Thanks in All Circumstances

November 22, 2019

This has easily been the toughest year of my life. A couple of falls on the ice last winter left me with severe back pain. During that time, my Mother died. I spent eight days in the hospital with sepsis. Although I got better, we knew that I also had a heart infection. This eventually led to open heart surgery where my aortic valve was replaced, my mitral valve repaired, and my pacemaker and wiring removed. And of course, what lay behind my infections was my low immune system due to multiple myeloma, so I’m also under treatment for cancer.

I’m glad that we face life one day at a time, one moment at time. Otherwise, this past year would have been overwhelming. Somehow, I’ve managed my way through it. I suspect that I should replace “somehow” in the previous sentence to “with lots of prayer.” I’ve recounted this past year to say that in the midst of all of this, I always found reasons to be thankful.

It is a wonderful discovery. We don’t have to have everything going right to be thankful. Maybe our thanksgiving in troubled times is just a bit sweeter because of the contrast. It may be that times of trouble also bring clarity about what is most important. I am thankful for waking up each day and having a new day to work, love, and serve.

I am thankful for my family. I had visits. Things I needed were brought to me. We had some wonderful shared meals especially meals where the food came from outside the hospital. My wife Kathy bore the burden of visits. It is exhausting having someone in the hospital. My family was there for me.

I am thankful for my church family. Again, there were many encouraging visits. I received a ton of get well cards. I had people praying for me in many different places.

I am thankful for simple things. I would be awakened early in the morning for vitals, and when I was well enough, I would just get up. I would enjoy a cup of coffee, read my Bible, and watch the encroaching rays of the rising sun on the buildings outside my window. It was peaceful and satisfying.

I am thankful for my spiritual blessings. As the hymn says, “Nothing in my hands I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling…” God has saved through the atoning death of Jesus Christ. I am thankful for God’s grace and mercy. And I have experienced God’s blessings, his providential care.

Thanksgiving is important. Thanksgiving can occur even in troubled times. I appreciate this saying: “It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy.”

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 ESV)

— Russ Holden


Good Gifts

December 21, 2018

Giving gifts doesn’t necessarily come naturally. We give because we have first received. Gift giving means that we have learned to overcome selfish desires and greed. Gift giving means that we have learned to love, honor, and appreciate others. Good gift giving comes from being considerate of other people’s needs, wants, and desires. In gift giving we learn the joy of service — it is more blessed to give than to receive. I suspect that just as we love because God first love us, we give because God has richly given to us.

James describes God as the perfect giver of gifts.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17, ESV)

What good gifts have you received?

God is our creator, and he has created a world that is very good, even though it has been cursed because of sin. It is a world that is full of beauty and wonder. It is a world that teems with life. I have enjoyed sunrises and sunsets that were magnificently beautiful. I have felt the awe of storms. I have felt the peace of blue skies and sunshine under the green canopy of trees. I have tasted the bounty of the earth, and I have gazed into the night sky with wonder. I have received good gifts.

God has revealed himself in the Bible. I have received the gift of wisdom that begins with reverence for God and humbly listens to his word. In the Bible I find a message that fills a void in my life. It is as if it is a missing puzzle piece that fills that hole and makes the puzzle complete. Now the world, and life, and values, and meaning make sense. I have received a good gift.

God has given his Son. The Word who knew the glories of heaven became flesh and dwelt among. He became human to save us from our sin. He learned suffering. He was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. He died in our place, so that we might have forgiveness of sin and eternal life. I have received a good gift — a priceless and precious gift.

Love and gratitude should be the responses to good gifts. May we experience joy because with grateful hearts we recognize the gifts we have received. May we also learn to be like our heavenly Father and grow as givers of good gifts.


Thanksgiving Reflections

November 16, 2018

My Grandmother Holden was born in 1886 and died in 1972. Let me just list a few of the changes that came during her lifetime:

  • 1900 – Kodak introduced the Brownie camera. The US had 10 miles of paved roads and 8000 cars.
  • 1903 – First flight of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk.
  • 1907 – First electric washing machine.
  • 1908 – The first Model-T by Ford.
  • 1909 – Plastic was invented.
  • 1913 – Henry Ford created the assembly line.
  • 1923 – Talking movies invented.
  • 1928 – Television was invented.
  • 1929 – Car radio was invented.
  • 1930 – Bringing electricity to rural America occurred from the 1930s to the 1950s!
  • 1932 – Air conditioning invented and scientists split the atom for the first time.
  • 1939 – First commercial flight over the Atlantic. The helicopter was invented.
  • 1942 – Although Penicillin was discovered in 1928, it did not become viable as a treatment until 1942.
  • 1945 – The first computer was built. The microwave oven was invented.
  • 1953 – DNA discovered.
  • 1960 – Lasers invented.
  • 1961 – First man in space.
  • 1967 – First heart transplant.
  • 1969 – Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon.
  • 1972 – Pocket calculators were introduced, and the first ones cost over $100.

Listening to older people, you hear stories of the past. None of us are that far removed from a very different time. They recall a time when people had furnaces that had to be stoked by hand, out-houses, horses and early motor cars with bad roads to name but a few items. An older generation lived through the Great Depression and World War II. They experienced rationing and a time before many modern conveniences we simply take for granted.

My kids had a hard time imagining such a time when listening to older relatives, and the truth was so did I. I like thermostats, in-door plumbing, and autos that start with a key or a button and have a heater and air conditioning. When we count our blessings, the difficulty may be to notice them. We take a great deal for granted. It is only as we begin to imagine a different time or place where those conveniences don’t exist, that we can begin to see the magnitude of what we have.

Having received much, let us be wise enough to give glory to God accepting our blessings with prayer and thanksgiving.


Abundance with Thanksgiving

November 17, 2017

We have hot water heat at the house. Last week the boiler went out. This is not a complaint. The boiler hasn’t needed any maintenance in about 20 years, so it was due. Mechanical things eventually break. But a November night in Michigan can be quite chilly without heat. We were fine. We bundled up and had extra blankets on the beds. We survived, but I’m very thankful for heat.

By the way, I’m also thankful for thermostats. We command heat in our houses with very little effort. My grandmother Holden lived in a tenant farm house with my great-aunt and great-uncle. It had a burner that had to be stoked manually. The houses I grew up in still showed the evidence of coal chutes. We are not that far removed from a very different time. I’m thankful for thermostats.

After the boiler was repaired, I awoke and took a cold shower which is not my preference. Apparently when the boiler was repaired, it necessitated the hot water heater be turned off, and it wasn’t relit once the boiler was fixed. I successfully relit the hot water heater. I had to use my phone to take a picture of the tiny print instructions, but the hot water heater is now relit. I’m thankful for hot water.

I like Thanksgiving Day with the traditional meal and time with family. The Calorie Control Council has calculated that the average Thanksgiving Day meal with drinks, desserts, and appetizers is about 4500 calories. If you are wondering how far you should walk to walk off your Thanksgiving meal, a moderate walk of 12 hours would work off 4500 calories. Although it seems to me that there is nothing moderate about a 12-hour walk. Why do we traditionally have such a meal? It is a celebratory feast. We are thankful for the abundance of harvest, and the feast reflects that abundance.

Our American experience is one of abundance. It can be found in the little things that we take for granted except when they don’t work like heat, running water, or hot water on tap. It runs the gamut to the complicated things like smart phones that we use for many things besides talking like taking the picture of small print so that we can read it. What is the appropriate response to such abundance?

First, I need to thank God for the blessings in my life. It is God who has made an abundant world and given us the ability to acquire possessions (see Deut. 8:18). Second, in abundance I need to learn contentment. There will always be things I don’t have, and that is okay. I have more than I need. Paul instructs us that if we have food, clothing, and shelter, we should learn to be content (1 Tim. 6:8).* Finally, abundance brings the responsibility of good stewardship. I am responsible to God for how the good things in my life are used, and when I face abundance, I must also learn to give and to share. Putting these into practice will help us face abundance with thanksgiving.

* “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:8, ESV). Paul’s word skepasma means covering and likely includes both clothing and shelter even though it is translated only as clothing in the ESV. The word is also the plural form in this verse — coverings. I suspect that Paul could say in two words (food and coverings) what we usually say in three: food, clothing, and shelter.


Calendars and Hearts

November 17, 2016

Governor William Bradford declared the first Thanksgiving Day on December 13, 1621. The Plymouth Colony’s first severe winter had killed nearly half the settlers. The summer of 1621 coupled with the harvest had given them renewed hope, so they observed a day of feasting and prayer.

On November 26, 1789, President George Washington also issued a general proclamation for a day of thanks, but for many years after there was no regular national Thanksgiving Day. Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, promoted the idea for 30 years. Finally, in 1863, President Lincoln issued a proclamation setting aside the last Thursday of November “as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.”

Presidents since Lincoln have issued official proclamations of Thanksgiving on behalf of the nation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the date to the fourth Thursday in November. Congress approved this in 1941.

A nation’s strength depends on the moral and spiritual fiber of its people. As Psalm 127:1 says:

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. ESV

Security and blessings come from God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV).

That is why ingratitude is such a serious matter. It cuts us off from the Gift Giver. Paul’s description of society’s downward spiral begins with “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21, ESV).

Our country has a long history of setting aside this day of Thanksgiving. It is a rich tradition, but traditions have the danger of losing their meaning. May Thanksgiving not only be something on our calendars but also within our hearts.


Calendars and Hearts

November 22, 2014

Governor William Bradford declared the first Thanksgiving Day on December 13, 1621. The Plymouth Colony’s first severe winter had killed nearly half the settlers. The summer of 1621 coupled with the harvest had given them renewed hope, so they observed a day of feasting and prayer.

On November 26, 1789, President George Washington also issued a general proclamation for a day of thanks, but for many years after there was no regular national Thanksgiving Day. Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, promoted the idea for 30 years. Finally, in 1863, President Lincoln issued a proclamation setting aside the last Thursday of November “as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.”

Presidents since Lincoln have issued official proclamations of Thanksgiving on behalf of the nation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the date to the fourth Thursday in November. Congress approved this in 1941.

A nation’s strength depends on the moral and spiritual fiber of its people. As Psalm 127:1 says:

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. ESV

Security and blessings come from God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV).

That is why ingratitude is such a serious matter. It cuts us off from the Gift Giver. Paul’s description of society’s downward spiral begins with “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21, ESV).

Our country has a long history of setting aside this day of Thanksgiving. It is a rich tradition, but traditions have the danger of losing their meaning. May Thanksgiving not only be something on our calendars but also within our hearts.


The Habit of Thanksgiving

May 16, 2014

N.T. Wright in his mammoth work on Paul notes the practice of thanksgiving in Christian living. He writes:

Thanksgiving isn’t just a way of being a bit less grumpy and a bit more cheerful. It is a habit of the heart which indicates the nature and particular shape of the worldview. It is closely associated with joy, which for Paul is one of the primary signs of the spirit’s
work.1

What kind of a worldview elicits this thanksgiving? It is the view that God is the creator of the universe. Because there is a creator, there is someone to thank.

Wright cites a wonderful quote from the rabbis on giving thanks to God.

On comets, and on earthquakes, and on lightning and on thunder, and on storms say, “Blessed [be He] whose strength and might fill the world.” On mountains, and on hills, and on seas, and on rivers, and on deserts say, “Blessed [is He] who makes the works of the beginning.” R’ Yehuda says, “One who sees the great sea says, ‘Blessed [is He] who made the great sea,’ only if he sees it occasionally.” On rain and on good news say, “Blessed is He who is good and does good.” And on bad news say, “Blessed [are You] the true judge.”2

When we turn to the Bible, some form of the word thank, thanks, or thanksgiving occurs 170 times. Thanksgiving peaks in the Psalms for the Old Testament, and it peaks in the New Testament in the letters of Paul (the high point in Paul is in 1 Corinthians). Looking at these many occasions of thanks instructs us on how to be thankful.

The wisdom of learning to be thankful is important. The nineteenth century hymn lyrics by Johnson Oatman, Jr. pictures learning to be thankful even in times of discouragement. Because God is our creator there is always something that the Lord has done for which we can be grateful.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

“A bit less grumpy and a bit more cheerful” is good way to be when it is deeply rooted in the view that God is my creator. It is not just a doctrine to add to the check list, but a practice to live. It is a habit of the heart, the habit of thanksgiving.

____________________

1Paul and the Faithfulness of God, p. 412.
2Mishnah Berakhot 9:2