How to Start the Week After Thanksgiving

 

Most of us come to the Monday after Thanksgiving with looming dread.  We’ve been on a four day orgy of food, shopping, and football.  People who really have it together also have their house decorated for Christmas.  But Monday comes knocking relentlessly, telling us that school has to be finished, projects put on the shelf must be brought off and pushed to completion, and deadlines still loom.  Monday has a way of squeezing gratitude out of our souls.

You and I need to rebel against letting Monday rob us of gratitude.  Everything you were thankful on Thursday is still in effect:

  • God is still in control.  He is gracious and kind, forgiving and patient. Aren’t you grateful?
  • You are still alive. Your life is gift, every day of it.  Aren’t you grateful?
  • Not only are you alive, you still have mission, a purpose.  God made you for a reason.  That reason still stands.  Aren’t you grateful?
  • God is putting people in your life to care for you and for you to care for.  Aren’t you grateful?
  • Our good God made the world to have colors like orange, yellow, and red.  Autumn is the time to remember to thank God for unnecessary colors.  Aren’t you grateful?
  • Our good God also made food taste good.  Think about it.  He could have made everything taste like liver.  Instead, He made: sugar to sweeten tea with; guavas; ribs; steak; potatoes that can be mashed, baked, or boiled; oranges; tangerines; peas; chocolate; chicken that can be baked, fried, or grilled; butter; bread; corn on the cob; broccoli; tomatoes; cucumbers; and my sister’s coconut cream pie.  Aren’t you grateful?
  • Our good God made you so you would recognize a loving touch, be wary of an angry voice, and want to smile at babies.  Aren’t you grateful?
  • For both Gators and Gamecocks, God made next year a hope.  Aren’t you grateful?

The point of this is to remind you to stay grateful my friends.  Thanksgiving isn’t just a day; it’s a way of life.

Thanksgivings I have Known…

Every Thanksgiving since 1937, the Smiths have gathered in the woods to share a Thanksgiving meal.  I was always told that Granny Smith didn’t want to have Thanksgiving at the house that year, since Grandpa Smith had passed away.  Thus the tradition was born.

I remember when I was five, six, and seven, running around with my cousins Kelly, Ned, Steve, and Dennis, and my brother Steve.  We would shoot BB guns at each other and make forts in the palmettos.  Our mothers would yell us to come and eat and we have to wait behind the “old people” – Aunt Neta, Aunt Nell and Uncle Dow, Aunt Mewie, Aunt Iris and Uncle J.N., Aunt Ouida and Uncle Kelly, and Granny Clemons to go through the line first.  Back then children went last.  Stretched out on the 40 foot table were every imaginable dish, the pride of women who knew who to cook without recipes.  At the very end, there was a big pot of Swamp Cabbage, a true Florida Cracker favorite.  Our hope as children was that there would be something left (there was always plenty).

By the time we were teenagers, these same cousins had progressed to bird hunting and hog hunting.  Being 16, 17, and 18, we were all indestructible.  We would hog hunt all night the night before Thanksgiving, then bird hunt Thanksgiving morning, and then deer hunt that afternoon before going back out to hog hunt again.  Some of the best times of my life were chasing through the woods after a pack of dogs, looking for hogs by moonlight.

Tragedy struck in our twenties.  Dennis died in a freak accident and Steve died in a car wreck.  We moved on, got married, and started having children.  Somehow, I became the uncle/cousin who drove all the kids around in the jeep to give the adults a break.

I only missed Thanksgiving in the woods once – Gina was due to give birth to Abram on Thanksgiving Day so we had to miss that year (he was a week late, so we could have gone, I suppose).  I’d have to say the thrill of seeing my first born was worth missing my only Thanksgiving in the woods.

I knew there was a changing of the guard the year Uncle Tiny, 37 years my senior, told me to give the prayer one Thanksgiving.  That was also one of the first years we realized something wasn’t quite right with my mother, and she began to descend into the nightmare of Alzheimer’s.

We’ve kept a book for almost 50 years now, that everyone signs.  My childish first grade handwriting appears in 1965.  There is my mother’s name, her signature strong and sure.  Flip a few pages and Gina’s name shows up in 1985.  She met all my family and still married me.  Year by year my children wrote their names; now, Hannah does calligraphy for the date, the year, and the weather.

Lately, we’ve started taking pictures of each generation.  What is startling to me is I now belong in the oldest generation (let me hasten to add I am the youngest –by far- in that generation).   We span four generations; Smiths are nothing if not fertile.

In all these years, I can’t say that anybody really stressed giving thanks.  We didn’t do the things I hear other families do, like go around and describe what we are thankful for.  With over a 120 people there, that would take too long.  But each Thanksgiving I feel a deep sense of gratitude for God’s blessings.  Coming back to the same place year after year reminds me that God has been present and working in my life, whether I was five or fifty-five.  He has given me great grace.  I see the great grace He has given to so many: cancer cured, children born, true love found, broken hearts mended.  He has carried us, all of us, each year, each decade.

This Thanksgiving, don’t just think about what God has done this year.  Think about how He has been faithful to you and your family every year of your life – and thank Him for all His grace.

Random Post Election Thoughts …

This week, after this divisive election, some of the random thoughts that have popped into my brain:

  • I was proud to stand in line peaceably for an hour to vote.  No one threatened anyone.  There were no guns.  No one looked over my shoulder  There was joy in getting ready to express our convictions and a respect for others.
  • God has trusted me to be an American.  Most of the people in the world do not get to choose their national leadership.  We do.  What an amazing privilege.
  • I feel uncomfortable with some pastors and young ministerial students who are exalting in the election results.  How do you reach all the people Jesus loves if you throwing election results in their face?  I remember what Paul wrote in Romans 15:2, “Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.”  I don’t want to do anything to put a barrier between someone and Jesus.  I want to find ways to build up my neighbor so he or she finds Jesus.
  • I loved seeing so many people post on Facebook they were praying for our country.  I think we need to pray for our leaders and our country every day.
  • It is a hard thing to be a humble expert.  Maybe some of the good to come out of this election will be for the political class to be humbled again (see Dewey versus Truman, 1948).
  • I feel sad for people who find the meaning of life in how their candidate does.  It means their life is too small; they need to find their purpose in Jesus.
  • On Wednesday I had one person approach me saying “We won!”  Another came up to me and said, “We lost!”  My first thought for both was, “What do you mean ‘we,’ Kemosabi?”  I hope this is a sign that as a pastor I was able to teach the truth of Jesus.  It’s not my job to tell anyone how to vote; it is my job to tell you to pray and trust God.
  • I see many people calling for the hate to stop.  Hate doesn’t stop until it is pushed out by the love and grace of Jesus.  That’s why you often see the irony of those calling for the end of hate hating the people who hate.  It’s the circle of sin, the story of human beings.  It is why the intervention of Jesus is crucial.
  • Be careful before you say the last eight years or the next four years were or are “god-forsaken.”  Our God can work good in all things and in all places.  He used Kings like Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus to do His will.  Someday we will see how He used President Bush, Obama, and Trump.
  • Don’t cut off friendships because of politics.  Remember, “a friend loves at all times (Proverbs 17:17).
  • My dog was pretty content on Wednesday.  I think he trusts me to take care of him no matter who the president is.  My dog is teaching me to trust my master to take care of me, no matter who the president is.

The Morning After …

The morning after the election, according to Facebook:

  • Best line: “What are we going to talk about now?”
  • Most un-Christ like response: “I’m so happy!  I hate Hillary.”
  • Best sentiment: “I didn’t vote for Trump, but now he is my President.”
  • Best perspective: “I woke up periodically through the night and checked in with my Heavenly Father.  Every time I checked, He was still on His throne.  I’m good.”
  • Most repeated phrase: “One nation, under God…”
  • Line that made me smile: “If you vowed to move to Canada if Trump won, please contact me.  I’m a realtor.”
  • Best reminder: “Whatever happened to ‘They will know we are Christians by our love?’”
  • Best promise: “I did not want Trump to be my President, but I will not demean, insult, or belittle him.”
  • Best reality check: “This election did nothing to change the spiritual needs of our country.  Keep praying.”
  • Best chill pill:  “Xanax prescriptions up 2700% Nationwide tomorrow.”
  • Best sudden shift: “Who’s ready for Christmas?”
  • Best stock tip: “By stock in U-Haul.”
  • Best reminder from a pastor friend of mine: “Best news of the week: We baptized 6 new believers Sunday!”
  • Best question: “Is this what Truman vs. Dewey felt like?”
  • Most frightening thought: “Florida legalizes medical marijuana.”  (knowing people in my home state, I’m not sure this is a good idea).
  • Post to stake your life on: “No matter who is President, Jesus is still my King.”

Seven Things Every Jesus Follower Needs to Do on November 9th…

 

On March 23, 2015, Ted Cruz became the first major candidate to declare for the 2016 Presidential race.  On November 8, Election Day, 595 days later, this election cycle will end.  I don’t know about you, no matter who is elected, part of my reaction will be relief that it is over.

Wednesday morning, November 9th, we will wake up with a new leader for our country.  Jesus followers will wake up with the same King of Kings and Lord of Lords as their ultimate leader.  So what will we need to do on November 9th?

  1. We need to pray for our new President, that he or she will be wise and humble.  We need to pray God will speak directly to her or him about the size of the task ahead of them.  We need to ask God to direct his or her paths and remind him or her not to lean on their own understanding.
  2. We need to pray for the candidate that loses.  As Jesus followers, we need to care for their souls.  Pray they will sense the presence of God in their loss, and that this loss will cause them to seek Jesus.  Pray they will gracious in defeat and be given words from the Holy Spirit that will unite, not divide.
  3. We need to pray for the healing of our country.  Politics is always divisive, but this election has seemed to be particularly injurious.  Pray that people will regain perspective; that they will seek common good for one another.
  4. We need to demonstrate our love for each other as Jesus followers.  Make it a point to love someone who follows Jesus who voted differently than you.  Let them know your care for them in Jesus is greater than any political division.
  5. We need to continue to speak God’s truth, even when an election is not on the line.  We need to declare life is precious; people are responsible for their lives; justice is for all; the poor need care; those who are foreigners need hospitality; prisoners need the presence of Jesus; and we need to take care of God’s creation.  We need not only to talk about these things, but do these things.  And no, God’s truth doesn’t fit into some neat political package.  God is inconvenient that way.
  6. We need to be salt and light.  God put us here in this time to make an impact on the world.  We do that best by being different from the world.  People often misunderstand this and think this is a call for Jesus followers to be weird.  Not at all.  It is call for us to add flavor (salt) and to give a different model of how to live (light).  We want to live so people say, “I’m not sure I believe in Jesus, but I sure would like to have Jesus followers work for me.”
  7. Most of all, we need to follow Jesus.  There is no way for God to have written every instruction we need in His word.  We need to pray for guidance and trust the Lord will speak.  We need to listen to whispers from God and follow Holy Spirit nudges.  We need to be people of courage who are willing to be misunderstood because we do weird things like love our enemies.

I’m really not worried about the election.  Jesus told me to cast all my worries on Him.  My job is to listen to Him and follow.

4 Things Jesus Taught Me at the Florida-Georgia Game

My son and I had the opportunity to go to the Florida Georgia Game in Jacksonville this past weekend.  I couldn’t help but be aware of some things Jesus was teaching me when we walked through the crowd and sat in the stands:

  1. A lot of people live for college football so they have an excuse to party and drink.  I’m not judging, but I couldn’t help but wondering if for some, this was their church:  There was fellowship (tailgating); singing (“We are the Boys from Old Florida…” plus some Georgia song I didn’t catch); praise (“Did you see that tackle!”); and even a sermon or two (“That coach ought to run wide right, there’s an room on the edge”).  I’m not saying church ought to be more like a ball game, but there was  lot more passion at “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” than in some churches I’ve been in.
  2. If you lead, people will have opinions of how you are doing.  Most of the critics have never played the game or coached a down.  So don’t let the critics call your plays.
  3. I saw a lot of women dressed in a way to highlight their sexuality.  I could sense Jesus wanting to speak to them, “You are so much more than your looks.  Don’t equate your value with male approval.”  I hope they could hear His gracious voice.
  4. Jesus loves everyone in the stadium, no matter which team they pulled for.  To be His follower, I need to love everyone in the stadium too, even the drunk guy in front of me who won’t sit down.  Loving people isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.