What Happened to Thanksgiving?

Have you noticed?

This year Halloween started to fill the stores in September, right after the back to school supply sales. Then just as soon as Halloween was over, the Christmas decorations appeared in the stores. I am not in a lot of stores, but I noticed. 2013-11-22 10.52.38

The ads on TV too. I don’t watch a lot of TV but it appears many stores are having Christmas sales this weekend, before “Black Friday.”. Black Friday? That has always gotten under my skin. Who gives thanks one day then goes out just after midnight to trample and wrestle strangers for … Christmas presents?

What is all this about? How did we as a culture get so far from the meaning of Thanksgiving and Christmas? I know sociologists, theologians and others have dissected it. I have prayed about it, a little. Mostly I have to check my personal attitude. I find myself being disgusted with a culture that tries to find satisfaction in just about anything except the only one who can give it. The one who made us in HIS image for His glory to rule and reign with Him is the only one who can genuinely satisfy. I believe an attitude of compassion will be more helpful.

Most of us will join with family or friends to eat a big meal. Super markets are heavily advertising Thanksgiving! Even while they are selling lots of Christmas things as shown by my trip to the supermarket today.2013-11-22 11.46.15

For Thanksgiving Turkey is the tradition for most. But how many will actually give thanks before they watch football? Please don’t label me  a hypocrite. I like football. It’s when sports supersedes giving thanks I become uneasy. I hope something kids in the schools are learning about the origins of Thanksgiving. Not the disparaging of the puritans as they have been rewritten, but how they came here for religious freedom and many died. How Squanto helped to show them how to farm and that Thanksgiving was the celebration of thanks when they had a harvest.

I hope people will wish others a “Happy Thanksgiving” and not “Happy Turkey Day!”

I am one little voice that will stuff my turkey. Bake a pie the day before and hope my daughter, the master of pumpkin pie in our household, can get home and up in time to bake some pie before the turkey goes in the oven or at least put it in while we eat the turkey.

At my table we will give thanks to the creator and provider of all we have, all we see and every breath we breathe. I will avoid contact with commercialism as much as possible. I will negotiate simplicity where possible. I’d like to think I give thanks every day. Maybe that is why I find the rushing to “Holiday Gifts” off-putting. I give gifts, but do I give of myself? Do the people I love KNOW beyond a doubt that I love them and am there for them?  I hope so.

I struggle against the culture of commercialism still. I don’t like what it does to me. I wrestle often to stay free.

I hope and pray we do not lose the practice of actually giving Thanks to God for His care and provision in the mist of all the festivities. Most who read this, I suspect, will easily and often give Thanks. Please join me in praying for those who have lost the meaning of Thanksgiving to find it.

What are you Thankful for this season? How has God blessed or provided for you lately?

Do I Really Know What I Am Asking For?

Years ago this little piece below came across my desk and I kept it. I posted it in my kitchen for many years, but rarely read. I share it with you today to encourage you. We are all on this journey of life together. I realize many of my prayers are “wrong” but Abba, in His infinite loving kindness, answers my real heart cry.

I am humbled when I read it. Humility is not about seeing oneself as lowly and unworthy. Humility is about having the proper perspective of who we really are. When we know we are the created, made from dust yet created in the image of God to rule and reign with Christ, understanding that we are infinitely loved by our creator, we begin to strike the balance.

I have prayed a lot of prayers over my lifetime. I have prayed all the following prayers, with similar results. In my preparation for the US Thanksgiving holiday I return to these thoughts to worship the giver of all things with an attitude I pray will continue to transform my nature until I am truly conformed to the image of Jesus. This Jesus, the creator who loves me, loves you, and gave himself us for us.

By an unknown Confederate soldier:

I asked God for strength that I might achieve. I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked God for health that I might do greater things. I was given infirmity that I might do better things.

I asked for riches that I might be happy. I was given poverty that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men. I was given weakness that I might feel the need for God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life. I was given life that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing I asked for but everything I had hoped for…

Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered. I am among all men most richly blessed.

Sometimes we do not recognize the answers to our prayers because the answers are different from how we imagined. How have your prayers been answered in ways you did not initially anticipate?

Beauty All Around

20131105_101041“One thing I have asked of the Lord, that I will seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” Psalm 27:4

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One of the facets of the Lord that I try to pay attention to every day, is beauty. He is personally beautiful! His creation is extraordinarily beautiful! It rarely takes long to find beauty if you are looking for it. 20131105_152917
After 13 years in West Africa our family moved back to the United States. We moved from, Mali, the home of Timbuktu. Mali is one of the 3 poorest countries in the world. The city of Bamako where we lived is in the climatic zone called the Sahel. The Sahel is between the rain forests and the desert. Seasonally it varies between dry and dusty or humid and muddy with about 6 moths of each. The very different climate and the profound underdevelopment of Mali makes a great contrast to the forests, rolling hills and manicured lawns of Hamilton Massachusetts. We moved to attend Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Definitely one of the prettier places around the globe. What a contrast in the beauty domain, at least as far as we generally think of it.20131105_101012

To honor the beauty of the Lord, today I share a few photographs that I took this week of some of the beauty the Lord places before us daily.  These are fall pictures, but every season I will endeavor to share some photos that declare a bit of the beauty of the Lord.20131105_152344

Do you consciously look for beauty? Do you pause to enjoy it? Thank God when you notice it?

Rest? Taste and See!

Whenever I get out-of-town, even for a day, I begin to notice what a pace I keep! At home, in what I loosely refer to as a routine and optimistically think of as a rhythm. I try to include sabbath rest. The problem is that I lose track of what is realistic. Honestly, have I ever known what is realistic?

In September a friend invited me for a day trip to Yankee Stadium to watch the Red Sox beat the Yankees. My hopes of victory proved true that day=}. And as much as I enjoyed being driven in a coach bus and sitting in decent seats to watch my team beat their arch rivals on a beautiful day in “enemy” territory, I was completely EXHAUSTED even before we arrived.

You see, I had given my self permission to leave the driving to someone else and to relax. When I am home, or in my area of work responsibility, I am often consciously or unconsciously always on some form of alert. What is that about? I seem to rarely give myself permission to truly relax. And when I do give myself the permission to rest at home, my environment silently screams at me because of all the unfinished projects I see around me. So even my sabbath rest is constantly attacked… from with in.

I would love to assign blame for my inability to rest then find ways to escape, but I know from experience the problem is not really the environment. It is in me, in my head and in my heart. Who or what am I trying to please? Who’s expectations am I attempting to live up to and I trying to fulfill? My physical body sends me messages every day that I have my wires crossed.

The good news is that I am aware of that is going on in my head, well, sometimes. Intellectually I understand that somewhere in my thinking I am not trusting God to take care of me. At the same time how do I handle the real tension between rest and the real deadlines in life. There are bills to pay, relationships and events that require our attendance and participation.

How do I rest in the midst of life’s demands? The first two steps, I believe, are to know that my creator is good, that He loves me perfectly, just the way I am! I do not have to prove anything to earn the love of God. How do I know that a friend or family member loves me? They want to spend time with me and communicate. They learn what makes me ‘tick’ and they do and say things that touch the real me. A favorite quote of mine from unknown origins is:  “A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.”

God does that to us when we allow Him. The Bible is the most common way He speaks and sings. Zephaniah 3 was written to Israel. As children of God’s promises I believe we can apply these words to our personal lives. [Bold and italics and underlines mine]

15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
    he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
    you shall never again fear evil.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
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When I allow myself to focus and meditate on these promises, the genuine rest begins to trickle into me. I imagine the Creator Dancing around me and singing with delight over me. My soul and spirit are quieted. Then consider Psalm 34:

4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me
    and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
    and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps
    around those who fear him, and delivers them.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
    Blessed is the man [or woman] who takes refuge in him!
Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no lack!
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

You know? It is true. I have “tasted” the Lord, I have experienced the truth of “those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” That experience of the goodness of the creator grows over time. Choosing to believe the promises, like the ones cited here, over time, builds history a with the Creator just like we build history with people who become friends.

The experience of God is the other essential ingredient to finding rest. Sometimes we are blessed with ecstatic experiences, but the vast majority of time the experiences that bring the most lasting growth and rest, come by reading and tasting the word of God and choosing to trust His promises in the every day events of life. I find a steady diet of these tastes=} brings real rest. I pray that inner transformation has it’s full effect.

In what ways have you tasted the Lord and seen that He is good? What promises bring you to a place of peace and rest?