Thanksgiving: Is it Natural or Gracious?

Each year when we draw near to the end of November, we anticipate Thanksgiving Day, and we often hear someone quote I Thessalonians 5:17: “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

It’s easy to give thanks when you just landed that dream job, or you’ve been surprised by some unexpected blessing.  But, how do you give thanks when the dream becomes a nightmare, you suddenly realize how fragile you are, and you’re no longer so healthy or wealthy?

Do you still have a spirit of gratitude, and can you still give thanks? You can if you understand Paul’s admonition to the church of the Thessalonians. You can if you comprehend the difference between the word “in” and the word “for.”

Paul said we are to give thanks “in everything,” not “for everything.” The difference between the two is a distinction made by Jonathan Edwards and defined as natural gratitude and gracious gratitude.

Let me give you an example: Yesterday, the aroma of freshly baked pumpkin and cherry pie filled the air with a scintillating fragrance. Today, I will sit on the porch, sip my coffee, and as the tart and tasty cherries tickle my taste buds, I will give thanks—this is natural gratitude.

Gracious gratitude is when it is you and not the pie that is in the oven—the oven of trials and heartache; and, you still give thanks.  It is the expression of gratitude because you know God is with you in the midst of your worries and woe-some experiences.

This sort of gratitude is not distorted by your pains and problems because it is riveted on the character of God and exhibited by a robust trust in His promises. Moses described God as being One who is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth (Exodus 34:6).”

And Paul, who was no stranger to hardships, encourages us to trust God and remain resilient when we face adversity:

  • Romans 5:3-5: We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
  • Romans 8:28, 37-39: We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. . . in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Even though we are facing uncertain times, we can express gracious gratitude, and “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! –Psalm 118:1

Ferhoodlums Among Us

There’s a difference between blending for clarity and mixing things up for the purpose of confusion.  Ferhoodlum is a case in point.  Although you won’t find this word in the dictionary, you can find the two words I have blended to create it:

  • Ferhoodle: To confuse, tangle, or perplex
  • Hoodlum: a thug associated with crime or theft

A ferhoodlum is a person, who engages in the premeditated confusion of the facts.  If you’ve watched the evening news or read any posts on Facebook or Twitter, you’ve read the thoughts and heard the voices of ferhoodlums. 

The poll-watching politicians, like Nancy Pelosi, twist the facts with a stranglehold so vicious that they choke the life out of truth.

Ferhoodlums are not a phenomenon of 2020, they’ve been misrepresenting the truth for ages, including the New Testament era.  Paul warned the Ephesians of their deceitful tactics: Don’t be “tossed back and forth [like ships on a stormy sea] and carried about by every wind of [shifting] doctrine, by the cunning and trickery of [unscrupulous] men, by the deceitful scheming of people ready to do anything [for personal profit].  But speaking the truth in love [in all things—both our speech and our lives expressing His truth], let us grow up in all things into Him [following His example] who is the Head—Christ (Ephesians 4:14-15 Amplified Bible).”

Unwilling to compromise the integrity of the Gospel, Paul was determined to speak the truth: “Since we are joined together in this ministry as a result of the mercy shown to all of us by God, we do not become discouraged.  Instead, we have renounced all the things that hide in shame; we refuse to live deceptively or use trickery; we do not pollute God’s Word with any other agenda. Instead, we aim to tell the truth plainly, appealing to the conscience of every person under God’s watchful eye (2 Corinthians 4:1-2).”

Proverbs 12 is a clear contrast between those who speak the truth and the Ferhoodlums among us: “Whoever speaks the truth declares what is right, but a false witness, deceit. There is one who speaks rashly, like a piercing sword; but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue, only a moment. Deceit is in the hearts of those who plot evil, but those who promote peace have joy (17-20).”

A Stark Contrast

Proverbs 1: 8-19: “If sinners entice you, do not consent . . . for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood.”

God’s compassion stands in stark contrast to the callousness of those who brutalize the innocent. Unlike them, Jesus does not seek to shed our blood; He gave His own on the cross of Calvary.

I Peter 2:24: Jesus “bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes ycrossou were healed.”

A Last Request

last wordsIn an article in Christianity Today (October 2019), Gerald Sittser wrote about the early church and the Christians who embraced a new story. “The story of Jesus opened their eyes to see history not as a narrative of the empire’s achievements—and atrocities—but as a narrative of God’s redemptive work in the world, which often occurs in quiet and mysterious ways. For them, Bethlehem and Golgotha occupied center stage, not the Roman court.”

I encourage to pause today and reflect on the babe of Bethlehem who died with His innocence intact on the cross at Golgotha. His life was a message of redemption, and His death was the sacrifice that redeemed us.

Among the last few words that He spoke, His concern was for those who persecuted Him, and “Forgive them. . .” was a last request.

Make it your mission today to give life to His dying words and “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).”

What Seeds Are You Sowing?

seedsI’ve never heard the Apostle Paul described as a Master Gardener, but he was an authority on sowing and reaping, and He spoke about it in the 6th chapter of Galatians.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

These verses may have been the words that inspired St. Basil to say: “He who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”

The importance of sowing seeds of kindness is found in a comment made by Leo Buscaglia: “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

I encourage you to make a difference in the life of someone today by giving them the gift of kindness. It doesn’t take much effort to open a door, to share a smile, to speak an encouraging word, or to say a prayer.

Like Mother Teresa said: “Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.”

Kindness is a form of communication that is  not limited  by  ethnic or social barriers.  It is a language that even the deaf can hear and the blind can see.

The Patron Saint of Velcro

velcroWhat is it that you first think of when you hear the word VelcroIs it the stick-to-itiveness quality of this 1941 George de Mestral invention?

Mestral was perturbed by the nasty burrs that had lodged themselves into his wool pants after a day of hunting in the woods.  After examining the burrs through a magnifying glass, Mestral was fascinated by what he saw.  He discovered that each burr had thousands of tiny little hooks that had latched onto the wool fabric of his pants.

He was so impressed by this pest from nature that he developed a process to mimic the tenacity of the burrs, so he invented a system of nylon hooks and loops and called his product Velcro

Within the pages of the New Testament, we find the living breathing version of Velcro. As a Christian, Stephen was a pest that Saul could not shake.  Because of Stephen’s faithful tenacity, Saul oversaw his stoning and ultimate death.

Even after Stephen was martyred, he was still a nuisance to Saul.  Like Velcro, Saul could not shake the memory of Stephen’s death nor could he forget his last words –words of faith and grace.

Stephen’s death and the Damascus road experience led to the conversion of Saul.  The former enemy of the Cross changed his name to Paul and became an avid evangelist for the Lord.

What is the Velcro moment that changed your life?

The Nuthatch is No Chicken Little

nuhatchI don’t have any hills in my yard, but I do hear the sound of music. My feathered friends have begun their annual return, and they’re filling the air with their joyful melodies. As they arrive, they’re met by the faithful chickadees and nuthatches who have fed on sunflower seeds and weathered the winter.

If, as some say, the chickadees and nuthatches are deficient in color, they are more than proficient in conversation. The chickadee is reported to have a vocabulary of around 50 distinct sounds including phrases, like “danger!” “feed me!” or “I’m single!”

As the chickadee is busy chattering, the nuthatch listens intently; verifies the message; and, if necessary, acts as a watchman on the wall and sounds a predator is present alarm. While the nuthatch is no Chicken Little,  Eric Greene, an ecologist at the University of Montana, lightheartedly says the bird will “retweet” valid warnings to his neighbors.

The importance of conversations cannot be overstated, and ours ought to be more than idle chatter. Jesus said a person will be either justified or condemned by the words they speak (Matthew 12:27).  Our conversation should be more than great swelling words of emptiness (2 Peter 2:18), or persuasive words of deception (Colossians 2:8).

How can we fine-tune our vocabulary, so our conversation is pleasing to God? We can start with a prayer of David: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer (Psalm 19:14).

A Unique Creation

cattleSince I live in the land of bluestem grass, it’s a common sight to see cattle grazing in pastures.  More than a few steers are apt to stick their heads through a barbed wire fence to eat the grass that’s almost beyond their reach. This tendency gave birth to the cliché: The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. 

The old cliché is the life philosophy of some people.  They’re not content with what God has given them, so they keep searching for that elusive something that is just beyond their grasp.

God is not a God of mass production, and you were not manufactured on a soulless assembly line by a heartless God. You are a unique creation; the handiwork of God; designed for a specific purpose; and, blessed with the appropriate amount of grace to accomplish the mission to which you’ve been called.

You are the apple of God’s eyes, and He has blessed you with gifts that “vary depending on the grace poured out on each of us, so it’s important to exercise the gifts you’ve been given (Romans 12:6).”

As you look forward to the week ahead, frame it within the truth of 2 Corinthians 9:8: “God is able to make all grace overflow to you, so that, in all things and at all times, having all you need, you may overflow in every kind of good work.”

Fowled Communication

woodpeckerAbout this time each year, I start looking forward to the return of the brightly colored yellow finches that will gorge themselves at my birdfeeders. They will be joined by other guests, Blue Jays, Robins, and Redheaded woodpeckers.

To be honest, today is the first day I’ve thought about the woodpeckers; and, I can thank the internet for that. While I was checking my news feed on Twitter, I read a story about some acorn woodpeckers.

Audubon’s field guide for birds, describes these birds as a “clown-faced… western woodpecker with a complicated social structure, living in small colonies. Best known for its habit of hoarding acorns.”

According to National Geographic, some of these clown-faced little devils had stashed some 300 pounds of acorns in a wireless antenna in California. Jim Greer, spokesman for AT&T, commented on the situation: “Moisture and sheer volume caused the microwave signal to finally give out. As soon as the acorns were released, the signal came right back on.”

A single acorn did not render the antenna inoperative; however, it was the first step towards an impaired signal. As the acorns accumulated, eventually the signal between the antenna and the customers went silent.

In this instance acorns are like sin, the power of one might not be noticed; however, when they accumulate, they can be detrimental.  The prophet Isaiah knew this to be true, and he said: “Your sinful acts have alienated you from your God; your sins have caused him to reject you and not listen to your prayers (Isaiah 59:2).”

The answer to the dilemma is to dump the acorns. This is accomplished through confession. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9).”