Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! Today we celebrate and give thanks for the blessings we have received this past year. I indeed have been blessed this past year. I am thankful for my extended family that have showed me love in my lows and have celebrated my highs and have also been beside me in the in-between times. I wish all of you love and blessings today, and may you be blessed this day wherever you are celebrating.

I am especially thankful for my kids, as they have been the source of some of the greatest joys in my life, and I thank God for each and every one of them.

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Today serves as a great example that Thanksgiving is an important part of our life and relationship with God. As we raise our kids we remind them to say “please” and “thank you” to make sure they have a spirit of thankfulness when people give you something. Our relationship with God is just as important to say “please” when we want something, and “thank you” when God blesses us.

I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs. (Psalms 69:30, 31 ESV)

In Psalm 69, we are reminded that today we have much to be thankful, and that Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be an elaborate expression, but rather we simply need to raise our voice and sing. So the dinner table may not be the place to sing, but in a Spirit of Thanksgiving, raise your voice and sing to the Lord, with your whole heart, mind, and soul.

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Old Familiar Friends and Places


Today and tomorrow are going to be filled with reunions and gatherings throughout the US as the Thanksgiving holiday is upon us. For many of us it is a chance to connect with family and friends, and connect back to old places where we have memories both good and bad. Holidays themselves all a call to remember what has happened and to commemorate and/or celebrate something, some one, or some event. For this reason, we see people either looking forward to or dreading this time of year because we cannot escape the signs of the season, and they seem to begin their invasion of our offices, cafes, stores, and neighborhoods earlier each year.

This is also a time of year that we are confronted by the fact that our lives are not static as people are continuously coming into our lives, and leaving our lives. While we may not have to deal with the ebb and flow of people on an everyday basis, it unavoidably confronts us during these gatherings. In some ways this is exciting, like if a new member of the family has been added, such as the birth of a child, (this is my sweet Sophia’s first thanksgiving) or a new marriage. However, some people dread these times, maybe there has been a death, or a divorce, but there is clearly an absence that cannot be ignored.

During this time, we need to remember that no matter the people that come into our lives or leave our lives, God is constant. Take time out of your day today or tomorrow and look at the things that surround us and allow them to be our altars where we remember that God has been with us. The picture above is of the Campanile on the UC Berkeley campus, which reminds me that God is always beside me, even when it gets very dark and I have trouble finding hope. The people of Israel, as they crossed the Jordan, grabbed stones from the dry river bed and placed them on the banks of the Jordan to remind themselves and future generations that God had been there to allow them to enter into the promised land. The history of Israel had many ups and downs, but God never left them, and no matter what, the stones were there to remind them that it was God who led them into the promised land.

I have so many friends that each time we connect I am reminded that God loves me, and that it has been by His grace and mercy that our relationships have grown and flourished even though time, distance, and life have created space between us. So for those of you who I have not seen in a while, I thank God because of you, I thank God that our lives have crossed paths, and I thank God that because of our relationship I have become better than I was before we met.

So to my old familiar friends and places, I am thankful for you!

Struggle and Structure

Looking through the Psalms we see that Israel and David are often ensnared in struggles against their enemies and against themselves. Sometimes we become our own worst enemy. I know I took the picture below before a game I attended during warmups, but when a team’s season begins to unravel the team often fights against itself. This causes the team to lose more games than they should. We also tend to underperform when we start unraveling. One bad decision leads to another, and this builds upon itself.

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We are creatures that desire structure and consistency. We don’t trust ourselves to operate according to God’s purpose without structure. We have organized ourselves into organizations and churches that we hope will provide us the structure/ theology/ preaching/ group dynamic that we need to keep us within God’s desire for our lives.

The structures we put in place to define our situation, and to make sense of the world we live in often betray us, and take away the freedom that we have been given. Sometimes these structures do not allow us to worship God in a variety of forms, they do not give us the freedom to seek God, to question the things that will help us grow in our faith. In some of these circumstances, we abandon and strike out against what we see as oppression, only to exchange it for another form of oppression. In these cases we either vilify or deify the structure.

All this being said, structure is not bad, but we must be free to challenge the structure at times, when we have come across a situation where structure becomes oppressive, but we also need to be willing to be wrong, and allow the structure to show us where we may be wrong. Understandably, this takes maturity that not all of us may have, but should develop in our relationship with God. This is part of the struggle that we cannot escape or hide from within our structures.

Our God needs to be God, for only God can pull us out from our struggles, and the closer we grow to God the more mature we become in our faith, and the better we are within the structures within which we are organized. Struggle happens, and when it does, let God be our God.

Pleasant

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Throughout Proverbs we are called to be people that speak pleasant words. However, I would say that if you polled my co-workers, family, and friends, not one would describe my speech using the word “pleasant”. That is clearly problematic.

I suppose I can take solace in the fact that I am not alone. One needs only to turn on the television during this or any election season, and we are inundated with un-pleasant speeches from every direction on the political spectrum. Although, I guess that isn’t much in which to take solace.

As a people we are quick to bring an unpleasant word when we are upset, but in all situations (not just the good times) we are called to be pleasant, to speak pleasant words to those with whom we contact. Our words need to convey grace and spiritual beauty! When we do this we become a sweet taste, and promote health in our relationships.

I commit myself in all I am and do to seeking pleasantness. That the very essence of the Almighty God rub off on all with whom I come in contact. May the grace and mercy, which instruct our desire for pleasant, fill me up with the Lord’s sweetness, and may that ooze from my pores that this define my very being.

I Can’t Control It All

Today I got on an airplane. It was already almost an hour later than we were supposed to leave, and then just as we were about to leave, the Captain told us that there was a problem that had to be resolved before we could leave. After waiting about twenty minutes on the plane, I decided to call the airline to change my connecting flight because we were going miss the original connecting flight, and I wanted to get a head start on the rush of people that would be trying to book the later connecting flight. However, during my first call, the call disconnected before I could talk to an agent. This happened three times before they fixed the problem and we pushed back from the gate and I had to turn my phone off.

My mind was filled with anxiety. I tried to fall asleep on the flight, but the fear that I wouldn’t be able to make it to my destination kept me awake. As soon as it was okay to pull our phones out, I call the airline, and thankfully get connected to an agent relatively quickly, and as I proceed to describe my situation, she informs me that the airline has already booked me on a later flight.

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I am thankful for that agent, and my anxiety is mostly alleviated, but I still run to talk to a live agent as soon as I got off the plane, and they simply print out my new boarding pass, and all that anxiety was completely unnecessary.

Similarly, I try and control God. I try to handle God, directing my prayers, my devotions, my energy into trying to get God to act and move nature in my favor. However, my connection always seems to get disconnected, and I feel as if I can’t reach the Almighty with my prayers and I get frustrated. However, I need to realize that I cannot control God, I cannot be the Almighty, but rather I need to yield to where God is leading me and stop trying to manipulate the Almighty through my actions, my prayers, or even my “devotions”. This isn’t honest or devoted, but rather God calls us to give up our whole selves to worship and sacrifice(Rom 12:1-2).

We often will find that no matter what we do to try and conform the Almighty to our will, we will fail and find ourselves worrying and getting frustrated by the things we ultimately cannot control. God will surprise us when we finally give up on this, and God takes care of us, and ultimately we will find blessings in areas we do not expect. It may not be exactly what WE thought it would be, but it will bless us beyond measure.

Where are your blessings found? I challenge you as you read this to give up your concept of control, and yield to God in all things, and find out where you will be blessed.

Another Lesson On Preparation

Today I ran and finished a half marathon, it wasn’t my first, but it is the first race I have run since the LA Marathon in March. I finished with my best time, but it most likely did not live up to the potential of my previous training. The excuses I fought were blaming it on running in rain, blaming the course, and blaming the other runners. However, these are nothing but excuses, and the reason I didn’t run the time I desired was due to the fact that I wasn’t prepared well enough to run the race I could have run.

For other races I have made sure to get a good mix of road running coupled with treadmill runs. This prepares your body for running on pavement. For this race I didn’t fit even a single road run into my training. I didn’t prepare my body for the rigors and pounding it would take over the 13.1 miles of steps on the pavement. For this reason, around mile marker 9, when I began a descent the muscles in my legs began to seize and I could not will them to move any faster. Not that running on the road could have prevented this sensation, but I definitely could have known what my body was telling me and adapt the way I ran to minimize the effects. Additionally, the value to a run on the road as opposed to a treadmill, because a treadmill keeps you at a constant pace, while you have to pace yourself when you are running on the road.

Another training element that was absent from the training for this race was the lack of a significantly long run. I believe my longest run in preparation for this race was 7 miles, which is only slightly more than 1/2 the total distance of the half marathon. Previously, I have run at least one 10+ mile run. This obviously prepares not only your body for the distance, but also your mind to understand the distance and helps you learn how to pace your run.

This is how I live too often. In the life of this blog, I have already talked about my procrastination, and it is significant that I thought about my lack of prep work as my first thought as I crossed the finish line and saw my time. Even though I recently saw the Lion King, I didn’t learn my lesson from the song, “Be Prepared”. I walk through too many things choosing procrastination, or ignoring them until I don’t have a choice, but to address them. In some cases this has led to undesirable circumstances, and consequences. Thankfully, my lack of preparation for this race only led to missing my time goal and some soreness in my muscles and knees. However, I hope I can learn to prepare, so that in the future I don’t have worse consequences to my poor preparation.

Don’t Get It Confused

Throughout my life I have tried to be viewed as a person that tries to give his all to God. Clearly I have fallen short through the process and I have given in to the things that this world deems as good. This is evident as I think about the fact that I am writing this blog post on the iPad I was given as a gift, but couldn’t settle for just an iPad, but I also needed the matching bluetooth keyboard. I am a technophile, and this mere fact shows that I give in to the latest and greatest the world has to offer. (I certainly am not claiming that owning an iPad is a sin, but my obsession certainly crosses into the idolatry side of things.)

However, in preparation for a sermon I recently gave I was reminded that as much as I want to be viewed as a devout follower of God, it IS NOT ABOUT ME!!! I get this confused far too often. In Acts 13, Paul recounts the history of Israel, and throughout this history the main thrust is not about what Israel has done, it wasn’t about how well the law of Moses was followed, but rather it is about how FAITHFUL God was and is, and how much GRACE is poured upon us time and time again. I will fail, but God has taken care of that sin, and God will continue to take care of me.

This bashed in my skull again as I sat reading Romans 12, as I worship I have thought that I was bringing something to God, but in fact, God brings the goodness, the grace, and the fulfillment. So again I am told loud and clear that IT IS NOT ABOUT ME!!! So I realize that it takes a lot more humility to simply accept the grace that God pours upon me, and to even go further to ask for serving after serving of this grace.

We are called to respond to this grace, but our response is not the source of the grace, nor is it the reason the grace was given in the first place. God gave us grace because He LOVES US ABUNDANTLY, and that is why CHRIST DIED, that is why our JUSTIFICATION can only be found through the power of God expressed in Christ dying on the cross and being raised from the dead. That happened. Whether or not we respond by living our lives as worship-filled as we can, God still LOVES us!

SO don’t get it confused, IT IS NOT ABOUT ME!!! (or any of us.)