Thanksgiving: The Good Life

However you feel about the history of the First Thanksgiving, I find it a laudable example of colonists and Native Americans coming alongside one another. The history afterward between the colonists and natives may not be exemplary in all occasions, but neither were the histories between the Native American tribes.

First, some historical facts I was reminded of today:

The first national observation that George Washington called for was to be a day of fasting and giving thanks. "Humiliation" was a common term used with proclamations of thanksgiving by the Continental Congress and later. It is a stark contrast to our feasting followed by shopping gluttony today.

Abraham Lincoln was the first President to institute Thanksgiving as a national holiday (upon the insistence of the woman who wrote "Mary Had a Little Lamb"). In the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln declared a time of giving thanks to help bring the nation together.

As I was listening to NPR on our drive to be with family today I was reminded in the midst of interviews with Anne Lamott and Julia Sweeney how wonderful of a holiday Thanksgiving can be. It's something everyone can celebrate. We all have something to be thankful for. We also don't need to have a specific deity that we follow in order to be thankful (though, of course, I have my thoughts on the God who provides everything).

I've written before about how "gratitude evaporates frustration" (as learned from my old mentor in camping ministry). There have been scientific studies on how gratitude increases our level of happiness. In short, gratitude is a good thing. It gets us out of ourselves and reminds us that we need others.

I know I need to be more thankful through out my day--every day of the year. I don't take enough time in the midst of work and parenting and life to look at all I have and be thankful for it all. I'm more apt to focus on the things that are stressful, annoying, or bothering me. And focusing on those things gets me back inside myself where it's all about me in a selfish way. But when I'm focused on gratitude I realize how blessed I am and how I have nothing to worry about, complain about, or fear.

I'm getting some time this holiday with my new twin nieces whom I'm finally getting to see for the first time. My sister (herself a twin) had some complications toward the end of her pregnancy and the girls were born a bit early and spent time in the NICU. But they're both beautiful and growing well.

They can't take care of themselves; everything they need is provided for them by their parents. I have a Father who provides everything I need as well. More than I need. Certainly more than I deserve. For all I have been given, I am grateful.

Thanksgiving reminds me that life is good.


Sunday Night Musings: Christ the king

What's there to say about Christ the King Sunday that I haven't said the past few years? Mainly, it's that I don't have it down yet. Each day there are plenty areas of my life that I need to keep surrendering to the lordship of Christ. There are plenty of areas of my life that I think I should retain lordship of for some reason. Like I know how to do things better than God does. Like my way ends up turning out so well.

Needless to say (but I will anyway), He does know better than I do. He does things with love, wisdom, and justice. And besides, being His follower means that I don't do what I want to do unless it's what He wants me to do. Not that I'm a mindless robot or that He's a puppet master. But I turn my will over to Him because He loves me and I love Him. It doesn't mean I don't think for myself or have any say in things (why else would we pray?), but that I put all areas of my life under His lordship. Everything I have is His anyway...why not let Him use it for His glory? Why not let Him multiply the blessings?

So each day I try and remember to surrender my will to Jesus, to lay my crown down before Him. It's not easy. I need to keep it in check.

Years ago at a youth conference I was with a group of students at Candi Pearson from Passion taught us her song, "Sing to the King." The video below is from a different gathering, but the song still says the things I need to remember:

Come, let us sing a song:
A song declaring that we belong to Jesus;
He is all we need.


Prayers in School

Our classroom had a lot of changes this week. Some hard changes, many good changes, but changes which of course can be difficult as we all know.

One of the changes is that the students are eating lunch in our classroom instead of the cafeteria. This is common in some Montessori schools. Until this year, only the toddler class and a children's house had done this before. The children learn how to set a table and eat together. It definitely creates a different atmosphere as compared to eating in the cafeteria (which is our gymnasium).

One of the interesting things that has happened is that I have seen at least two tables of students praying for the meal. Not just an individual student praying, but the whole table (one was four student, the other was six students). Because I'm dishing out food for students then, I'm not able to stop and listen in on the prayers, but they're still interesting to come across. At least one of the tables held hands together. After one of the tables prayed today I heard several of the students say, "Hooray for God!" (Or something like that.)

I'm fairly certain that not all the students come from Christian backgrounds at those tables. I believe there is at least one or two Jewish students participating, probably a few more students from families with no spiritual tradition. But they all seem to get into giving thanks.

I'll be clear that no one from the school is encouraging or starting the prayers. The students are doing it: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders.

I've heard people complain about how the government has taken prayer out of school, and that it's part of the downfall of our country. I disagree. I believe students' faith will be at its best when it's not given to them, but when they're able to develop it on their own.

Prayer has never been dis-allowed in schools. It's more that we seldom have taught children how to pray on their own. And why are we so concerned about prayer in public? Didn't Jesus laud the kind of praying that is done in private that doesn't get attention from anyone but God?

Now I've been there before. I "saw you at the pole." I even wrote a pretty conservative paper on prayer in school when I was in high school. 

But the older I get--the longer I've been a parent--I realize that I don't want that for my kids. It's one thing to be led in prayer and pray together at church. It's another thing for that to happen in non-religious settings. I want my children to have the kind of faith where they feel comfortable praying on their own in different situations outside of meals at home or bedtime routines. 

I want my kids to be able to be thankful to God before meals at school if that's the place their heart is at. I want them to take a minute to pray for a friend who's sick or hurting. I want them to be able to pray before a test or after a lesson or while on the playground. 

I also want my chlidren to respect the faith and beliefs of others without belittling or making fun of them. I want others to do that for my children as well. 

So I support prayer in schools like that. 


Fingers on A Sunday Night

Strong fingers grasp my
Hand as we sing together
The words of the ageless,
Ancient prayer that Christ
Taught His followers.

Bony, aged fingers struggle
At the hardened crust of the loaf,
Trying to break it enough
To rip off a piece of the bread.
Delicately, they place the morsel
In my outstretched hands,
Blessing me with
The body of Christ.

Short, soft fingers that have
Only seen a few years of life
Grasp the chalice and
Lift it to me, offering
The purple juice,
The blood of the Lamb.

Unseen fingers touch my back
At various heights as
Young and old behind me
Extend blessing as I touch the
Back of another in front of me,
Praying blessing and healing
Upon them and others
Within the gathered circle.

Multiple fingers wrap around
Me in embrace as their owners
Share prayers of peace;
Touching each other,
Connecting, blessing, loving.


Sunday Night Musings: Stories

Unless your church is into Left Behind books and such, we don't tend to talk about the end times much--other than that we know Jesus will return. We especially tend to gloss over that discussion when it involves mentioning that believers will be persecuted in the last days, like tonight's passage, Luke 21:5-19, briefly mentions.

It wasn't our focus at church tonight. Which is fine. But I think our churches in the West tend to gloss over those passages because they're not a reality for us. And we can say that's the blessing of the freedoms we have in our part of the world--which is true--but I wonder if it's also because we're not living out our faith that boldly. We don't have to. We like to think of ourselves as a "Christian nation."

We also tend to not want to rock the boat. We tend to think of issues of justice as either the government's job or the church's job, but not ours. We tend to not be very radical in our love for others--at least not in the way Jesus radically loved. We sometimes like our Christianity to be safe, accompanied by a security of knowing that we'll escape hell.

I know this is sometimes true for me. I like to keep my faith safe so that others won't judge me or think I'm a religious freak.  So I think this is our cultural challenge: to live more like Jesus lived. Radically loving.

*gets off soapbox

Jesus says that His followers will be put on trial someday, but not to worry. "This will be your opportunity—your opportunity to tell your story" (Luke 21:13, The Voice). We focused on that tonight at church. 

Jesus encourages us to "stand firm, and you will win life" (21:19, NIV). We discussed tonight how stories bolster us for standing firm. During the infant years of the church, they didn't have sermons in their worship times; they told stories. Everything was passed down by oral tradition. Only the scribes had the Scriptures written down. 

So tonight we told some stories. They reminded us of God's faithfulness. They helped us to recognize the people God used to minister to us unexpectedly when we were in need. They connected us to others. They opened our eyes. 

Stories are good. We don't share ours enough. 

I remember a time several years ago when I was working at Twin Lakes Christian Center. I was putting on a winter retreat for jr. high and high school students and I needed volunteer counselors for the cabins. It was my responsibility for every retreat and camp I programmed to make sure we had all the volunteers and staff we needed. At this retreat a former camper and summer staffer brought a group of friends up from the college he was attending. It was a huge help.

One of the times before free time started, I was showing a group of them how to load up campers on wooden toboggans and send them down the toboggan chute we had that went out onto the frozen lake. While the five of us were standing in the wooden "silo" that sheltered the top of the chute, one of the college students asked about our stories. 

So we took turns sharing a brief recounting of how we came to know Jesus. I can't remember any of the specific people who were there with me or their specific stories, but I remember the sacredness of that moment. 

We were each encouraged. We were each strengthened in our faith. We were each reminded of why we were doing what we were doing. 

Today at church, the leader for our story activity shared how each time when we gather together at the beginning of our evening and circle up for a prayer before we eat, she is bolstered by the fact that she knows each of our stories. We are connected. We are testimonies to what God can and does do.

Stories are good. We need to share ours more.


Sunday Night Musing: The Sadducees' Question

When I hear the scripture at church and the subsequent passage, I try to ask, "So what?" So what does that passage mean for my life? Sometimes that's obvious: "Love your neighbor." Yes, I may need to take the extra effort to do that and figure out what that looks like in my particular context, but I get that my response from the passage would be to go and actually love my neighbors--not just stare at them from behind curtained windows. 

That's my whole goal for encountering God's word through sermons--to figure out what it means for my life. I believe they're transforming words--not just good teachings. Often in Jesus' teachings it's not to difficult to see where my life needs to be transformed by His words. Sometimes it's not so easy.

Like tonight's passage (Luke 20:27-38). A group of Sadducees approach Jesus. They happen to be a Jewish sect at odds with the Pharisees (who were also at odds with Jesus most of the time), especially regarding the afterlife. The Sadducees didn't believe it existed. Death was the end. There were no rewards or punishments for life, just finality. I haven't studied them much, but it seems that they come to Jesus to know if He's on their side or the Pharisees' side.

So they tell Him a story: Supposing there's a man who dies before he has children, and he has six brothers (now in ancient Jewish culture, it was crucial that a man have offspring. If he died before he had any it was his brother's obligation to marry his wife and produce an heir for him. It's a little twisted, I know, but that's how it was). So the next brother marries the woman, but again dies before a child is conceived. So the next brother marries her, but dies, and so on until all seven brothers have been married to this woman at one point or another.

Thinking that this story will entice Jesus to point out the ludicrousness of the notion of an afterlife, they ask Jesus which man will be the woman's husband in the afterlife.

Jesus sets them all straight:
“Marriage is for people here on earth. But in the age to come, those worthy of being raised from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage. And they will never die again. In this respect they will be like angels. They are children of God and children of the resurrection.
“But now, as to whether the dead will be raised—even Moses proved this when he wrote about the burning bush. Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, he referred to the Lord as ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' So he is the God of the living, not the dead, for they are all alive to him.” (Luke 20:34-38)
Jesus gives a new perspective. There is an afterlife and it's not at all how you imagine it will be. Our life here is messed-up and burdened with laws meant to help us find the right path, but the point isn't the laws or our theology--the point is God and life with Him.

Now, this is a good teaching. It's one of the first times in the Bible that we get a little more detail about the afterlife.

But I, along with the majority of Christendom, believe in the afterlife. Two millennia of church doctrine has reinforced it's existence for us.

So what? What does this passage mean for me? How does it transform my life?

I've come up with two thoughts for me:

1. That it isn't good to spend too much time thinking about proper doctrine and codes of conduct. That was where the Sadducees were at. They wanted what they believed to be correct, and they wanted their opposition to be taught a lesson. Now proper doctrine is important, of course. But not for the sake of proving others wrong. It's important for the sake of living it out. It's important for knowing God and how to follow Him.

2. The fact of the afterlife should transform my daily living. At least, it seems to me that since there is an afterlife--a Heaven and Hell, a place where we'll spend eternity, judgment and an ever-after with God--that my daily life should be influenced by that thought. Not that I live a good life to be rewarded, but that I live knowing that the messiness of life now is not how it's supposed to be. Knowing that the pain and suffering will end and one day everything will be set right.

I can react differently when an injustice happens to me because I know it's not the end. I see the student at school who is being mean to another student differently because I know she has a soul meant for eternity with God--instead of being angry at her, I can find out what's troubling her. I don't always think this way, of course, but the passage helps remind me of this. I guess that's the "so what?" for me.

The Story

"God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars."
     - Martin Luther (born this day in 1483)


Sunday Night Musings: Wee Little Men

Sometimes there a Bible stories that I have heard from childhood that I know well, but I don't know what to do with them. Tonight's passage was from Luke 19:1-10: the story of Zacchaeus. By now you may have the Sunday School song going through your head ("Zacchaeus was a wee little man..."), but if you don't, let me give you a quick refresher:

Zacchaeus, a tax collector (hated by the Jews, considered traitors with the Romans), heard that Jesus was in town (Jericho) and wanted to see him. He was of short-stature, however, and couldn't see Jesus through the crowd, so he climbed up in a sycamore tree. Jesus sees him, stops, and tells him to come down because Jesus is going to Zacchaeus house. The crowd begins to murmur at the thought of Jesus eating at a sinner's house (gasp!). Hearing them, Zacchaeus declares that he is giving up half his possessions to the poor and will give anyone whom he has cheated four times the amount in return. Jesus said, “Today is salvation day in this home! Here he is: Zacchaeus, son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost" (vs 9-10, The Message). 

So we know that Zacchaeus is a sinner (who isn't!). He wants to see Jesus (good for him). Jesus assertively invites Himself over to Zacchaeus' house (so we learn Jesus isn't a passive Scandinavian). The crowd is upset (after all, God should only be concerned with religious do-gooders, right?). Zacchaeus repents and says he'll make amends (a great example). Jesus declares that Zacchaeus has found salvation. It's a good story. A sinner finds redemption. I just don't always get what it has to do for me in the here and now. 
As we talked about the story tonight, however, I think part of what I need to hear is the reminder that assertive Jesus comes to seek the lost. And let's face it, there are a number of times in life when I'm lost. I need Him seeking me.

I think my religious upbringing sometimes hinders me here, though. My Protestant work ethic sometimes gets in the way of letting Jesus seek me. I think I must work, work, work, do, do, do in order for me to be found. And yes, Zacchaeus makes the effort to climb the tree. But that's all he needs to do--to place himself in a position to be found. Sometimes my doing--even good, religious activities--gets in the way of that happening.

I also grew up knowing that God is omnipresent. He's everywhere. This knowledge can cause me to swing between to extremes: 1) I ignore that knowledge and act as if He isn't present, or 2) I take His presence for granted thinking that because He's present, I don't need to let Him find me. 

The Zacchaeus story reminds me to be mindful of the posture I have with Jesus. Am I willing to do something ridiculous like climb a tree with a crowd around in order to see Jesus? Do I place myself in a position to be found? Do I notice when He stops and calls to me?

I, too, am a wee little man. Maybe not in stature (thought compared to my college roommates I was), but spiritually I am. I can't always see Jesus in my day. I want to. Or at least I want to want to. 

It's good to know that He's seeking me out.