It’s Not Black Thursday

November 22, 2013

My daughter is a speech language pathologist in a school with early elementary students. Last year in the days before Thanksgiving, she told of a fellow speech pathologist who asked her students, “What holiday is this week?” The out of the mouths of babes answer came: ”Black Friday!”

Black Friday has entered our vocabulary. It is the day after Thanksgiving with all the great sales. The typical explanation for the term goes like this. Retailers may be operating in the red for much of the year. The red refers to red ink in an accounting ledger indicating that the store is operating at a loss. This shopping day puts them in the black (operating at a profit), hence Black Friday.

But a post for the American Dialect Society traces the phrase to Philadelphia in the 1960s. The police would refer to the shopping day after Thanksgiving as Black Friday due to the increased headaches for them from traffic congestion and pedestrian jay-walkers. They didn’t mean something positive by it. When a newspaper reporter picked up on the phrase from the police, retailers were not happy. They wanted to call the day “Big Friday.”

The phrase, however, caught on and spread to other cities in the 1970s. By the 1980s, the retail explanation of operating in the black became firmly attached to the phrase. At some point, stores began to open as early at 6:00 a.m. In the late 2000s, the opening times began to be earlier — 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. In 2011, a few stores opened at midnight, and last year, some stores opened on the evening of Thanksgiving Day.

While reporting on the stores opened on Thanksgiving Day last year, I heard a reporter call the day “Black Thursday.” I suppose the phrase was inevitable, and I don’t blame reporters for tying to be clever. But I wanted to talk back to the TV, “Excuse me, the day already has a name — it’s Thanksgiving Day.”

I’m not opposed to retailers operating in the black. I’m not opposed to shopping. I’ve had fun looking at sale fliers and searching for bargains too. Yet, I know that things change over time, ever so slowly so that we don’t even notice it, unless we stop and reflect. The trends in our society suggest that we must guard our hearts against materialism and greed.

Recent definitions of Thanksgiving Day have often seemed watered-down. I’ve read descriptions that say “a national holiday celebrating the harvest and other blessings.” Historically, we have said a day of Thanksgiving to God, our creator. If blessings don’t turn our hearts to God in thanksgiving, then the lack of gratitude will turn our hearts away from God. It’s Thanksgiving Day. It’s not Black Thursday.

One Day At A Time

November 15, 2013

I like the phrase at the end of Matthew chapter 6: “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (KJV). Jesus is arguing against worry and excessive anxiety. In Matthew 6:34, He is not talking about moral evil, but problems or troubles that come our way each day. The modern versions are quite correct in rendering it: “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (ESV). Jesus is urging that we have a deep trust in God and handle our problems one day at a time.

Jesus argues against worry in a number of ways in this passage (Matthew 6:25-34). First, He argues from the greater to the lesser. If God has given us life and a body, will He withhold the lesser things—food and clothing—which are needed to sustain the greater gift? Second, He argues from the lesser to the greater. Jesus teaches that God provides for the birds and the lilies of the field. Since we are more valuable, won’t He provide for us as well? Third, He informs us that the pagans—those without faith—pursue the same things, but our heavenly Father knows that we have need of them. Our perspective should then be: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33, ESV).

The magazine, Marriage Partnership, reported a study on worry. They found the following breakdown.

  • 60% of our worries are unfounded
  • 20% of our worries are already behind us
  • 10% are so petty they don’t make a difference
  • 4-5% are real, but we can’t change them
  • 5% are real, but we can act on them

This aptly illustrates Jesus maxim: “Each day has enough troubles of its own” (Matthew 6:34, NIV). We need not borrow problems from the future to ruminate on, let us live each day with trust in God.

Certainly, there are times when disasters come, and anxieties press us down, but the solution is still found in “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33, ESV). Or, as Peter encourages us, “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, ESV). Only trusting in God will see us through.

One sage has remarked, “The most pleasant and useful persons are those who leave some of the problems of the universe for God to worry about.”

Please, Silence Your Cell Phone

November 8, 2013

I have to admit that I was distracted last week. An electronic ding sound occurred periodically during class and even during worship. It was a familiar ding by the way. My phone and laptop make the same sound when a new email message arrives.

Of course, that was part of my distraction during class. I had the laptop plugged into the sound system so that we could view a video together. I was afraid that I was the source of the distraction. I even went up front during class to make certain that I had set notifications to “Do Not Disturb.”

I guess I had heard that ding too many times, so that by the sermon time when it happened, I stopped and mentioned it. I had more than one person confess afterwards that they thought it was their cell phone. One confessor even suggested that we mention each week to silence your cell phone.

Silencing electronic devices is not always easy. Years ago we had an alarm that was going off during the sermon time. It had happened at the same point in the service a number of weeks in a row. I finally stopped one Sunday and said, “I can fix that if you let me have it.”

Afterwards a retired gentleman sheepishly came forward and admitted that it was his watch. It was an electronic watch that had a lot of settings and somehow the alarm was set, and he didn’t know how to to turn off the alarm. (By the way, I immediately felt more patient with that beep-beep sound.) I was able to figure out the watch and turn off the alarm.

Last year, a similar case made national news. A New York Philharmonic performance was stopped when the marimba alarm sound continued to go off from a man’s new iPhone. The man was described as being between 60 and 70 years of age. His company had just replaced his phone the day before. He had no idea of how to turn off the alarm. When reporters eventually caught up with him, he admitted that he hadn’t been able to sleep for two days after the event, it shook him up so much.

Let’s remember that the noise of our electronic devices can be distracting to the people around us. If you are not certain on how to silence a device, ask around. I’m sure someone knows how. And if you see someone looking at their phone or tablet during church, remember they may be reading their Bible. Be patient with one another. (And if you’re not reading your Bible, remember the purpose of being in worship.)

I was at a church event on the other side of the state recently. They began with “Please, silence your cell phone.” These days the message is repeated before funerals, weddings, church services, movies, seminars, and many other public events: please, silence your cell phone.

Jesus Serves

November 1, 2013

Imagine coming home and finding Jesus there. He’s dressed in grubby clothes—the kind you wear to clean house. He’s in the bathroom cleaning away. The faucets sparkle. The toilet gleams and even has that blue water in it. The dirty towels are in the laundry, and Jesus is on his knees working on that stubborn soap scum in the tub. How would you feel? Awkward? Embarrassed? No doubt we would try to get Jesus to the living room where we could be good hosts. We would say, “Jesus, you are much too important to be doing this.”

Enter into the world of the upper room. It was customary for guests to have their feet washed. It was considered a servile job — a job left to slaves, children or an exceptionally submissive and dutiful wife. Would any of the Twelve do it? They probably wouldn’t have minded washing Jesus’ feet. But would the thought have occurred, “I’m just as important an apostle as everybody else—why should I wash their feet?”

Jesus laid aside his garment. Not only was he going to do the slave’s job, but he looked the part. The one who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped took on the very nature of a servant — a slave. Jesus washed their feet (John 13:1-17). Peter’s protest no doubt broke the awkward tension and captured other’s feelings. But protests aside, a necessary lesson was being taught.

Jesus is Lord and Teacher. If he could do this for them, then they should serve others. With a towel and a water basin, Jesus shattered our proud, self-importance—our clamoring for position. How can any of us ever say, “I’m too important to serve,” when our Lord washed feet.

David Lipscomb became editor of the Gospel Advocate in 1866 and started the Nashville Bible School in 1891, which later became Lipscomb University. In 1873, Nashville was faced with a cholera epidemic. The first case was reported on June 7th. Two weeks later the cases numbered 397. Likely hundreds died that summer. Lipscomb wrote in the midst of that crisis, “Every individual, white or black, that dies from the neglect and want of proper food and nursing is a reproach to the professors of the Christian religion in the vicinity of Nashville.” But he did more. He led young men into the slums “where they prepared wholesome food and cleaned the filth from the affected area” of cholera victims. Lipscomb nursed cholera victims because he served a Lord who washed feet.

You have heard it said, “Jesus saves.” How true and wonderful that is. But equally wondrous is the truth that Jesus serves, and so must we who follow Him.