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Archive for the ‘thanksgiving’ Category

Praise the LORD.   Praise the LORD, you his servants; praise the name of the LORD. Let the name of the LORD be praised, both now and forevermore. From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the LORD is to be praised.  The LORD is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens. Who is like the LORD our God,  the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust 
and lifts the needy from the ash heap (Psalm 113:1-7);

His nickname is THUD.  It is tattooed on his left bicep.

The person who owns both the nickname and the tattoo put this inky mark on his body as a reminder of where he had been.  He had been a big man on his high school campus, and then his life had come crashing down.

THUD is short for the full name Travis Hudson. This is the boy whose last few years have been a roller coaster ride.

T-Hud is a high school track star in my area who has won state titles in the high jump and been ranked nationally. All the success, however , went to his head.  He told the Roanoke Times,”I thought I was the biggest thing ever.” 

As a result, Travis’s life spiraled downhill. It was something his high school coach Shane Guynn saw coming on, like a train wreck, according to the Times.

In an article, the headline which begins with  “Out of the Wilderness…”, Reporter Robert Anderson further says:

Guynn began to notice a dramatic lack of effort in practice from Hudson. His grades were plummeting, continuing a downward spiral that had begun two years earlier.

Hudson argued with coaches, skipped practice and blew off homework.

Worse, he started partying with friends and lying to his parents about his whereabouts.

“Totally just being a little jerk, all the time,” Travis Hudson said. “I was fighting with my parents, fighting with my coaches.

“I would yell at them. I would cuss ’em out. I would say, ‘Screw it, I don’t want to be here.’ Sometimes I would leave.

“My grades were going down the bucket. Of course, I was getting in trouble at school because I would get smart with teachers, ‘Get off my back,’ or whatever.

“I didn’t want to go to practice, so I didn’t. I didn’t want to go to school, so I’d make up an excuse. I would go out and have fun with my friends, go party, shoot pool or go to the river or whatever.

“I thought I knew everything.”

Finally, Hudson was suspended from school for a week for a serious violation of school policy. The suspension turned out to be the beginning of his turnaround.

During his suspension, T-hud faced himself and said,” Is this really happening?”. Then, while he was spending  time in a disciplinary program offered by the school system, he noticed when he looked around that he was surrounded by little kids.

Anderson writes Hudson’s thoughts:

“It kind of hit me, ‘Why I am I in this classroom with these kids?’ “

Then the other reality hit home.

Why wasn’t he on the track with his teammates.

In addition to facing himself, what turned Hudson around was the people around him. His track teammates offered forgiveness instead of abuse, and he received mentoring from caring people.

A teacher provided tutoring which Travis told Anderson was a “godsend”. He also received advice from a former successful track star at his school.

The Times article quotes Hudson this way:

“He asked me, ‘Why go out there and throw away what God gave you? Why be mean to the people that are trying to help you succeed? Why would you stay here when you could be getting paid to go to college?”

Thus, the help and love of others helped to bring  Travis around.  Robert Anderson clearly tells what really  changed him.

But mostly, Hudson grew up.

“It kind of hit me the first week of school, ‘I’m a senior. I need to get my head on. I’m not a kid anymore. I need to be a man now.,’ ” Hudson said. “I started doing my homework, training on my own. I stopped hanging with the people I didn’t need to be hanging with. I stopped lying to my parents. I started eating right. I started sleeping well.

“I wanted to be a track star and compete.”

The Bible tells  the story of another person who learned from their suspension. I am referring to an episode in the life of King David, told in II Samuel Chapters15-19.

David was King of Israel, but had to flee the capital when his son Absalom engaged in a rebellion against him. David wandered out to the wilderness with his entourage.

While he was out there, the circumstances made David face himself. In his test, David exhibited some humility, took the good advice of his friends and, best of all,  looked to the Lord for redemption.

When things turned around for him, he showed a lot of grace to people who probably didn’t deserve it. He forgave, just as God had forgiven him for the abuses which led to his downfall.

While David was out there in the wilderness, he really had no idea if he would ever get his kingdom back, or even continue living.  He was in God’s hands, and he knew it.

Perhaps he wrote this Psalm while out there:

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?
   How long will you hide your face from me? 
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
   and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
   How long will my enemy triumph over me?

  Look on me and answer, LORD my God.
   Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, 
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
   and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

  But I trust in your unfailing love;
   my heart rejoices in your salvation. 
I will sing the LORD’s praise,
   for he has been good to me .” (Psalm 13:1-6).

When things go bad, the nornal tendency for we humans is to complain. David was unique in that he accepted his medicine, and not only didn’t think ill of his God, but praised Him for His goodness.

This hymn wasn’t written until the 20th century, but I can imagine David marching along humming some version of his own:

“Wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all my sin;
How shall my tongue describe it, where shall its praise begin?
Taking away my burden, setting my spirit free,
For the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me!

Wonderful grace of Jesus, reaching to all the lost,
By it I have been pardoned, saved to the uttermost;
Chains have been torn asunder, giving me liberty,
For the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me!

Wonderful grace of Jesus, reaching the most defiled,
By its transforming power, making him God’s dear child.
Purchasing peace and heaven for all eternity;
And the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me

REFRAIN: Wonderful the matchless grace of Jesus,
Deeper than the mighty rolling sea;
Higher than the mountain, sparkling like a fountain,
All-sufficient grace for even me;
Broader than the scope of my transgressions,
Greater far than all my sin and shame;
O magnify the precious name of Jesus, praise His name!”

Our circumstances may or may not be redeemed as in the stories of Travis Hudson and David, but regardless, our spirits have. I deserve any environmental hell I may be in today, but my sould doesn”t have to live there. God has redeemed it. 

 

 

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 “But as for me, afflicted and in pain— may your salvation, God, protect me. I will praise God’s name in song  and glorify him with thanksgiving (Psalm 69:29,30).”

I just took a look at a some of my recent postings on Facebook. What a complainer!

I muse about drivers in my area. I complain about excessive noise at the mall ruining a meal time with my wife at the food court.

I am truly a glass-is-half-empty kinda guy.  Someone just sent me a nice money gift. Another person has offered to help pay for a legal problem my wife and I are having.

Yet, this impatient man just complained to my wife that these presents weren’t enough. They are only drops in the bucket, I say. Moody, Moody, Moody.

I was determined today after some time in the Bible to assist my wife. (See my post entitled “Pleasing God and my wife on ‘staycation’ “. Yet, I have been irritable and impatient as I drove her around on some errands.

I suppose I am quite frustrated at life right now in general. The overall picture seems bleak at times. However, I think it is really a matter of perspective.

If I look at things realistically, I see great blessing.  As mentioned above, two people have recently blessed my family financially. Sure, it’s a small drop in the overall can, but it’s encouraging.

I have had some medical problems of late. In this time, I have been given expensive medical care and prescriptions without demands. In fact, some of the great expense has been taken care of by my church and a support organization.

I truly have a lot to be thankful for. I live in a house I really don’t deserve, for example. The landlord could charge much more, but has chosen not to in order to have reputable tenants who will take care of his property.

My entire family is with me at the moment. This includes an adult son who I hardly saw hide nor hair of for years.

All these aggravations I have experienced today and have noted on Facebook are of biblical proportions; that is, they are small.

They are what the Bible calls little foxes. In the Song of Solomon, the beloved male tells his lovely female: ” Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom (Song of Solomon 2:15)”.

Matthew Henry says these foxes are corruptions of believer which can spoil good beginnings. Well, my family and I immigrated back to America about a year ago, and it has been rough.

Yet, it is a new beginning. With the proper viewpoint, it can even be seen as a good one.

Foxes have come in and messed things up a lot, however. Foxes are omivores. They eat a lot of things, including meat and berries. 

They are also opportunistic. They eat what’s available.

In the Song of Solomon, what was readily available was young grapes. They were ruining the vineyard and they needed to be apprehended.

The big fox Satan has taken the opportunity to try and (as Matthew Henry writes) crush our good beginning here in America. God, on the other hand, wants us to have time to come to bloom and bear fruit.

What this means is that I have to deal with Satan and his other less important foxes, with God’s help. He is the Beloved, there to aid me as I catch those things that hinder my and my family’s growth.

 The great preacher Charles Spurgeon, in an exposition on Song of Solomon 2:15, wrote: “A little thorn may cause much suffering. A little cloud may hide the sun. Little foxes spoil the vines; and little sins do mischief to the tender heart. These little sins burrow in the soul, and make it so full of that which is hateful to Christ, that he will hold no comfortable fellowship and communion with us. A great sin cannot destroy a Christian, but a little sin can make him miserable.”

What Satan is trying to do to me is to cause me to sin in the midst of my little irritations, and ruin my fellowship with Jesus. Thankfully, Spurgeon also wrote,” If thou wouldst live with Christ, and walk with Christ, and see Christ, and have fellowship with Christ, take heed of ‘the little foxes that spoil the vines, for our vines have tender grapes.’ Jesus invites you to go with him and take them. He will surely, like Samson, take the foxes at once and easily. Go with him to the hunting.”

This is the season to go hunting. It’s deer season and gobbler season. It’s Thanksgiving, and nothing will take care of those little foxes like a little ammo full of thankfulness.

The next time one of those foxes shows itself in my life, I am drawing a bead on it with some shot of perspective. I am going to blast it with some thankfulness to God.

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“Come, let us return to the LORD.  He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us;  he has injured us,  but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us;  on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Let us acknowledge the LORD;  let us press on to acknowledge him (Hosea 6:1-3a).”

“You’re ankle is completely healed.”  Those words from my doctor this morning sent my brain buzzing with possibilities for the future.  I told him that what I really wanted to know was if I could exercise.

He put me through a couple small physical motions and said,”You can do anything you want except hang from a precipice.” In five minutes, the world I had known for 8 months had changed.  I had regained an important part of my life.

I wanted to do the dance of joy, but my doctor is kind of a rugged guy, a former athlete, and I just didn’t think it was the macho things to do.  I’ll do a little jig when I am alone.

There hasn’t been much good news these days, so I thought that perhaps this was a sign of things to come. Maybe, just maybe, life isn’t always a chore.

Suffering in this life isn’t necessarily forever.  God does free people from their turmoil and pain (Isaiah 4:3; Mark 5:29,34). He does come to the rescue (II Timothy 3:11).

We become better people as a result of the suffering.  We learn to hang in there when times are tough. We build inner strength.  With  this strength, we get the power to help other suffering people, especially those closest to us.  (Romans 5:3; II Corinthians 1:5).

In the midst of our suffering, it is possible that God will give us a signal that He is indeed good (Psalm 86:17).   When He does, it is certainly appropriate to do the dance of joy, to sing, to  celebrate (Psalm 145:7).

God is indeed faithful to us. Suffering is actually one way He shows that to us.  The third stanza of the old hymn “Great is Thy Faitfulness” explains the effects He produces in us when He allows affliction in our lives:

“Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!”

I don’t know if my newly refreshed ankle is a start of good things or not. Only God knows.  But I am grateful for the new lease on life the healing provides, one way or another.

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“He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me,  and he prepares the way so that I may show him  the salvation of God (Psalm 50:23).”

When I was a senior in high school, an acquaintance wrote in my yearbook,”Your pervasive air of disgust was a constant source of amusement to me throughout the year.”  The boy labeled me for life.

I have gotten a lot of yuks over that statement and the thought it communicates.  This is because my older brother and I have taken pride in the idea that the males in our family are curmudgeons. As he went into middle age, my brother said to me,”Well, I guess I have inherited Dad’s curmudgeon mantle.”  I thought his comment was hilarious.

To me, being a crabby, ill-tempered guy was a symbol of who I was .  I have seen our family personalities as a badge of honor.

Now, I’m not so sure. As I get older I am becoming quite congnizant of my infirmities, weaknesses and sins. As I reflect, I am experiencing some regret over my curmudgeonly attitude.

 While being irascible might have been humourous before, it is not so funny now.  (Well, maybe still a little.)  This is because, when set in the context of my other issues, my curmudgeonism just adds fuel to my flaming behavioral fire.

Primarily, I have been wondering what God thinks of the air of distaste around me. I have a sneaking suspicion that He doesn’t care for it.

First, God wants me to be thankful for what He has done for me (Psalm 50:14).  Conveying my repugnance toward life doesn’t seem to fit that goal He has for me.

Second, God values kindness (Isaiah 63:7).  He wants me to reflect this aspect of His character to others (II Samuel 9:3).  Part and parcel of being a curmudgeon is spreading my sour spirit around to other people.  This seems rather unkind to me. It doesn’t catch the spirit of who God is.

Finally, conveying my general displeasure communicates a certain disrespect to God. It tells Him and others that I am not trusting in His care, or even worse, that I  believe that He is just flat out not  kind and loving.

Spreading around my revulsion is dissing God because in fact He is just waiting to come to my aid.  He wants me to call on Him when I need help with my problems (Psalm 50:15).    

Basically, I now think God isn’t pleased with the ambience of loathing surrounding me. He’s not like me, and doesn’t approve of a professing Christian such as myself communicating that He is (Psalm 50:21).

I have the idea now that I should be acting like a man created in the image of God.  This is what I am, and what others are. We’re not maggots, as one of Job’s friends intimated (Job 25:6).

That old high school yearbook is nowhere to be found now. It’s been lost in one of our many moves. It’s just as well. Having dispensed with my high school friend’s comments, it’ also time to lose the air of distaste and develop an appetite for what God has for me.

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“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good..(He) gives food to every creature. His love endures forever (Psalm 136:1,25).”

We’re trying to eat organic food around our house.  I am actually surprised that I find it palatable. In some cases, I even like it.  Organic peanut butter and organic ice cream are pretty good.

In the past I knew times were tough when pea soup started to appear on our dinner table.  This dish is a staple of Finland, my wife’s country of origin. Although not pea soup’s biggest fan, it has grown on me.  With a little salt and pepper I even like it. But the main thing is that it is cheap.

I have to admit, though,  I don’t always like certain foods, especially if I eat them day after day after day. In the past I have burned out on apples, cucumbers, and carrots, for example. After a constant intake of  certain foods I have had enough.  I complain.

“Beans, Bacon and Gravy” is a song which expresses the attitude of a Depression-era man who is tired of the same old grub.  Popularized by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, the song is something of a lament about having to repeatedly eat these cheap offerings.   

“Oh, those  beans, bacon and gravy,
   
They  almost drive me crazy,
   
I eat them, I see them in my  dreams.
   
When  I wake up each morning
   
And an other day is  dawning,
     
know I’ll have another mess of  beans.”

 

The people of ancient Israel also had their own economic depression and sang the blues like the author of the above lyrics.  The Israelites had left Egypt, where they were slaves, and God fed them with a heaven-sent food called manna.  But the Israelites grew sick of it. Their attitude after constant meals of manna was, “Manna-Schmanna!”.  They wanted to go back to the buffets they remembered from Egypt. 

While they could recall the better food in Egypt, they seemed to have forgotten the painful slavery which God had delivered them from when he removed them from there.  They whined and complained about their seeming hardship, and the food they had to eat was at the center of the whining (Number 11:4-7).

The ancient Israelites weren’t the only people in the Bible to have a preoccupation with food.  In describing some people who he said “live as enemies of the cross of Christ”, the apostle Paul says that “their god is their stomach”. 

When we don’t like God’s provision, we modern believers are just like the ancient Israelites and the people Paul wrote about.  We grumble.  The grumbling is just a symptom that shows the real disease.  The real problem is that our hearts are not right. We’re mad at God in general and something like a real or imagined poor diet gives us the chance to air our grievances. We make our stomachs our substitute god.  The wise man of Proverbs calls such a person a fool.   This kind of attitude leads to some bad consequences (Proverbs 18:2,6-7).

One of the consequences of complaining is that the air of protest makes life hard for others.  It is difficult to live and work with complainers.  Moses was driven to extreme frustration by the Israelites. Even God got mad (Numbers 11:10-14). 

On the other hand,  people with their hearts right toward God have  a pleasing way about them.  People with good attitudes make friends and influence people and the effect actually in some cases brings them wealth (Proverbs 18:20-21). Ironically, if the complainers would just shut up, their chances of improving their situations, including the quality of their suppers, would increase! 

When I was a young man, I trusted in Christ.  My friends from high school who were already believers told me after I came to Christ that they could not stand being around me in the old days. I was an habitual complainer. This changed after I put my trust in Christ.  People notices I didn’t complain anymore.

The old ways have a tendency to creep back in, however.  I am a pretty good complainer again in my middle age.  When things don’t go right, I beef.

What God really wants from me is thanks.  After all, He is the one that provides my daily sustenance.  When I whine and complain, I question his character.  I am telling God He doesn’t really care, that His goodness isn’t good enough.

Even the worker in the Depression knew to give God thanks:

“We congregate each morning
At the county barn at dawning,
And everyone is happy, so it seems.
But when our work is done
We file in one by one,
And thank the Lord for one more mess of beans.”

Surely we can come up with some reasons to thank God,even if we wished that our circumstances, including our repasts, were of higher quality.  I like the spirit of the following meal time prayer (which can be sung to the tune of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”):

 “Thank you for toast and jam,
Thank you for eggs and ham,
We thank you, Lord (da, da, da, da)
Thank you for beans and spam,
Thank you for all I am,
Thanking you best we can,
We thank you, Lord.”*

After the manna, God actually gave them meat, more than they could handle. It seems though that the meat might have been the cause of a subsequent plague engineered by God get their attention. Maybe the Israelites didn’t take care of the meat properly.  In any case, the old adage “be careful what you ask for” is applicable here.  If the people had the right spirit, they might have seen that God was actually trying to keep His people healthy through the manna he provided, that this heavenly stuff was actually a sign of His care.

Some days it’s hamburger and some days it’s steak.  But whatever He sets before us, we should thank the Lord for His provision.  His supply of our needs  shows He loves us and takes care of us.

*Derrick Smith

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