Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving can be a challenge. I don’t mean the challenge that sometimes comes when families who haven’t seen each other in a year are in the same room making small talk. Nor do I mean the challenge of staying awake in front of the television after eating too much turkey. I am not even talking about the day that we have set aside on our calendar to observe Thanksgiving. I am talking about the act of giving thanks.

To be sure, sometimes giving thanks is easy.
  • When someone does something kind for me or mine that is unexpected, or
  • When I hear a baby give a belly laugh, or
  • When I see an old man and an old woman holding hands, or
  • When I see an adult bending low to listen carefully to a child
It’s easy to give thanks.

But sometimes
  • When we stand by the casket of a beloved,
  • When we have been betrayed by those we have trusted,
  • When we have done our best and still fallen short,
  • When the way is dim and the light is in short supply,
It is not easy to give thanks. Thanksgiving becomes a challenge.

The apostle Paul knew that. Twice in his letters (Phil. 4:6 & I Thess. 5:18), he commands his readers to give thanks. He did not pretend that every situation was a good one, or that all of life was easy. Rather, he knew that there is a power in giving thanks that brings about change. Sometimes, it a change in the situation, more often it is a change in us, The kind of change that helps us to see, as he said in Romans 8:28, that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him…”

Thanksgiving can be a challenge. Sometimes it is not easy. But giving thanks can make a difference. I pray that in our lives this year, it will.

Thinking about God

I often think about God. Most of you, while not saying it aloud, might think, “Well, of course you do; that’s your job.” Perhaps you will be encouraged to know that I thought about God often even when I was a little kid. And, my dwelling on the subject was one of the clues that led me to the possibility of ministry.

Others, though, might be surprised to hear me say that it is easy not to think about God, even for someone who is in the ministry. When I’m locking up the building at the end of a day, or trying to figure out the source of a water leak in the education building, or wondering why it is taking the city so long to finish the streets around the church, the question, “What is God up to in all this?” does not immediately come to mind.

I think I have figured out one of the reasons for this lack of the sense of God’s action. It has to do with “sameness.” You know, today looking a lot like yesterday. All of this occurred to me recently as I sat in the stands at the football stadium watching a local team lose another game. I’m not beating up on the team; I’m just saying that when a team has won one game in three years, everything starts looking the same. It is hard to see how something could be different.

What I have learned, though, is that looks are deceiving. What we see and what is real are often two very different things, especially when it comes to God. All week long, not only have I been thinking about God, but I have also been talking about him. Most of you might say, “Well, of course you have; that’s your job.” My conversations, though, have been with folks who don’t have my job – folks who show up at football games, fix water leaks, work in grocery stores or offices, drive trucks or fly planes.

Every conversation began in an ordinary way. Some seemingly random experience, common to everyone, had been theirs. Each was trying to sort his way to a conclusion, insight, or understanding. We talked. Eventually, one or the other of us would say in some form, “What is God up to in all this?” When that happened, it was no longer an ordinary conversation, but one that contained the possibility of real change.

I invite you to think about God. I invite you to talk about God, to ask, “What is God up to in all this?” I think you will be wonderfully surprised at the difference it makes.

Blessings, Sam

Bicycle Ride

The first bicycle I ever rode belonged to my oldest brother. As a teenager, he had a paper route that required a bike that was sturdy enough to stand up to the rigors of lousy roads while holding a large canvas bag containing the newspapers. After months of riding around on a used bike while saving every extra dime he could, he bought a brand new Columbia bicycle. It was the size of a small country.

For weeks on end, relentlessly, in season and out of season, I begged him to let me ride his bike. It mattered not to me that I had never actually ridden a bike or that it was so tall that my feet wouldn’t reach the pedals. With the confidence born of ignorance, I assured him that riding the bike was no challenge, that I had watched plenty of people do it, and besides, how hard could it be? Like water on stone, my pleas finally wore down his resistance until one day he said, “Just this once.”

We pulled it up against the curb so that I could leverage its height to gain the lowered bicycle seat. I grabbed the handlebars with a death grip while he steadied me by holding the bars and the back of the seat. With a push he said, “Pedal as fast as you can.” I wobbled away from the curb.

For about five feet, everything went well. But, for some reason, as I made the middle of the street, my straight path began to circle, gravity took hold, and the bike made a beeline for the opposite curb. I can still see clearly the faded blue Volkswagen Beetle parked against the curb that blocked my path to the safety of the grass. I can still hear my brother yelling, “Don’t hit the car!”

As I clipped the rear fender of the Bug, the bike came to a sudden stop, sending me over the handlebars into the neighbor’s yard. As I lay there dazed, with a busted lip and bruised pride, I heard my brother say, “Did you hurt my bike?”

A few thoughts, in no particular order. Sometimes, we’re not as important as we think we are. Sometimes, no matter how fast you pedal, you still crash. “Not now” doesn’t always mean “never.” It never hurts to count the cost before we begin the task. Getting what we want doesn’t always mean getting what is best for us.

Ashes in the Wind

The recent eruption of the volcano in Iceland has grabbed our attention. For the first time since World War II, commercial air traffic in England and the rest of Europe has come to a standstill. Lives have been disrupted all over the globe by the inability to get from one place to the next, as well as by the stoppage of the flow of goods and services. Even those of us who are not traveling will feel the effects of the fallout.

Already the inevitable question of “why” has been asked. As you might expect, some have suggested that the eruption is another sign of global warming, a reflection of human misdeed. I’m not enough of a scientist – no surprise there – to even hazard a guess as to the geology of all that. But I do know what vulcanologists – a great job title, by the way – say: “Eruptions are what volcanoes do.”

As the television preacher of a few years ago claimed about a hurricane headed to the East coast, some have said that the eruption is a sign of God’s displeasure with our sin. I may not be as good a theologian as some, even some TV preacher, but I always thought that the cross was the sign of God’s displeasure with our sin. I do know this: the eruption of the volcano is just one more reminder that we are not in charge.

Now, that doesn’t mean that some folks won’t try to prove the contrary. I have been in enough airports to know that a line of
very important, very busy people have made their way to ticket counters to demand to know when the planes will get back in the air. More than once, they will have heard these words, “Who knows?” What I hope is that someone has answered occasionally, “Only God knows.”

Fortunately, some will have taken this opportunity to sit back, relax, and reflect. In the busyness of this world, those moments are few and far between. We are so hurried, so distracted, so determined to be in control, that we run through all of life’s stop signs, thinking that they don’t apply to us, not realizing until far too late that they do. Of all the things that the eruption of the volcano might be, there is one thing that it surely is: a sign to remind us that we are not in charge. If we’ll slow down long enough to think about that, we’ll see that it is a truth that applies to us. And, if we’ll slow down that long, we might pause to give thanks to the One who is.

The Author