HOPE for the HAPLESS

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Romans 12:12


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Thanks for the Lima Beans

give_thanksSee that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
[1 Thessalonians 5:15-18]

This month marks the annual observance of Thanksgiving celebrations here in Canada. Family, Food, Fun and fellowship are high on the list of what most people will take time to be thankful for.

And while sometimes it can be difficult to be really and completely thankful for brothers and sisters who won’t let your childhood discretions go even after all these years, or to be really and truly thankful for things like brussel sprouts and lima beans (even if they are good for you). All in all Thanksgiving is a pretty easy holiday to get behind.

But is that all there is to be thankful for? Food and friends and good cheer? What about being thankful for times of sickness, because it reminds me to appreciate the gifts of health and vitality God normally grants me? What about being thankful for hardships which teach me to trust in God’s grace and not my own meagre abilities to cope? What about being thankful for all those who disagree with me thus causing me to study and reaffirm my beliefs instead of just coasting along giving them little thought?

Can we be thankful for those who hate us? How else can we learn to love as God loved us … without hope or thought of return? Or how about being thankful for the death of a loved one … not that they have died, but that through the gate of death they are no longer burdened with grief and sin and pain as we are, but are resting peacefully in the Lord?

So this Thanksgiving I am going to try and be thankful for the things we don’t normally appreciate. I will be thankful not just for the things that make me happier but for the things that make me better, the things that draw me closer to God … that, and lima beans.

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Savouring Thankfulness

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.  [Phi 4:11-13]

This year’s Thanksgiving observances were a little different for me.  For the past couple of months I have been suffering from some pretty serious health problems.  For several weeks I was unable to eat anything without it causing what I began to not-so-affectionately call “episodes” (All I will say is that each episode  involved our family’s infamous green bowl and a long and sleepless night). With the care of my compassionate doctor and very patient wife, I think I am on the way to recovery (or at least to the point of  being able to retire the green bowl for a while). I can still not eat what I used to, or how I used to (which both my doctor and my wife think is a good thing!), but I am able to enjoy food once again, surprisingly well for the smaller portions that are now my lot in life.

So this Thanksgiving all thoughts of gorging myself, or stuffing my gullet, or eating until my buttons popped were right out of the question (it wouldn’t take that much anyway), and instead I was reminded of  how nice it is just to be able to eat again.  To my mind, savouring what is in front of you, whether it is what you would have chosen for yourself or not,  is a much better way of giving thanks than shoveling it down in a gluttonous free-for-all seeking only an excuse to undo your beleaguered belt. Such selfish and self-satisfying excesses are really the opposite of true thankfulness anyway.  Real thankfulness must always go beyond the self.

To give thanks implies not only a thankfulness FOR something, but also TO someone. To simply enjoy something (even to excess) is not really to give thanks but simply to enjoy.  No other person is involved, no reason for the enjoyment must be given. To be truly thankful is to look to someone else and the gift, the kindness, the sacrifice they have given. I can enjoy pumpkin pie, but I am thankful to my wife for going through the effort of offering it.

And that’s the remarkable thing about gifts – coming from someone else they are not always (usually) what we would have given ourselves, but often (usually) they end up being better! The gifts we receive tend to shape our lives more than what we do for ourselves.  If it had been up to me I likely would have approached this Thanksgiving weekend like all the others before it, by overeating, and then snacking later on that evening.  There would have been some passing thought to the gifts I have been granted, but probably only between thoughts of how to get more stuffing and gravy in an already protesting belly.

Would I have chosen months of suffering leading up to it? A restricted diet?  … Would you? Of course not. But through it God has  given me the gift of being able to see Thanksgiving from a less selfish side (though more gravy still would have been nice). Through it I was able to savour what has been given to me, rather than worrying about where my next mouthful would come from.  Through it I was able to appreciate the Giver more than the gifts. Thinking once again about how much God had to swallow (Isaiah 25:6-9) so that I could enjoy all that I have in Christ. Through it I was able to not simply enjoy myself, but begin to understand true thankfulness.  And for that I am truly Thankful!


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Some thoughts on traditions …

We like to go hiking as a family. It has become something of a day-off tradition around our home. I like spending time with my wife and children, and my children enjoy the chance to explore. Often we find ourselves hiking near or around streams and creeks. When we do it never ceases to amaze me how many bridges my son and daughter can find. Did you know that they are everywhere? Sometimes it will be a well placed stone or two, sometimes a pile of bracken, or a fallen log, or an old tire. Sometimes they are big and fancy affairs that actually look like bridges – complete with decks, and railings. And whether they were placed there by luck or on purpose, we always have to stop and try them out.

Traditions are kind of like that. Anything can become a tradition. Anything at all can serve to bridge the gap between one generation and the next. Sometimes we work really hard to create one for our families, sometimes they just sort of happen by luck. Some are meant to last only a short while, others prove themselves through the test of time. Yet, each has it’s own kind of charm.

Traditions connect the past to the future, one generation to the next. Traditions allow families to walk together long after distance, time and even death have separated them. Just try to think of Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or Easter without giving a thought or two to your parents and grandparents.

Knowing the power of tradition, is it any wonder that God makes such good use of it in our lives? Baptism connects us to the very same life and Faith enjoyed by our forefathers (and foremothers). Our hymns and liturgies give voice to our prayers and praises in the very same words they used, the very same words used even now in heaven. The Lord’s Supper sits us at the very table from which every Christian is and has been served by our Lord – indeed, is being served by Him even now!

And while the old Baptismal font may be replaced over time, the styles and the settings of the words of our liturgies may change, and the place where you come to that altar may be different than when you were younger, the bridge Himself is still the same. The same Lord, and God over all. One faith, one Lord, one baptism. This truth remains the same, just as it was for your parents and their parents before them. One bridge from this life to the next, from one generation to the next, from one Christian to the next. One Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

In the coming weeks and months, look at the rich traditions around you (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc…). Take the time to relish in the particular charms of each.  Where did it come from and where is it leading? Give thanks for the traditions handed down to you by those who went before, and give thought to the ones you are handing down to those who will come after.  Are they built to last? Are they built on Christ?  Maybe it’s time to begin a new tradition.


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Unwrapping Thankfulness!

Man comes home to find all of his possessions wrapped

Associated Press  CHICAGO — A Chicago man could be unwrapping the hundreds of Christmas gifts spread around his apartment for days, even weeks.  Trouble is, they aren’t really presents. They’re his own belongings meticulously wrapped by friends as a prank while he was out of town.  Louie Saunders’ packages contain everything from couch cushions to the beer in his refrigerator.  His friend Adal Rifai masterminded the scheme after Saunders gave him a spare key. It took 16 people, 35 rolls of wrapping paper and eight hours to finish the job.  Saunders tells the Chicago Sun-Times he’s only been able to unwrap about 10 percent of the packages.  He said that the upside is that, with each package he unwraps, he finds something inside that’s just what he needs.

I can’t begin to tell you how much I love this story!  First of all, I’ve always been the kind of guy who appreciates a good practical joke … not the mean-spirited, demeaning, kind that hurts the object of the joke … If it’s not funny for everyone involved then its just not funny.  But this – this is funny!  I also appreciate that 16 people cared enough to spend 8 hours pulling this off.  It belies a strong bond of friendship in all involved.

Secondly, (and most pointedly) I love the attitude of the fellow at the center of it all.  Mr. Saunders in his good grace teaches us all an important thing or two about contentment and thankfulness …  finding in each new package something that is “just what he needs”  This is at the heart of what God is trying to teach us in such commandments as Thou shalt not covet, and such prayers as Give us this day our daily bread.

The only exception I take with the article is when it says that the parcels are not presents, just his own belongings.  They ARE gifts!  Food, clothing, house, home, even jokers for friends are all wonderful presents from God!  Would that we could all with Mr. Saunders come to view all our possessions in this new light.  See this computer under my fingertips?  A gift from God.  That sandwich for lunch? Gift.  These shoes … that clock … the beer in the fridge … the chair over there … all gifts from God!  All new and wonderful and exciting – if we take the time to see them again for the first time.

God loves us enough to provide us with so much that we take for granted.  Not just the big stuff like forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation in Jesus Christ (which we so gratefully unwrap each Christmas!), but the little things that often go overlooked in our day to day routines.   If we spent more time unwrapping what we already have, instead of wishing for what we don’t, maybe we’d all be a little happier … more content … and whole lot more thankful!

So I propose two things.  First, a brand new Christmas tradition.  Wrap up something you already own.  Something you are thankful for.  Put it under the tree and when it comes time to open the presents use it to tell your loved ones what you have to be thankful for!  Second, as we begin a new year, lets try to begin a new way of looking at “stuff” … with joy, surprise, and most of all – thankfulness.  For then you will truly find something that’s just what you need!

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. [1 Timothy 6:6-8]