Thanksgiving Day

November 20, 2010

We live in a land of abundance. Here are a few facts from the U.S. Census Bureau as you begin to think about your Thanksgiving Day menu.

  • The U.S. produced 242 million turkeys in 2010. That’s 2% less than 2009. In 2009 the turkeys produced weighed 7.1 billion pounds altogether and were valued at $3.6 billion.
  • The U.S. is expected to raise 735 million pounds of cranberries this year.
  • The U.S. produced 1.9 billion pounds of sweet potatoes in 2009.
  • The U.S. produced 931 million pounds of pumpkin in 2009 at a value of $103 million.
  • The U.S. is expected to produce 2.2 billion bushels of wheat this year.
  • The US contracted 736,680 tons of green beans produced this year.
  • Yet, abundance has a risk. Gary H. Hall writes, “The road from dependency [on God] to self-centered sufficiency is paved with material wealth.”[1] When abundance is present, we may fail to see beyond the gifts to the Divine Giver.

    Moses warns against just such a danger in Deuteronomy 8. He reminds the people, “…man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3b, ESV). Moses looks forward to the abundance of the promised land, but he warns the people, “…lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God…” (Deuteronomy 8:12-14a, ESV).

    I noticed some recent definitions and comments on Thanksgiving Day: “…annual national holiday in the United States and Canada celebrating the harvest and other blessings of the past year…The holiday associated with Pilgrims and Native Americans has come to symbolize intercultural peace, America’s opportunity for newcomers, and the sanctity of home and family.”[2] It seems very easy to leave thanking God out of the picture.

    May our abundance turn our hearts to God in thanksgiving!

    [1] Gary H. Hall, The College Press NIV Commentary: Deuteronomy, p. 171.

    [2] “Thanksgiving Day,” Encyclopædia Britannica 2005.

    Not Bound

    November 12, 2010

    Timothy was a traveling companion and fellow worker with the Apostle Paul. He receives two personal letters from Paul that are a part of the New Testament. The two letters address him as he does the work of evangelist in the city of Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3, 2 Timothy 4:5).

    Paul breaks out into good news and writes:

    Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! (2 Timothy 2:8–9, ESV)

    In one sense it may seem odd to say to a preacher of the gospel: remember Jesus Christ. Isn’t he going to anyway? Yet, the two thoughts that follow it make the statement much more understandable. Remember Jesus even when there is suffering attached. Remember Jesus because the word of God is not bound.

    I need that last reminder. The sharing of the good news can at times be discouraging. Paul is reminding all of us that the power is in the message not the messenger. Paul may be bound and in prison, but the word of God isn’t.

    Other passages remind us of the same great truth.

    The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8, ESV)

    For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. ” (Isaiah 55:10–11, ESV)

    For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:6–7, ESV)

    I need reminding that the power is not in the messenger but in the message. It is the gospel that is the power of God for salvation. The word of God when presented will have its effect. It will not return to God void. The word of God is not bound.

    The End of the World in 2012? Oops!

    November 5, 2010

    Last year I wrote about the claim that the Mayan calendar predicted the end of the world on December 21, 2012. Hollywood even released an escapist, disaster movie in 2009 to pick up on the hype.

    As you may recall, the Mayans had a fairly accurate calendar which used the base 20 numbering system rather than our base 10. Think of it in this way. We count all our fingers (up to 10) and start the cycle again. They counted all their fingers and toes and started the cycle again. One of the units of their calendar is a B’ak’tun which is equivalent to 394 solar years. We have various cycles too like decade, century, and millennia. Those predicting the end of the world based on the Mayan calendar claimed that December 21, 2012 represents the end of one of these cycles, the end of the Mayan calendar, and thus the end of the world. Speculation on various planetary or solar system disasters were thrown in for good measure with this theory.

    What is the latest word on the Mayan calendar and 2012? To compare two calendars you need some fixed points. The Mayan calendar was converted to our Gregorian calendar using a calculation call the GMT constant. The constant was named after the initials of the last names of three early Mayan researchers. Floyd Lounsbury, an American linguist and anthropologist, believed he had confirmed the GMT constant with his work on a Mayan almanac that had charted dates relative to the movements of Venus.

    A chapter in a newly published textbook, Calendars and Years II: Astronomy and Time in the Ancient and Medieval World, calls into question the reliability of this GMT constant. The researcher, Gerardo Aldana, says the data supporting the conversion factor may be invalid. The end result is that the relationship between the Mayan calendar and our Gregorian calendar may be off by as much as 50 to 100 years.

    Last year there were many reasons to suggest that the Mayan calendar did not predict the end of the world, but only the end of one of their major cycles. This year we can’t even be certain how the two calendars relate to one another and when the end of the Mayan cycle is supposed to be. In other words, it could have occurred 100 years ago or might not happen for another 100 years, whatever the end of that cycle means. Facts may not change the predictors of doomsday, but this new research points to a major flaw. In other words: “Oops!”

    More Than Entertainment

    November 2, 2010

    Speeches can be divided into two categories. Some speeches are given merely to entertain. When heard, they are in a sense consumed at that moment. Nothing lasting is expected from them. The after-dinner speech is a good example of this type. We enjoy it, but nothing further is expected from us as listeners.

    The second kind of speech is the one that intends to make a lasting impression. This speech is designed to inform or motivate the listener. The lecture of a teacher is a good example of this type. The final exam always involves more than simply: were you there when the lecture was given.

    It is perilous for the listener when he confuses the second kind of speech with the first. Merely consuming and enjoying a lesson intended to inform or motivate is to fail as a listener. The consequences depend on what kinds of lessons are being ignored.

    Such was the situation in the days of Ezekiel. He ministered to the Jews in captivity in the years before and after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The people enjoyed hearing him, but they were approaching his words in the wrong way. God says to Ezekiel:

    As for you, son of man, your countrymen are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the LORD.’ My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. (Ezekiel 33:30-32, NIV)

    The people could give Ezekiel compliments for the enjoyment of his lessons, but they failed as listeners. They failed to put into practice God’s message.

    This raises an interesting question for the church. The goal of those who teach and preach is in the words of Peter: “whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11, RSV). The goal for teachers and preachers is to make the content God’s message not their own. The question we must ask is: can we fall into the same trap as the people of Ezekiel’s day? Can we view those who speak to us as “singers of beautiful songs” and then fail to be doers of the word we have heard (see James 1:22-25)? Each must search his own heart, but the message from the book of Ezekiel is clear. As listeners, hearing God’s word must be more than entertainment.