Monday, October 31, 2016

A Second Helping Of Thanksgiving

Many Americans don’t know this, but the first recorded thanksgiving celebration in North America took place forty-three years before the pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, and was observed by Martin Frobisher, an English pirate/explorer.  He was trying unsuccessfully to find a passage to China and India, and after leaving England with three small ships, encountered storms and ice.  One ship was lost, another abandoned, and when they finally arrived safely on land in what is now Newfoundland, Canada, he was glad to be alive.  So on May 27, 1578, Frobisher and his crew had a celebration of thanksgiving for their safe arrival.

Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving much like Americans, but they have their holiday the second Monday in October, which this year was on October 10th.  And since we were on vacation in Newfoundland on this day, I’m writing this article as one who has already celebrated Thanksgiving once this year.  On November 24th when most other Americans will celebrate the holiday for the first time in 2016 Patsy and I  will be celebrating it for a second time!

Like Frobisher’s search for India, our Canadian Thanksgiving didn’t go as planned.  The week before, we had passed a church in Clarenville, Newfoundland, that was putting up a sign:  “Thanksgiving Turkey meal, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.”, and we thought that since we’d be back in the area on the Canadian Thanksgiving Day, we’d drop in.  We were looking forward to celebrating with other Canadian Church Folk, and enjoying the turkey and whatever else Canadians eat for the holiday (poutine, maybe?). 

But Thanksgiving Day in Newfoundland didn’t go as planned.  Hurricane Matthew hit the island, and it rained all day.  We made it to the Clarenville area just fine, even though we were stranded there because the only road crossing Newfoundland washed out.  Still, we were looking forward to the 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner.  But when we pulled into the church parking lot, no one was there.  We apparently hadn’t stayed long enough for the entire sign to be erected.  It actually read:  “Thanksgiving Turkey Meal, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., on October 19th”. The dinner wasn’t for another week!  So we had to find a restaurant open on a holiday and like much of life, we had to resign ourselves to things not going as planned.

But we still had a great time.  We still were thankful.  And I think that’s what Thanksgiving is really about.

We’re not thankful because our life flows smoothly, we’ve got lots of good things, and a feast sits on the table.  We’re thankful regardless of the storms of life, our possessions, and our food. Gratitude is an attitude, and thankfulness flows from our heart, not our circumstances.

Habakkuk knew this when he wrote:  Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls,  yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18 NRSV).  

We don't always embrace this kind of attitude, and I think that’s what the holiday of Thanksgiving is really about.  We’re not thankful one day a year.  We’re reminded one day a year to be thankful every day.

Our Canadian Thanksgiving didn’t go as planned and who knows if our U.S. Thanksgiving will.  But regardless, I’m going to have more than two Thanksgivings this year.  I’m going to have a helping of gratitude every day.  And why not?  I’m grateful in so many ways everyday for you, and for all the blessings that enrich my life.  I hope you are grateful as well.

Yours in Christ;

Monday, October 24, 2016

Don't Be A Sap

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.  (Galatians 5:19-23 NRSV)

Last month (August 2016) a man living in Pennsylvania was getting tired of a neighbor’s tree.  The tree had branches that hung over the man’s parking space, and like many trees it tended to drip sap…all over the man’s car.  So finally the man was fed up and in anger he took a chainsaw and cut down the tree.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t an experienced tree-trimmer, and the 36 inch diameter tree toppled over onto his own apartment building, causing extensive damage and resulting in the building being condemned.  All five people living there, including the angry tree-slayer were forced to move out and find new lodging.

And that’s an example of what often happens when we allow our negative emotions to get the better of us.  We end up hurting ourselves more than anyone else, making the world and those around us miserable.

The Apostle Paul contrasts the fruits of the spirit with the fruits of the flesh in Galatians, and it’s interesting to note that almost all of the “fruits of the flesh” are problems we have when we act without thinking, while the “fruits of the spirit” are qualities that arise out of loving self-control.  In fact, “Love” and “self-control” are themselves two fruits of the Spirit.

Since you’ve caught me in acorny mood, I’m going to have a little fun with this.  So if you’re not a fan of puns, you might want to be like a tree and….finish the article later.  Here are some insights that have grown out of my life and faith.  When I’m done, you willow me one.

1.  Root your response in the fruits of the Spirit.  It’s hard to go wrong when you’re motivated by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Paul knew what he was talking about.

2.  Leaf your anger behind before making any kind of major decision.  Anger and good judgement seldom go hand in hand.  When good judgment is important (which is most of the time) you’re barking up the wrong tree when your judgment depends on your worst qualities.

3.  Make calm communication a root-ine. If you have a problem with someone, talk to them calmly, honestly, and in a non-threatening way.  It’s amazing how many problems can be resolved by people who are willing to listen and share.

4. If you’re stumped by a problem consider your options.  Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees.  There are often many positive options available if we only take a moment to look for them.

5. Find re-leaf in compassionate fellowship.  If you surround yourself with a community of Spirit-fruitful people, the qualities of the Spirit will begin to stick to you like the sap on a car.

6. Plant the seeds of understanding and peace throughout your life.  We tend to sow what we reap, and if we plant anger and resentment, we will wake up and find a forest of anger and resentment growing all around us. Be sure to plant the good stuff.

7. Avoid idolo-tree, and ground your faith in God.  When God becomes the center of our focus, minor inconveniences tend to lose their power over us.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the world is in dire need of people who are truly watered by the Spirit of God, bearing the fruits of that Spirit, boldly branching out of the trunk of Jesus Christ.

We are called to be this kind of people.  And as such a people, I believe we can be an orchard of light in our world and community.

Yours in Christ;