to God because they recognized that without Him, they would not have survived the ocean crossing or had the encounters with people who would help them or received the rain and the sunshine they needed to grow their crops.

With that thought, I want to share a meditation on Thanksgiving which I wrote here in 2013.
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My first observation about thanksgiving in general is that it is a responsive action. People give thanks because they have first been given something or have benefited from some condition or in some other way have experienced favor or provision. In other words, we don’t start out being thankful. We become thankful as we realize what we have received.

Thanksgiving, then, requires a level of humility. If we think we have earned all we have, if we aren’t acknowledging the fact that we received from another’s hand, we won’t be in a mindset to give thanks.

In that regard, Thanksgiving also requires a measure of reality. We need to see the truth about our circumstances. We need to have clarity of vision so that we realize both what we have received and what we would be like if we hadn’t received.

True thanksgiving, having been properly caused, seems to erupt from within. As someone on another site noted, thanksgiving can’t be mandated. No one can be thankful by order of the President, even if that President was Abraham Lincoln. Rather, thankfulness flows from a heart of love and relief and appreciation, not only for the thing received, but for the person who made it possible.

Third, thanksgiving is expressed. Real thanksgiving has legs. It moves from being an emotion to being a demonstration, through words or actions. People giving thanks aren’t silent and they often aren’t still. Thankful people give smiles and hugs; they pack bags and fly hundreds of miles across country; they send cards and presents; they sing songs; they put offering into the plate at church; they get up a half hour early to pray. The cook dinners and bake pies. In short, thanksgiving is not passive.

I can’t help but think of the story Jesus told Simon, the Pharisee who hosted him for a meal.

“A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” (Luke 7:41-42).

Jesus didn’t say, which will be more thankful? He said, which will love him more? Thanksgiving isn’t passive. It turns into love and service and shameless adoration. At least, real thankfulness does–the kind that recognizes the great gifts which have been bestowed and receives them in humility.

In the end, I guess that explains why we so often take time on Thanksgiving Day to think about the things we’ve been given. An awareness of what we have that we did not earn puts us in a place where we can experience thankfulness and then respond.

So let the count begin of all the blessings God has bestowed upon us. Let’s not forget the things God has revealed about Himself that are treasures in and of themselves: He is infinite in love, His mercy extends to the heavens, He is abundantly trustworthy to the point that He will never fail us or forsake us, He is righteous in all His works, His goodness is untainted with even a shadow of wrong doing.

And the list goes on!

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Published in: on November 21, 2018 at 4:59 pm  Comments (1)  
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Preparing For The Super Bowl


Denver_Broncos2In the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos went about their business in the same way that they had each of the previous weeks of the 2015 season and playoffs. Over and over coach Gary Kubiak would answer media questions by saying the team was focused on this week’s opponent.

No, they didn’t think about who would be the quarterback in the playoffs or even next week, for example. They had determined who would be the quarterback this week and they were preparing accordingly.

Of course the pre-Super Bowl activities challenged their resolve. As player after player met the media, they fielded questions about how it felt to be such a big underdog, whether or not Peyton Manning was going to retire, whether switching quarterbacks had caused friction in the locker room and many more.

Repeatedly they said they were staying in the moment, enjoying the experiences of the Super Bowl activities, but preparing for the game.

BroncosCelebrationNot all the players made it. One young man who was on the practice squad was caught up in a prostitution sting. Though he wasn’t charged by the police, the team sent him home. He wasn’t on the same page with the others. Consequently he lost out. When the Broncos took control of the game and beat the highly favored Carolina Panthers, that young man was not on the sidelines. I don’t know if he was included in yesterday’s parade in Denver before a million fans.

What he did was a betrayal of his team. He lost his focus and involved himself in some of the very distractions the coaches had warned them to avoid.

But here’s the thing. What the Denver Broncos went through, particularly during those last two weeks before the Super Bowl, when the distractions were ramped up to an incredible height, mirrors what the Christian experiences day after day.

We’re in the same kind of grind that the Broncos were in. Out of sight, behind closed doors, we prepare our hearts before God, then we face the day, with all of its challenges and temptations and distractions. We have a prize we’re going for, but in the long haul, we need to stay focused and keep our minds set on things above, not on things on the earth.

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

We’re playing for the reward of the inheritance, for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. We celebrate the victory Christ has already won, but we also buffet our body and train our minds. We focus on the things above because we are saved and are being saved.

In essence, we’ve won through Christ but now we must go out and play the game.

I’m mindful of Joshua and the people of Israel as the walls of Jericho fell. What a wondrous miracle of God. And yet, Israel still had to conquer the city. There was still a battle to be won.

In the same way, the Christian can bask in the victory Christ has procured for us. But nevertheless, we have battles to fight—against the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the boastful pride of life. Against ourselves, against Satan and his forces, against the world and its pull.

We’d be wise, then, to adopt the plan of the Denver Broncos—stay in the moment, do what today calls for us to do. It sounds quite existential. But the point is, we really only have this moment. The past is gone and can’t be changed. We have no promise of tomorrow. If we are to press on toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, we must do so today. Now. With our focus firmly set against the distractions that would pull us away from the things above.

Published in: on February 10, 2016 at 5:31 pm  Comments Off on Preparing For The Super Bowl  
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Hilarious Joy


Advent Wk 3Chuck Swindoll, my first pastor as an adult, liked to use the word “hilarity” or “hilarious.” It fit. I never knew a pastor could have so much fun preaching. But as I recall, he used the word more in connection with things like giving and worship.

I remember one sermon in particular which he preached about David bringing the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. As the procession moved forward, David stripped off his outer garment and was leaping and dancing before the ark. He was worshiping with hilarity.

Another sermon along these lines which I remember was from Nehemiah. The people gathered to hear the reading of God’s word, but when they did they started weeping—their sins and the sins of their nation down through the years weighed on their hearts. Nehemiah told them to stop mourning, though. “This day is holy to the Lord your God,” he said. Then he added,

“Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.”

All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them. (Nehemiah 8:9b, 10b-12)

Their mourning turned into feasting and hilarious celebration. They ate, they drank, they gave to others, and they celebrated.

Sound like anything we might also experience, oh, say every December 25? We undoubtedly have the eating and drinking and giving parts down pat, though our giving is more often than not to those who also give to us. We aren’t perhaps quite as proficient at giving to those who have “nothing prepared.” But I also wonder if we have the motive behind the celebrating sorted out.

The people Nehemiah led were taking part in a holy day, set apart to the Lord. Christmas, as some have pointed out, is a tangled holiday—part with religious underpinnings and part with secular, though even these have godly men (St. Nicholas) and/or godly purposes at the heart of their traditions. Still, might we not experience more of the hilarious joy of celebration if we saw the day as holy to the Lord?

Too often, I think Christians equate worship with quiet reverence, not hilarious celebration. But what did the Psalmist mean when he said, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord”?

The snatches of heaven we glimpse in the books of prophecy seem anything but solemn and sedate. For instance, the four living creatures shout, “Holy, Holy Holy is the Lord God the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.” (Rev. 4:8b) Further, crowds surround God’s throne, and they’re giving God praise too.

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” (Rev. 7:9-12)

When I read that passage, I don’t get the impression that there was a leader saying, OK, time to fall on our faces before the throne. Rather, it seems as if this is a spontaneous reaction to seeing God.

So maybe that’s the key. Maybe we need to spend some of our day looking at God.

I know, I know. He’s a Spirit and we can’t really see Him. I’m not saying we need to dig out some icon or a picture in a Bible or something. Horrors! No!

We “see” God by reading what He’s said about Himself and then thinking about it deeply. The more familiar the passage, the more we need to think about it, to let questions come to our mind and to dig into Scripture to see if we can’t answer those questions.

Then after we see God, let the hilarity begin!

Published in: on December 18, 2014 at 5:43 pm  Comments (3)  
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Why Bells?


golden_christmas_bellsI love the trappings of Christmas. I love the light displays, the decorated trees, the candles and stockings hanging off the mantelpiece, I love wreaths and gingerbread cookies (or the idea of them, at least), and I love Christmas carols and candy canes and bells.

But why bells? How did they make their way into Christmas?

I’ve not really researched the issue, but I can speculate based on some of the carols we have. When Christmas was primarily a religious holiday, churches undoubtedly rang their bells, whether for a special service or simply in celebration. “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” a carol based on a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, contains these lines:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,

and wild and sweet
The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along
The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Ah, yes, all those church belfries.

christmas_bells_in_the_snowIn winter climates, during the horse-and-buggy era, sleighs provided a means of transportation during the Christmas season, and apparently bells were part of the adornment. We learn this from a number of Christmas songs that have become classics: “Silver Bells,” “Winter Wonderland,” and of course, “Jingle Bells”:

Bells on bobtail ring’
Making spirits bright
What fun it is to ride and sing
A sleighing song tonight!

Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way.
Oh! what fun it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh.

Then there are the songs like “White Christmas,” and “The Carol of Christmas” that indicate bells were nothing more than instruments of joyful celebration:

Hark how the bells
Sweet silver bells
All seem to say
Throw cares away

Christmas is here
Bringing good cheer
To young and old
Meek and the bold
Ding dong ding
That is their song
With joyful ring
All caroling

The one carol that seems to come closest to capturing all these facets of bells at Christmas is “Ding Dong Merrily On High.” Apparently the music was originally a French dance tune. The lyrics were first published early in the twentieth century. Today we are most familiar with the first verse and the chorus, but here are all three verses:

Ding dong merrily on high,
In heav’n the bells are ringing:
Ding dong! verily the sky
Is riv’n with angel singing.
Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

E’en so here below, below,
Let steeple bells be swungen,
And “Io, io, io!”
By priest and people sungen.
Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

Pray you, dutifully prime
Your matin chime, ye ringers;
May you beautifully rime
Your evetime song, ye singers.
Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

Clearly in this song the bells are a means of celebration, whether on high or here below, and the note they sound is that of glory accompanying the cry of Hosanna. This is worship.

Besides all we learn from the holiday music, I can’t help but think of bells as a means to ask for people’s attention. The Salvation Army bell ringers do this. I imagine town criers of old going along the streets, ringing bells and shouting, “Hear ye, hear ye.”

That use of bells, of course, would fit for the Christian about to proclaim good news–which really is what Christmas is all about. Perhaps, then, bells are one of the most fitting accouterments of Christmas.

Published in: on December 11, 2012 at 6:37 pm  Comments (3)  
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