As Thanksgiving approaches, why not begin thinking now about all that for which you are thankful to God? Even in awful circumstances, there remains that for which we give thanks to God for he sustains us in ways we often do not notice or acknowledge. Although we associate the beginnings of the holiday with Pilgrims, who were thankful for a successful harvest and their relationships with the Indians, Thanksgiving was not declared a national holiday until 1863 in the midst of the Civil War. Read Abraham Lincoln’s declaration here: http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm.
Growing up, Halloween stood at the beginning of the two months of activities associated with the last two months of the year from Halloween through New Year’s Day. My family didn’t have a lot of money, but my Mom and Dad always made sure I had a costume and took me trick or treating in our neighborhood. Surprised sometimes by the people I didn’t know lived in my neighborhood, it was a fun time that gave me a warm sense of community.
When our kids were very young, they each had their opportunities to trick or treat as well. But, as I took my Christian faith more and more seriously, I stumbled into the undercurrent of suspicion surrounding Halloween and for years, I no longer allowed them to participate but instead attended Trunk and Treat or Harvest Festivals. Yet, as I learned more about our Christian celebrations and the Christian associations of Halloween, I re-thought my objection and in their teens, our kids started once again to participate, mostly going as a group of friends to each other’s neighborhoods.
Oh, I know all the objections that go beyond the religious, too, those about candy and obesity, candy and safety, the entire lot. And I have had or thought about all of them. Perhaps, though, it’s time to think about it in a new way. Today I read perhaps the best blog on the topic I have read at http://debradeanmurphy.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/all-hallows-eve-hospitality/. Take a moment to read it and let me know your thoughts about Halloween and the various objections to it. I don’t know where you’ll be on Halloween night, but I have decided I’ll be at home, welcoming the kids of our neighborhood whose costumes I can’t wait to see and whose faces will light up at every house where they are welcomed. Didn’t Jesus say a little something about welcoming children and strangers?
“Thank you. Most people don’t bother.” the attendant at the car wash said.
“Pardon me?” I said.
“Most people don’t bother to ask how I am after I ask them how they are. Makes me feel
invisible.” she said.
I was at the car wash near my office. The attendant, a woman with a sweet disposition, asked me how I was that day, I told her I was well and asked her how she was, at which point the interchange above occurred. It really bothered me to hear that she asks people how they are and they simply don’t respond – at all. For whether you are an attendant at a car wash or the CEO of a large company, it shouldn’t mean that people have a right to ignore or verbally abuse you. Because here’s the thing. Jesus proved that God loves each of us with all that he is regardless of who we are, what we’ve done, even having been unkind to the people around us. Jesus crossed the social boundaries of his time to speak to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), not because she was famous or rich or beautiful but because he loved her, even in her brokenness, perhaps especially in her brokenness. A prostitute, who went for water in the middle of the day to avoid those who scorned her, the Samaritan woman crossed those social boundaries, too, to give Jesus a drink. And, in return she received the living water that wells up to eternal life. A kind word, even as simple as ‘How are you today?” can be like a cold cup of water on a hot day for each and every person you meet. Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:24, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” To whom have you shown the love of God by your kindness? If the answer is no one, it’s not too late to start!
Have you ever noticed how God ‘speaks’ to you in some of the oddest ways, in my case recently, with lizards? It happened again the very day I sent the last post. That afternoon I was walking our dog, Charlie, and dozens of the very young lizards skittered off the sidewalk as we walked along. I noticed one in particular -about one and a half inches long – as he ran off the sidewalk right to an area a few inches from where Charlie busied himself sniffing for the perfect spot to, well, you know. With blatant personification at work, I marveled as the poor lizard clung to a blade of grass, completely still except for breathing hard as he prayed that the large creature near him, and the even larger one behind that one would simply not see him.
How often in my years wandering from Jesus did I, in my sinfulness or weakness, behave like that lizard and pray to go unnoticed by God? How I hoped he would not notice when I simply lacked the commitment or courage or strength to be faithful to him. How often I likened him to the big bad creature who would destroy me unless I remained unseen as I did what I wanted in my life. The difference between the lizard and we humans, though, strikes to the core of who we are and what we believe about God. Charlie doesn’t love lizards like God loves you and me. Unlike my dog, who likes to pounce on lizards, God pours out his grace on us even when we don’t notice. And while the dog might eat the lizard, God seeks to bless us through a relationship with Jesus and God’s very presence with us in the Holy Spirit. God is not some predator waiting to tear us apart but rather he’s ready and waiting for us, both when we are faithful and maybe most especially when we aren’t.
Hanging on by a toe. On Wednesday, I didn’t see the lizard on my windshield until I was going 20 mph, at which point all of him was dangling in the air except one toe. I understand the feeling well. The end of June a bulging disc in my lower back had me just hanging on through the mind-numbing pain. Yet as days turned to weeks and the pain finally subsided bit by miniscule bit, only one thing tamed it like no other, Psalm 23. Decades ago in a similar situation, my pastor told me to read Psalm 23 four times a day and after several weeks had passed to write my own version based on what I understood from God through my relationship with Jesus. I prescribe this regularly to those in pain of any kind for what I found in my own use showed me God’s love more clearly than I ever comprehended before.
So, I did it again. I read that Psalm aloud so often that I memorized it then I said it some more. Soon the peace I found in the Psalm came to me automatically from just the first phrase, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” (NIV). Oh, the first time I read it, in my mind I continued on to add “except being pain free.” And right there it was, right in front of me yet often unseen or misunderstood. I lacked nothing that I needed, just what I wanted. Like the lizard, I might be hanging on by only a toe, but I was hanging on and the reason had nothing to do with me. Faithful to his word, the Lord my shepherd did not leave or forsake me. And in those moments when I might toy with the idea that he had, a simple, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing” and peace of the Holy Spirit reminded me that whatever I did not have was something I didn’t need.
Thankfully, I’m feeling pretty good these days due to physical therapy, medication and cortisone injections, all part of an ongoing recovery. I hope I never recover, though, from that sense deep in my bones that because the Lord is my Shepherd, I truly lack absolutely nothing.
What about you? How does it change your perspective to read Psalm 23? To say out loud, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing?” How has God worked in your life while you were hanging on by a toe?
Wednesday morning while listening to the radio, I heard about the blog post below about singer Carlos Whittaker and his decision to take his 9 year old daughter with him when he went to help the victims of the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma.
I think he got it right, honoring God and teaching his daughter how to care the way Jesus does. What do you think?
This past week, our house received a pretty thorough cleaning as first we hosted house church, carpets cleaned on Friday, laundry (blankets and comforters too) on Saturday and the master bath today. I don’t know about you, but it’s rare for all the house to be similarly clean at the same time. In fact, I would say we’re fits and starts type of cleaners where it will look great then become very not great before being great again, and all of that in stages, not usually all at once. While that can work somewhat for house cleaning, it just doesn’t work nearly as well for our spiritual formation. If we stop in the middle of cleaning, the house will be in relatively the same place a few days later while if I suddenly stop praying or reading the Word or attending worship, my relationship with God doesn’t just go on hold while I’m gone, ready to be picked back up at the same place when I return. It’s not that God goes anywhere or gives us demerits but rather that our disposition toward him begins to break down somewhat like my house that begins to be dirty again.
When our disposition or attention toward God breaks down even a little, other concerns and distractions take their place. In her book, The Quotidian Mysteries, Kathleen Norris talks about the connection she found between her daily housework chores and the liturgy (or work) of the people of the church. Like our housework, the daily acts of faith and our regular acts of worship can move from rote repetition to loving acts of devotion if we are mindful of what it is we are really doing – interacting with the one who created, saved and sustains us. After all, cleaning the house does more than make it clean. The house becomes more welcoming and comfortable, we’re more willing to open our home to others. Likewise, being persistent and consistent in our spiritual practices makes us more welcoming and comfortable, more willing to open our hearts to others just as God asks.