Well here we are, as one of my past sermons is titled “Between the Turkey and the Tree.” When Fall arrives, the shorter days seem to trigger a need inside us of adding blankets to the bed, stocking up on firewood, and dragging out the heavy afghan for cozy TV watching. And with all this preparation for the impending winter, our thoughts turn to the holidays.
Many of us plan great gatherings for a Thanksgiving feast with family and friends. We cook too much, eat too much, and afterward find Grandpa sleeping in the recliner even in the midst of the traditional Thanksgiving Day NFL game blaring on TV. Maybe it’s because of that sleepy stuff in the turkey. Which leads me to wonder if that’s why turkeys walk everywhere they go – they are just too sleepy to fly! But I digress.
As soon as the tablecloths are laundered and folded, and all the nice china is placed back in its safe place for a few weeks, our thoughts quickly turn to Christmas. It’s natural for us to do this as we’ve done it from a young age. I remember tearing through the Sear’s Roebuck Christmas catalog when it arrived in the mail, “dog-earing” the pages that had the great toys! Well, that never worked out well then, and it’s hard to “dog-ear” the pages of the catalogs on my I-pad! But why do we leave a holiday so quickly behind that has “thankfulness” in its title?
Colossians 3:15 says to “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” In reading this, it almost seems as if the Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Colossae tacks on the encouragement as an afterthought, as if to say “Oh! And by the way, don’t forget to be thankful!”
If we closely examine this and the surrounding verses, Paul reminds the members of the church as well as us today to be more like Christ every day in compassion, forgiveness, love, and yes – thankfulness. If you take any one of these attributes out of the equation, the rest will fail. But I believe thankfulness is not the last attribute we should have, but the first.
When we are not thankful, it’s hard to be compassionate, forgiving, and loving. But when we are thankful for everything God has given us and done for us through His Son, the other attributes flow from our hearts like a waterfall after a heavy rain. The cool midst of this outpouring touches all we encounter with the love of Christ.
So as we find ourselves between the Turkey and the Tree, let’s not forget the thankfulness of the holiday past, but carry it in our hearts and minds through the celebration of the birth of Jesus, and into the next year. We can truly make 2020 a “year of thanks” indeed!
Somewhere in the top of one of your closets or on the top shelf of your garage where appliances go to die you might have an old VHS player. Remember the tapes you used to rent from the movie store – the one with the sign on the wall “be kind, please rewind?” Yes, this is the “Video Home System” (bet you didn’t know that one) we used to play movies on, rent tapes from the stores, and even record our favorite sitcom when we were away from our homes.
The VHS system didn’t replace going to the movies, but it had certain advantages. It wasn’t as expensive as actually going to the theaters, and we could wear anything we wanted in the comfort of our own home. If you were to ask people what their favorite feature of the VHS over the theaters was, you’d probably get the answer of “I can hit pause and go to the bathroom!” We could hit the pause button, go the kitchen, go to the bathroom, or even answer the phone. No matter the interruption, hitting the pause button would allow us to not miss a single second of our movie.
In today’s fast-paced world, it’s hard to hit the pause button. Even if we could, most of us get very anxious when things come to a stand-still and we didn’t choose the paused moment. Take for example sitting in stopped traffic on the interstate. We have a destination and a preplanned time of arrival, and sitting paused on the interstate didn’t fit in our plan. Our heart rate increases as does our blood pressure. But in those “paused” instances, have you ever seized the moment to notice things you’ve never seen before?
Look out of your window and down. What seems to be a very smooth surface as your racing down the interstate is really quite rough and, in some places grooved. An on even on one such occasion, I noticed very short grass growing in the expansion cracks of the roadway. I pondered how even in the face of adversity, with thousands and thousands of tires rolling down the interstate every day; this little sign of God’s creation is growing. Even in the midst of man’s concrete creation, God reminds us He is here.
As we come up on the Thanksgiving holiday in a few days and progress into the Advent season, I invite you to hit the pause button as often as you are able. Even if you didn’t choose the paused moment, look around and see the reminders God is with you even in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of the season. Take the time to thank Him for the joy in the signs of His presence. I assure you, hitting the pause button for these “God moments” will not cause you to miss a single moment of this movie we all star in – the gift of living in God’s presence.
It was this time of year when I was a young boy when hope flowed more so than the rest of the year. The Christmas catalogs began to populate the mailbox, and the hardware store began to put up decorations in the store windows. Even the little town where I spent much of my childhood began to put decorations on the lamp poles lining main street. It was a sign of the fast-approaching holidays and all the celebrations and parades to come.
I remember one Christmas season vividly. Christmas day had come and gone, and the family was standing in the airport. The mood of the family matched the cold, rainy, and dreary weather outside. My father was about to board a plane for his first deployment to Viet Nam. As the oldest son, he pulled me aside away from my siblings and charged me with taking care of my mother , my brother and sister. It was a heavy responsibility for a ten-year-old boy. But my father whispered words to me that I’ll never forget; he said, “I’ll be back son.” They rang in my ears day after day, week after week, and month after month until his return a year later. His words gave a young man hope.
It seems there are very few sources of hope these days, with all the turmoil in our nation and even around the world. We recently celebrated Veterans Day, a day in which pride and admiration abound to those who are and have served. But we need a sense of hope daily in our lives.
Pets sit patiently in windows, waiting on the return of their owners. And when they see the car pull into the driveway or hear their voice, excitement fills their entire bodies! They even have hope in an event; one over which they have no control. We can take a big lesson from our pets.
When Jesus ascended into heaven, scripture says two men in white appeared beside the apostles. The apostles stood and watched as Jesus rose from the earth and disappeared into the clouds, no doubt with the mouths wide open! These two men asked them a very pointed question – “”Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.'”
After all they had been through in recent weeks and months, their hearts had to filled with hope. They had been on a roller coaster of emotions, but they stood there witnessing a physical act of their Savior ascending into the clouds. The words of these two angels gave them hope.
Jesus is coming soon. His words should give us all hope, a hope in glory. Revelation 22:20 Jesus said, “Yes, I am coming soon.” We need to prepare daily for this promise to be fulfilled!
One of the newest technological innovations is the driverless car. As I understand it, the car uses multiple input sensors to keep the vehicle safe in traffic, as well as global positioning system (GPS) satellites to traverse roads and highways to reach the destination which has been input into the computer system. Considering I lose satellite signal on my television during a thunderstorm, I’m not completely on board with this new type of technology just yet.
I have a good friend who goes on annual pheasant hunting trips in South Dakota, in addition to a week-long fishing trip in Canada. They depend on guides in both locations. He conveyed to me the guide his group uses for their fishing trip is retiring this year. The gentleman who serves as their guide has been guiding groups in southern Canada for over 50 years. My friend was saddened over the retirement decision, and wondered where they would find such a knowledgeable, experienced, and reliable guide for next year’s trip.
We use guides in many aspects of our daily lives from knife-sharpening guides, to sewing guides, even golf swing guides to help us improve and master our efforts. But I’ve heard so many people say flounder in their spiritual walk, feeling like they are on their own, questioning if they are being effective.
The disciples had Jesus with them, to serve as a guide, a teacher, a mentor, and an example. Yet, even they did not understand what He was trying to tell them and others when He spoke in parables. Throughout the time they spent with Jesus, they doubted themselves and even denied knowing Jesus. They did not fully rely on their “Guide.”
Today we have the Holy Spirit to serve as our Holy Guide. No matter where we are, the Holy Spirit is there with us. Jesus even said He must leave this earth to make room for the Comforter, the Advocate to come. There is a great deal of assuredness in the words Jesus uses for the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is with us, to comfort us during our times of struggle, to guide us through the good times as well as the bad times, and to advocate for us to God the Father. What better guide to have in our daily lives than one who Jesus Himself recommends!! And I assure you, unlike the TV signal during storms, the Holy Spirit will never lose contact with us, especially during life’s storms.
Turn your spiritual antennae toward God every day, and the Holy Spirit will give you the best signal imaginable, one that will guide all of us to our ultimate destination – our Heavenly home!
What does it mean to be sold out? The best synonym I can think of is committed. When we put ourselves totally into an activity, relationship, or vocation, we are “sold out”. People see the performance of athletes or the love shared between couples and say the same thing.
To be really sold out requires a great deal of effort. Take for instance the sport of triathlon. This is the 3-event competitions where the athlete, or triathlete, swims a specified distance, bicycles, and then runs. The world championships were just held in Kona, Hawaii where the distances for the run, bike, and swim were 2.4 miles, 112 miles, and 26 miles respectively! Completing any one of the phases of the race would be monumental for most. But to cross the finish line after covering all three is an achievement relatively few will ever know. To be a triathlete at the professional level requires the man or woman to be completely sold out to their profession, mentally, physically, and emotionally. They must be absolutely committed.
Most of us will never compete in Kona, but we are called to be no less committed in some aspects of our lives. It’s hard to understand the effort of a triathlete and compare it to our activities, relationships, or vocations. But we need to look no further for an example than Jesus.
Jesus gave of Himself totally to the mission God the Father placed on Him. He was to be the perfect sacrifice, the Pascal Lamb, to atone for the sins of mankind. He spent almost three years trying to convince the leaders of the Jewish nation who He was with His teachings as well as with many signs and miracles. He even performed miracles that only the Messiah or God could perform according to the Levitical law. It forced the leaders to make the ultimate decision – was Jesus who He said He was, the Messiah.
One of the last things Jesus said as He hung on the cross was “It is finished.” He had completely poured himself out physically, emotionally, and spiritually for men and women, even those who sentenced Him to die in the most cruel manner imaginable. The task, the mission was done. Then He spoke these words: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” All that Jesus was, all that Jesus had done, and all that He would be He gave to the Father – completely. Jesus placed Himself totally into the loving hands of His Heavenly Father.
For us to approach worship and service to God without following the example of the One who gave of Himself totally for us is a disservice. God will bless us because of His love and grace, but more so when we are totally committed to Him. This week let’s be “sold out” to God in everything we do – for His kingdom’s sake and not our own.