Happy Thanks-giving

Sometimes it is right to question how it’s possible to give thanks in a shaky world. Many of us feel that our world is indeed shaky today. All sorts of events are picking at the sense of “normalcy” that we long for in our hearts. Natural disasters wiping out entire communities, leaders without moral groundings tearing apart our common humanity, and deranged killers erasing innocent life all make it hard to feel thankful. Yet I am thankful. Deeply thankful. May I tell you why?

All around me, even in the midst of the chaos, are signs of the unmerited goodness of God. Unmerited goodness. Grace. Our faithful God is a goodness giving God. The beat of my heart is a gift. The breath I just took, and each of the next breaths I will take. All unmerited. All given to me by a gracious God. Food and friendship, family and health, laughter and contentment, memories and aspirations, all are signs of God’s unmerited goodness.

Even when one of these blessings comes to an end, God’s grace remains. God’s faithfulness never ceases. His most incredible gift, unmerited goodness far surpassing anything or anyone else we know, is found in one place only.  God so loved me (and you, too!) that he gave us his Son Jesus. In Jesus Christ there is a quality of life that rises far above everything. In Christ we experience goodness that cannot even be contained in the years we have on earth. In Christ there is unmerited goodness that is played out across all the ages of eternity.

The day of Thanksgiving itself provides a day on the calendar where we are reminded that everything we have comes from God’s unmerited goodness. As a Christian, a follower of Jesus, we are to live our whole lives responding and marveling at God’s grace. For that, I am truly thankful. May you have a happy and spiritually rich Thanksgiving this year.

The Reformation

It happened over a period of years, but the day it caught people’s attention, the day it went viral in the social media of the times and began a landslide of change in how people thought, lived and believed happened exactly 500 years ago this week.

The Reformation was sparked by a young German monk who didn’t even have Twitter or Facebook, but posted a note calling out corruption in the church and government on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. The Reformation (and unfortunately, the corruption) is still going on today. I invite you to join me in a new Christian Reformation as together we discover what it takes to follow Jesus Christ in the 21st century.

Martin Luther asked the church to give up certain practices and traditions that had become corrupt and managed to become barriers to God. It was hard to face the need to clean house then, and it is hard for us now. We all have ways of doing church that we cling to and love, and sometimes giving up our bad practices can be worse than pulling teeth.

We live in a world filled with multiplied choices, possibilities and temptations. That’s why we need to keep our eyes on what is central, what is vital, what is the heart of our faith. That’s why we need to be firmly anchored in Jesus.

A large portion of the church in the United States has failed to remain centered in Christ and as a result has become stagnant, or so removed from Christian teachings it resembles either a political convention or the booster rally for a high school football team. As a result even the very memory of Christian faith is disappearing in our younger generations.

Think about some of the things religion says is important. It says the more money you give to the church the richer you will become. It says you need to be a fundamentalist — or a liberal — to really get Jesus right, and to know how to live and what to believe. Much of religion today tells us that true Christians always vote Republican. Or is it Democrat?

The funny thing is, I can’t remember how Jesus voted, or even what he said about the “hot button” items we make into main issues today. I do remember he said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Then he said:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And he spent his life showing us what that looked like.

Love God. Love neighbor. That’s the foundation a new reformation can be built upon, a reformation bringing the good news of Jesus Christ into our broken, divided, lost world. Salvation is not going to come from our politics. It’s not found in the the false hopes of those who preach a corrupted and modified gospel. A new Christian Reformation takes real faith, it takes commitment, it takes Jesus in our lives. And you know, that’s just where he wants to be!

Giving Thanks

It is Halloween as I write this column.  I have a love/hate relationship with Halloween. I have always enjoyed my children and grandchildren as they have worked diligently to creature elaborate costumes.  With my own children, I remember that my small son always wanted to be a fireman, and one of my daughters saying, “Why would anyone want to have a scary costume when they could be a princess!”  This year my grandchildren are superheroes and astronauts.  The thing I don’t like about Halloween are the scary costumes complete with lots of blood and gore.  I don’t like the focus on death and evil.  Some of the houses in our neighborhood have gone to the extreme to create gruesome settings.  I’ll be glad when these are taken down.

But tomorrow is a special day, too.  It is All Saints day.  It is a time to remember the saints of God – those who have gone before us and those who still walk among us.  We remember those who have brought us up in the faith.  I think of Pastor Jon’s grandmother who died when he was five but insisted that he learned the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm before she died.  She was passing her faith on to him.  What a precious gift far above any money or possessions that she might have given him.

We also remember others in our lives who have guided us along in our faith journey, Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, and Christian friends. They have stood by us and prayed for us.  They have walked with us and shared our burdens.  Some have believed for us when we did not have faith enough to believe for ourselves.  It is these saints we remember with joy and thanksgiving.  We give thanks for those who continue to walk among us and for those who have gone on before us.

As we give thanks for the saints in our lives, may we think about how God might use us to bless the lives and faith journeys of others.  May we provide love and care for those whom God loves and who are our brothers and sisters.

The whole month of November is a time of year when we focus on our blessings and give thanks. Several communities in Massachusetts lost power in the storm we had over the weekend. Relatives scrambled to find someone with refrigerator and freezer space to rescue their food.  How blessed we are to have food in abundance.  Our missionary friends in Africa have told us how the people there hustle day to day to have food for that one day.  I once asked what happens when they are sick and aren’t able to work on any given day.  She said quite simply that they just don’t eat that day.  Surely they understand better than we do the part of the Lord’s Prayer that says, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

So whether we are giving thanks for spiritual food or physical food, we acknowledge the source of both and give praises to our generous and loving God.