2020: So much to be thankful for

A Thanksgiving like no other. A year like no other. Nothing is the same this year. We have learned that we cannot count on anything. Thanksgiving is different. Football is different. School is different. Work is different. Politics is different. Even Black Friday is different. Only one thing remains the same . . .

And as important as family is, its not family. Even family looks different this year. We may be spending more time with some and less time with others. Anxiety and depression may be impacting our relations. We may be forced to distance from some by law or guilt or shame. And we may have lost members due to the pandemic, or violence or any number of other reasons.

And as important as church is, its not church. Churches have shut their doors, limited their praise and worship, become divided, and distanced themselves from their purpose. Some have become mired in scandal and corruption.

2020 has spared no one and no thing. Basketball legends, rock and roll stars, television stars have passed away. Political leaders, historical figures, saints and popes have been called into question. The environment has been ravaged by Australian bush fires, wild fires, and hurricane after hurricane.

We cannot even rely on the local grocery store having toilet paper.

Nothing remains the same. No one has not been impacted. What is left for us to rely on when the government, the economy, the healthcare system, the retailers, and even the churches let us down?

God. God hasn’t changed. God hasn’t shut down. God hasn’t socially distanced. In a year when we cannot count on anything to be the same, including family gatherings, we can still count on God.

Perhaps this is why, Jesus tells that we must renounce all things in order to be His disciple:

“If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

Luke 14:26-33

As hard as 2020 has seemed, I see it as a gift. A gift of vision and wisdom which I am incredibly thankful for. Its hard to do what Jesus tells us we must do in order to follow Him. But 2020 has made it a little easier. We have had many things taken away: family gatherings, fancy weddings, graduation parties, sporting events, movie theaters, restaurants and even toilet paper. Our health has been jeopardized and the entire world is paralyzed. And yet, it may be the most glorious year. I have discovered I don’t need television and movies (my two favorite past times). I don’t need my favorite football or baseball team. I don’t need celebrities, politicians, business leaders or church leaders. I don’t need holidays or family gatherings. I don’t need church buildings or services. I just need God, the only true constant, the only one we can truly rely upon. Everything else, everyone else, is secondary. Like the builder and the king, I have a better sense of the cost and the value. I know I am capable of finishing the work and taking on the battle. And because I have taken advantage of some of the isolation and down time to draw closer to God, I know it is worth it. Of course, this is easier when there is nothing else to do. There is still work to be done to gird myself for this battle, when other options try to distract me or encourage me to give up my cross for the supposed luxuries of today. I still need to choose every day to put God first, but 2020 has given me hope.

Dear God,

Thank you for the gift of 2020. Thank you for taking away so many distractions and opening up my eyes and ears and heart to you. I renounce everything that is of this world, in order to put you first in my life. I pray for the strength to continue on this journey even when the distractions return. You alone are my Lord and my savior. With you I know I need want for nothing more.

May Blessings Last Longer Than The Leftover Turkey

Thanksgiving Day is over.  A day when many of us took time to give thanks.  To share blessings among our family and friends.  To speak in loving words.  Today is Black Friday.  Many of us have moved from giving blessings and thanks to pushing and shoving in long lines or fighting to get the last open parking spot.  How long do we stay in thankful mode?  The verbal blessings and thanks that we shower everyone with on Thanksgiving — do they continue past the leftover turkey?

This morning the Bible opened to James:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you realize that we will be judged more strictly, for we all fall short in many respects. If anyone does not fall short in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body also.  If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide their whole bodies.  It is the same with ships: even though they are so large and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination wishes.  In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions.

Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze.  The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna.  For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. This need not be so, my brothers.  Does a spring gush forth from the same opening both pure and brackish water?  Can a fig tree, my brothers, produce olives, or a grapevine figs? Neither can salt water yield fresh.

James 3: 1-12

Our tongue, our words, are so powerful.

Consider this.  Is Thanksgiving a wonderful holiday because of the Macy’s parade, the football games, the turkey and pumpkin pie?  Or is it wonderful because of the kind words that we share?  The blessings that we give? The grateful heart that we share?  The prayers that we offer up for each other?

So why do we save it for one day a year?  Our words can set the world afire.  Let’s extend Thanksgiving words all year long.  Let’s make this a Thanksgiving year.

Lord,

Forgive me for the times when I fall short, when my words fall short, when my words show evil instead of the love and mercy that you show to me.  Help me to use my words for good.  Help me to be kind, grateful and offer words of prayer and blessing all year long instead of just on Thanksgiving day.