Missing Tomato Aspic

There’s a funeral tomorrow and grief for another family that will have an empty seat at this year’s Thanksgiving table. This is everyone’s reality: How do you give thanks when someone you dearly loved is missing? This year our unexpected death was Aunt Claire. There were other deaths with Aunt Alva and first cousin Virginia, but Claire’s was a total shock. As much as I disliked the tomato aspic that she dutifully brought to Thanksgiving and Christmas, this year I will sorely miss it because I’ll miss her. One way to handle Thanksgiving when you feel the losses is to add up the blessings that those no longer with us gave us while they were here.

This reminds me of a very poignant Thanksgiving that our family observed 14 years ago. We were at Cindy’s mother’s house and we feasted and reminisced about former days. We deeply missed Mr. Godwin or “Gandaddy,” as the children called him. My Dad’s sudden death just weeks before his was heavily on my mind, too. As I was walking around in the yard before we left I noticed the stump of the old oak tree that had stood for centuries beside the house. After Hugo ripped up another of the ancient giants in the yard and the last ice storm decimated the rest, it seemed a good idea to cut down this hazard that was located so precariously close to the house. All that had been left for several years was a huge stump.

I’m sure the transformation took place gradually, but that Saturday it was undeniably apparent and immediate. The old stump that had once looked weather beaten and forlorn was alive again. It was sprouting new shoots, live branches of hope into the gray sky. They were at least four feet tall and climbing. The serendipity of the find gave me pause to think about life and its changes. We go through lifeless seasons of scarring and barrenness, and then Jesus’ power causes us to sprout again. Even when it seems like life is over, Jesus can resurrect us. There is no damage that Jesus can’t undo!

Another serendipitous occasion over that Thanksgiving holiday was the arrival at my mother-in-law’s of a cute little beagle. Mrs. Godwin had enjoyed her two cats, but she had sorely missed the Boykin spaniel that she and Mr. Godwin mutually adored. Bud was the dog that they loved so much. Bud enjoyed riding in the pickup with Mr. Godwin and lying down at Mrs. Godwin’s feet. He was so old he started to edge closer and closer to death’s door, but, because he was so much a reminder of Mr. Godwin’s life, Mrs. Godwin spared no expense in vet bills to try and keep Bud going, especially after Mr. Godwin’s untimely death. However, one day Bud just disappeared, either he was stolen or instinctually wandered off in order to die away from his “Mother,” as if to spare Mrs. Godwin yet another grief.

Other dogs had come and gone before Bud: Brio, and Britt, to name a couple. You probably noticed that all their names started with the letter “B.” So one’s imagination wouldn’t have to work overtime to figure out what new name this foundling beagle was granted: Barney. Mrs. Godwin, living by herself, had said repeatedly that she wanted another dog, but she didn’t have the desire or physical stamina to train another one for the house. Well, God does work in mysterious ways. Barney just happened to be house-broken already, had quite a menacing bark for a dog with his diminutive size so he could protect Mrs. Godwin, and he quickly learned to use the “dog door” that Mr. Godwin installed some time before his death. Once again, when we least expected it, just like the old tree stump’s new shoots, new life enters our pain and gives us hope.

Advent season can be a similar experience for us frail time-bound human creatures. One recent year our family didn’t even put up a Christmas tree because we were too overwhelmed by personal concerns in the aftermath of Mrs. Godwin’s sudden death and Narcie’s first brain tumor surgery. Every year since, determined to open our hearts to Jesus’ power to bring new life, we have put up our decorations weeks earlier than usual.

Instead of retreating into worry, which is more my problem and not Cindy’s, Advent dares us to move toward God’s in-breaking kingdom, whether it comes in the form of new shoots out of a seemingly dead stump, a new puppy, a new baby like Josh and Karen’s due in February, or the ultimate gift of new life that comes in the Christ Child grown up to be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. May this Advent bring you inspired hope. Yes, we will miss Aunt Claire, Aunt Alva, Cousin Virginia, and the rest of our loved ones who have died this year, but we will look for the signs of hope that they all taught us to see!

tomato aspic

 

Advertisements

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

Christ the King Sunday is always the concluding Sunday of Pentecost season and the last Lord’s Day before we begin Advent. It is even more appropriate that Thanksgiving Sunday and Christ the King Sunday coincide! We have so much to be grateful for in response to God’s providence, none of which would be possible without recognition that Christ is King. Caesar isn’t King, nor any other world leader or system. Jesus is Lord of Lords and King of Kings and when we hang onto that reality all of our difficulties pale in comparison. Because Christ is King we can have hope for today and expectancy for tomorrow.

So many stores have been promoting Christmas earlier and earlier because it affects their yearly bottom line. This coming Sunday is finally when it’s appropriate for us as Christians to begin a hurry-up of our preparations for the holidays. Therefore, it is entirely sensible for us to crank everything up a notch. We have waited long enough! This conjunction of celebrating that Christ is King and Thanksgiving is the only time when I’m glad to start thinking about making detailed plans for Advent season and Christmas. We will have moved from what the church calendar calls ordinary time to an extraordinary season where we can make things right before the year ends. There are people that we need to forgive, goodbyes and hello’s to say, visits to make, and debts to pay. We better make the best of these closing weeks of the year. They will never come again.

Therefore, this is when I better gauge my personal bottom line spiritually, financially, emotionally, and physically. If Christ is King in my life what does that do to my scheduling and priorities. If I am a thankful person, how does that prepare me to celebrate the Lord’s birth and get ready for His Second Coming? Like many, this is an important time for me to assess how I have been faithful all year. This is the time of the year when churches send out year-to-date contribution statements, receive pledge cards, and count the cost of doing ministry and make budgets. We need to respond by counting our blessings and giving back to God what is God’s. I dare not forget the Guest of Honor at His own birthday party. I should ask right now what end-of-year gifts I need to make. I need to put my money where my mouth is!

This world is filled with more takers than givers. A pastor was visiting one of his parishioners. He took his young daughter with him. As they visited an elderly couple, the man gave her a handful of peanuts. Expecting her to show a spirit of gratitude, the girl’s pastor-father asked his daughter, “Honey, what are you supposed to say?” Sincerely, and with her eyes fixed upon the older gentleman, she asked, “You got any more?”

How easy it is to expect more and more without expressing our gratitude in return. This coming Sunday and Thanksgiving week is a marvelous opportunity for us to say, “Thank You,” to God. What we decide this week in honoring Christ as King will go a long way in making or breaking our entire 2014 and our Christmas. Too often we are like the child who received a dictionary on her birthday from her grandmother. After considerable time had lapsed without a word of thanks, the grandmother wrote her to make sure that she received it, “I hope you liked the dictionary I bought for you?” Her granddaughter wrote back, “Yes, and I just can’t find the words to say thank you.”

Just as she had the words literally given to her by which she could have given thanks, so has God given us talents and treasures to use in saying “Thanks!” to Him. If we will just do it! There are really no excuses to our negligence or procrastination. December 31 is just around the corner and each of us as individuals will close the books on another year. What will our ledgers say about our faith and faithfulness in 2014? When you’re passing out thanks this coming week, don’t dare forget the One who gives you eternal life. One young man said to his father, “Guess what? I can say please and thank you in Spanish.” His father asked, “How come you never say it in English?” Let’s use every language of the heart, soul, and body to offer our praise and gratitude to God. Christ is King! Give thanks!

Money Where Mouth Is

Trash Talk and Thanksgiving During Rivalry Week!

Thanksgiving Week is perennially a time for major trash-talking in the state of South Carolina. This is the week year in and year out that Carolina and Clemson sometimes literally slug it out on the football field, and unfortunately repeat the same scene in the stands or living rooms. This week will be even tenser because both teams are in the top ten in college football polls. In all our years of playing football this has never happened! This week’s game at Williams-Brice Stadium could be one for the ages. My hope is that it’s for all the right reasons. I have been hearing and participating in the banter for years. “Fear the Thumb!” is my favorite quip this year. Since the USC Gamecocks have won 4 in a row, the thumb represents number 5!

Pretty much wherever you live in the US this is Rivalry Week for your favorite college football team, and it couldn’t come at a worse time: Thanksgiving! On Thursday we will gather as family, friends, and loved ones and share a common meal, but more than a few people will raise their smack talk to a higher level and back it up with small or large wagers on Saturday’s games. There’s enough stuff to divide families that we have to add football, too? Rivalry Week becomes sibling rivalry and more – ad infinitum.

I live in a divided house myself. I graduated from South Carolina and rarely miss a game. Cindy graduated from Winthrop University, but was born at Clemson when her parents were there. She was baptized at Clemson Methodist Church, and when her Dad went back years later for another degree, she was confirmed at the same church and got her driver’s license at Clemson, too. Although she did get a Master’s degree in counseling at USC, her blood pretty much runneth orange. However, she does feel sorry for poor hurt animals and underdogs. That typically means that she has pulled for Carolina over the years. I am grateful for her Christian sympathy and USC has usually earned it.

My kids are really mixed up. Narcie graduated from Winthrop and Candler School of Theology and is a natural Carolina fan, except that she is the Director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Florida and says, “Go Gators!” Her UF hat she was wearing last night got interesting stares in a local grocery store. Our middle child was raised right, but, thanks to his maternal grandfather’s influence and a scholarship, Josh graduated from Clemson with an engineering degree, though he’s now a UM minister. Caleb, our youngest, is the only one besides me with a USC degree. Thank God for Caleb! He helps even the odds.

Narcie and Josh did recently go to a USC game and Narcie talked Josh into humoring her and allowed her to put a Gamecock logo on his cheek. He caught heck for that from a lot of his Clemson buds. He was just being kind to his sister and loves Clemson, but the photo below is more than a pretty sight for me because this Thursday I will definitely be in the minority.

Our extended family is overwhelmingly Clemson! This Thursday when we all gather together for Thanksgiving the trash talk will be out of control. Point spreads and smack about the differences between the ACC and SEC will abound. Of course I like the SEC better! It makes sense to me, “I love God, sweet tea, and the SEC!”

But how do we get through Thanksgiving without a family squabble? How do we handle the trash talk of Rivalry Week without losing our cool or our kin? It all comes down to the use of our tongues and love. There was a conversation between a 4-year-old boy and the mail carrier about the child’s little sister. The mail carrier asked, “Can she talk yet?” “No,” the little boy responded, “She has her teeth, but her words haven’t come in yet.” This Thanksgiving will prove that a lot of us have teeth in our conversation, but the right words aren’t there yet! The frightening thing is that our bitter words may not just be about football. I’m afraid that most of our trash talk has little to do with football and is about underlying jealousies or tensions.

Now here’s a challenge: Try to make it through Thanksgiving Day without saying anything negative or derogatory about anyone or their team. Also take note if you say something about someone who isn’t present. Keep track when others say something negative and what your reactions are. Notice whether you rebuke the verbal attack, or invite people to spill all of their “dirt” about the other person. Watch your speech and ask the Lord to bridle your tongue.

Foremost, let us season our speech with lots of love. Remember and put into action the words of St. Paul in Ephesians 4:29-5:2, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling, and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Be a R.E.A.L. family this Thanksgiving: RespectingEncouraging AffirmingLoving. I hope your Thanksgiving is more about God than goal lines. Everybody calm down and take a deep breath! I’ll try, too!

Image

Top 12 Essential Sayings For Ministers

Have you ever wondered how to respond to someone? The holidays often provide more than a few awkward moments that test our wits. I didn’t write this list of “Essential Sayings,” and can’t even remember where I got it, but as a District Superintendent with 7 months to go in an 8-year term, it seems wise to pass these along now. Think of these as gestalt therapy for preachers – helpful self-talk. With Thanksgiving coming up, everybody, clergy and laity alike, might need to put these to good use.  I wonder if there are any that you would add as essential sayings – write them in the comments!

TOP 12 ESSENTIAL SAYINGS FOR MINISTERS

12. That sounds like a great idea! I encourage you to take the ball and run with it.

Empower those with passion. They might look confused or disappointed that you didn’t add their suggestion to the top of your to-do list – that’s ok – or they might have just gotten the permission they needed to be a member in ministry.

11. Thank you for sharing your conflicts with [name] with me. Let’s think together about how you might address them with [name].

Develop an aversion to geometry – particularly getting caught in triangles between adversaries.

10. That is not an appropriate question/comment. My appearance/family/financial situation is off limits.

Ah, Life in the fishbowl. Gently remind (generally) well-intended people that if they wouldn’t say it to other professionals who provide care to them, they shouldn’t say it to you either.

9. [When grabbed on Sunday mornings] I appreciate this information. Could you call or email me this week to remind me? What you have told me is important, and often I don’t retain what I’m told in passing on Sunday mornings because there is so much going on.

Sunday mornings are your best opportunity to interface with the largest number of church members, which means you’re bombarded by information about pastoral care needs and ideas for new ministries. But you’ll also need all the brain cells at your disposal for the five-hour sprint, so put the onus back on others to remind you later about what they want you to recall.

8. I do not give weight to anonymous complaints, but I would be happy to talk face-to-face with anyone who has a concern.

Emphasize this early and often, and get your leadership on board so that they can encourage others to put on their big girl/boy pants and confront issues directly.

7. I could use your experience/expert help with [task].

Even the most broad-based seminary curricula don’t include construction, marketing, or tech support. Give folks a chance to lead by asking them to share their talents in God’s service.

6. I’d love to meet/attend your event on [day], but I take that day for self-care so that I will be fully ready to minister with you and others the rest of the week.

This one is tricky, and there are exceptions. Learn what yours are, and flex the time out elsewhere when you exercise them.

5. Let’s bring [colleagues/trusted lay leaders] in on this situation to help us think it through.

Lone rangers are prone to mistakes and have no one to back them up when the junk hits the fan.

4. Thank you for your email. Since the situation you name is both important and has some nuance and complexity to it, I think it would be most helpful to continue the conversation in person. When can you meet?

There is a time for email conversations, especially when you need documentation of your steps and others’ words. But real quagmires are often exacerbated by the limitations of text, the option to hit “forward,” and the lag time in responses.

3. The [rule/policy in question] is in place to ensure the safety and welcome of everyone in our community. This [rule/policy] applies to everyone equally, and I enforce it because I care about you/your child.

In a world full of excuses, exceptions, and entitlements, showing fairness and putting a person’s well-being over your need to be liked is uncomfortable but prophetic and pastoral.

2. When I am on vacation, my phone will be off and I will not be checking email. You may contact the church if you need immediate help.

Remind your people – and yourself – that you are not indispensable. The church will stand and time will march on if you take a week or two to rest your body and feed your mind. You can always have someone who is qualified on call or let your administrative assistant or Lay Leader discern if the situation is an absolute emergency that demands your response.

1.  Thank you!

Say this sincerely, often, and in a variety of ways.

Thanks-Giving!

It’s hard to pray for my favorite team in the upcoming Carolina-Clemson game. Prayer and sporting events haven’t worked out that well for me in the past. Yes, the last few years as a Gamecock fan have been beyond my highest expectations – Steve Spurrier has tied Rex Enright for the most wins; this senior class has won more games (36) than any other in USC history; the Gamecocks have won 11 straight home games, a new record; the baseball team won back-to-back national championships in 2010 and 2011, and was runner-up this year. It’s been great but can we beat Clemson in football 4 years in a row? That is what’s on the line this coming Saturday. I feel like I’m being greedy because I would have settled for one in a row not too long ago.

Need I say more about praying for sports teams? If I pray for the best team to win, that team might not necessarily be mine, especially with Connor Shaw limping and Jadeveon Clowney gimpy, too. So, this year I know exactly what kind of prayer I should pray. It should be a prayer of thanksgiving. Gosh, We’re 9-2! The same could be true for Clemson folks at 10-1, too, and perhaps for fans of about every team except Kentucky and Tennessee. I have a lot to be thankful for as a Carolina fan, but more so as a human being.

There are so many blessings that are better than the vicissitudes of sports. There are many good and great things that overshadow an entire world’s bad news. In the midst of the somber we can either give in to depression or count our blessings. We all know which is better for us, even when it’s tough to do. My biggest thanks is that Narcie is two and half years away from Brain Tumor surgery on a oligodendroglioma and she is doing great! Please keep praying for her!

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? In a village in Denmark, there is a beautifully landscaped cemetery next to the community church. A visitor noted that at least a third of the gravestones there have the inscription, “Tak,” written upon them. That’s Danish for “Thanks.” What a wonderful sentiment whether it’s meant as gratitude towards God for blessing us with life, or as thanks to the people who visit and helped us get through life. Annie Dillard captures this same attitude in her words, “I think that the dying pray at the last not ‘please,’ but ‘thank you,’ as a guest thanks his or her host at the door.” “Thanks!” aims positive energy towards God and others.

Without thanksgiving our prayers are too much about us. We end up treating God like some sort of Cosmic Genie. I know it’s something that I sometimes do. Often in my prayers I spend a lot of time on the things that I need or what I think others need. This part of prayer is called “supplication.” We often spend the majority of our prayer time focusing on what we want God to supply, rather than saying, “Thanks.”

A Biblical model for prayer starts with Adoration, praising God for who God is. Next is Confession as we repent and ask for forgiveness. Thanksgiving comes after confession as we express our gratitude to God for what God has done. Lastly, Supplication is when we ask God to supply the needs of others or ourselves. This A.C.T.S. model for prayer works if we end with supplication and begin with praise and thanksgiving.

This Sunday is a time for us to express these altruistic sentiments. It’s not only Thanksgiving Sunday, but it’s also Christ the King Sunday – the last Sunday in the Christian Year. There’s no better day to get ready for Advent and Christmas when we especially need to remember the Guest-of-Honor at His own birthday! As I think about churches trying to catch up on their budgets and connectional giving responsibilities, I’m reminded of the story about the couple in the aftermath of World War II. They were getting ready to go to the memorial service for the son of friends of theirs. The young man had been killed in the service. His family was dedicating a window in their church to this young man who had lost his life. The window cost $10,000.

“What a beautiful thing to do in memory of their son,” the wife said to her husband. Suddenly, she turned around with an ashen look on her face and said, “What are we going to give?” Her husband replied, “What are you talking about? We don’t need to give anything. Our son came back alive and well.” “That’s exactly what I mean,” his wife responded. “Our friends lost their son, and they’re giving $10,000. We got our son back, and we’re not giving anything???”

Count and account for your blessings!

Advent Signs

One of the signs of hope for me personally this Advent is that the South Carolina Delegation has endorsed me to be their Episcopal Nominee. Today is the day that their website for me, www.timmcclendon.org, is being launched. I am grateful for all of their hard work in doing this. This is a great reminder of Christ’s never-ending work in our lives, and one of the best Christmas gifts ever for me. Thank you to all!

This reminds me of a very significant Thanksgiving that we observed 3 years ago. We were at Cindy’s mother’s house and we feasted and reminisced about former days. As I was walking around in the yard before we left I noticed the stump of the old oak tree that had stood for centuries beside the house. After Hugo ripped up another of the ancient giants and ice storms decimated the rest, it seemed a good idea to cut down this hazard that was located precariously close to the house. All that had been left for several years was a huge stump.

I’m sure the transformation took place gradually, but that Saturday it was undeniably apparent. The old stump that had once looked weather beaten and forlorn was alive. It was sprouting new shoots, live branches of hope into the gray sky. They were at least four feet tall and climbing. The serendipity of the find gave me pause to think about life and its changes. We go through lifeless seasons of scarring and barrenness, and then Jesus’ power causes us to sprout again. Even when it seems like life is over, Jesus can resurrect us. There is no damage that Jesus can’t undo!

Another serendipitous occasion over that Thanksgiving holiday was the arrival at my mother-in-law’s of a cute little beagle. Mrs. Godwin had enjoyed her two cats, but she had sorely missed the Boykin spaniel that she and Mr. Godwin mutually adored. Bud was the dog that they loved so much. Bud enjoyed riding in the pickup with Mr. Godwin and lying down at Mrs. Godwin’s feet. He was so old he started to edge closer and closer to death’s door, but, because he was so much a reminder of Mr. Godwin’s life, Mrs. Godwin spared no expense in vet bills to keep Bud going, especially after Mr. Godwin’s untimely death. However, one day he just disappeared, either stolen or instinctually or purposely wandering off to die in order to spare Mrs. Godwin another grief.

Other dogs had come and gone before Bud: Brio, and Britt, to name a few. You probably noticed that all their names started with the letter “B.” So one’s imagination wouldn’t have to work overtime to figure out what new name this foundling beagle was granted: Barney. Mrs. Godwin, living by herself, had said repeatedly that she wanted another dog but she didn’t have the desire or physical stamina to train one for the house. Well, God does work in mysterious ways. Barney was already house-broken, had quite a menacing bark for a dog with his diminutive size, and quickly learned to use the “dog door” that Mr. Godwin installed some time before his death. Once again, when we least expected it, just like the old tree stump’s new shoots, new life enters our pain and gives us hope.

Advent season can be a similar experience for us frail time-bound human creatures. Last year our family didn’t even put up a Christmas tree because we were too overwhelmed by personal concerns in the aftermath of Mrs. Godwin’s sudden death and Narcie’s brain tumor. This year, determined to open our hearts to Jesus’ power to bring new life, we have put up our decorations weeks earlier than usual. Instead of retreating into worry, which is more my problem and not Cindy’s, Advent dares us to advance toward God’s in-breaking kingdom, whether it comes in the form of new shoots out of a seemingly dead stump, a new puppy, or a new website. May this Advent bring you inspired hope. Join me in looking for the signs!

Advent’s Inoculation

It’s Cyber-Monday and many of us feel the crunch to get busy with Christmas shopping. Some of us barely survived Black Friday or Rivalry Football games. This is a season of urgency and it should be a season of great pause! How do we handle the onslaught of the holidays? The answer to me is turning them back into what they are meant to be: Holy Days!

United Methodist Bishop, William Boyd Grove, former pastor of Bethel Park UMC just outside of Pittsburgh has suggested that there are certain words that deserve to interrupt all other words and conversation. Words like “The house is on fire!” or “The war is over!” or “Your hostage brother has been released!” These are, in his provocative words, “startling, interrupting proclamations that change everything. If the house is on fire, you run! If the war is over, you dance! If your hostage brother is released, you leave everything and go to meet him!” During Advent we prepare ourselves for another set of words that change everything: “Jesus Christ is born.”

 God whispers these words to us in every candle and carol, every card and crèche. Most of us are not very ready to hear these words that cause all others to cease. We are just too busy or overwhelmed by life. That is why Advent season precedes Christmas, to help us get prepared, to enable us to hear God’s voice of hope. This mystery of Advent, as poet Elizabeth Jennings puts it, is this: “… It is a mystery/How God took time and entered history.” It is a grand mystery that gives us hope, hope in a God that loves us so much that He came to be one of us.

 Oh, how we need hope. With loved ones absent from the Thanksgiving table last week and the terrible truth that their absences won’t be less gaping in four short weeks, but actually worse, and with worries on the battlefronts of the world: recession, unemployment, domestic violence, terror, poverty, debt, and ill health, we know all too well the need for a friendly God, a benevolent Jesus, a comforting Holy Spirit.

 You may be where a lot of people are right now after learning the truth that Thanksgiving celebrations are terribly efficient ways for families to spread germs and vermin across the miles.  Who knows whom passed the bug around first, but I know that there are plenty of people who caught something over the weekend. “What a horrible time to be sick!” is what many have been thinking. But truthfully there couldn’t be a better time. Nothing quite like illness makes us pause and reflect.

 Advent season isn’t an illness, but it can inoculate us with just the right soul-saving amount of reflection that may help us survive the holidays. I heard about one church that invited a guest preacher at the beginning of Advent. In the bulletin was this announcement: “The church is glad to have with us today as our guest minister the Reverend Shirley Green who has Mr. Green with her. After the service we request that all remain in the sanctuary for the Hanging of the Greens.”

 Many churches begin Advent season with a “Hanging of the Greens” service. Others are hard at work on special music or projects. Chrismon trees and poinsettias will grace sanctuaries all over Christendom, but more important than the preparation of our homes and houses of worship will be the preparation of our hearts. Therefore, here’s another but more appropriate Advent bulletin blooper: “The Word made flesh and swelling among us.” May the Word swell in your life this Advent season! Those who have ears to hear, let them hear!

Thanksgiving!

It’s hard to pray for my favorite team in next week’s Carolina-Clemson game. Prayer and sporting events haven’t worked out that well for me in the past. In 117 years of football, South Carolina has only won 8 or more games three times. Need I say more? If I pray for the best team to win, that team might not necessarily be mine. So, this year I know exactly what kind of prayer I should pray. It should be a prayer of thanksgiving. The same could be true for Clemson folks, too. USC is 8-2 and Clemson is 9-1! Wow! So, I have a lot to be thankful for as a Carolina fan, and more so as a human being. Narcie just got her latest MRI results on the brain tumor and PRAISE GOD it isn’t growing!

            There are SO many blessings that are better than the vicissitudes of sports. There are many good and great things that overshadow an entire world’s bad news. In the midst of the somber we can either give in to depression or count our blessings. We all know which is better for us, even when it’s tough to do.

            What are you thankful for this coming Thanksgiving? In a village inDenmark, there is a beautifully landscaped cemetery next to the community church. A visitor noted that at least a third of the gravestones there have the inscription, “Tak,” written upon them. That’s Danish for “Thanks.” What a wonderful sentiment whether it’s meant as gratitude towards God for blessing us with life, or as thanks to the people who visit and helped us get through life. Annie Dillard captures this same attitude in her words, “I think that the dying pray at the last not ‘please,’ but ‘thank you,’ as a guest thanks his or her host at the door.” “Thanks!” aims positive energy towards God and others.

            Without thanksgiving our prayers are too much about us. We end up treating God like some sort of Cosmic Genie. I know it’s something that I sometimes do. Often in my prayers I spend a lot of time on the things that I need or what I think others need. This part of prayer is called “supplication.” We often spend the majority of our prayer time focusing on what we want God to supply, rather than saying, “Thanks.”

            A Biblical model for prayer starts with Adoration, praising God for who God is. Next is Confession as we repent and ask for forgiveness. Thanksgiving comes after confession as we express our gratitude to God for what God has done. Lastly, Supplication is when we ask God to supply the needs of others or ourselves. This A.C.T.S. model for prayer works if we end with supplication and begin with praise and thanksgiving.

            This Sunday is a time for us to express these altruistic sentiments. It’s not only Thanksgiving Sunday, but it’s also Christ the King Sunday – the last Sunday in the Christian Year. For a lot of churches this is the wrap-up for your stewardship campaign. In that vein I’m reminded of the story about the couple in the aftermath of World War II. They were getting ready to go to the memorial service for the son of friends of theirs. The young man had been killed in the service. His family was dedicating a window in their church to this young man who had lost his life. The window cost $50,000.

            “What a beautiful thing to do in memory of their son,” the wife said to her husband. Suddenly, she turned around with an ashen look on her face and said, “What are we going to give?” Her husband replied, “What are you talking about? We don’t need to give anything. Our son came back alive and well.” “That’s exactly what I mean,” his wife responded. “Our friends lost their son, and they’re giving $50,000. We got our son back, and we’re not giving anything???”

            Count and account for your blessings! Give Thanks!

Christ Is King!

This coming Sunday is Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday in the Christian year, the last hurrah before we rush headlong into Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas and New Year’s. This Sunday is a reminder that come what may, Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Christ the King Sunday exists to ask the all-important question: “If Jesus is King, what else matters?”

I can confess Jesus as King easily but my actions often betray me. This is especially true at this time of year. I’ve always been one who loved to get the mail out of the box. Holiday season has always made the experience even better. When I was a child we got plenty of magazines offering holiday pleasure. I perused the Sears catalog until it was practically memorized. I sorted the “Wish Books” from the rest of the mail and hoarded them like treasure. I whiled away hours, days, weeks, flipping the pages, compiling my lists: G.I. Joe play sets, walkie-talkies, and camouflage. Catalogs were about fantasy and the potential fulfillment of every want, need, and dream.

Catalogs, ironically enough, weren’t bad practice for anticipation. What is anticipation, anyway, except glimpsing something that might be, and deciding you want it, and awaiting its arrival, yearning for it even? But mystery: Mystery is something else entirely. There is no catalog code or customer service number that we can provide to procure the Messiah. There are no glossy pages that can contain the living power of the Incarnation, of the Holy Spirit moving through a world battered, bruised and beautiful, a world being called to remember its true song.  Christ is coming. No credit card necessary. That’s what Christ the King Sunday is about! My sin so often is to wish for trivial things while Jesus is all that is really needed!

Don’t let this season catch you pondering wish lists that never ever truly satisfy our longings. We need more than self-serving gratification. What we need is the peace that will never wear out, break, or become outmoded by next year’s newer model. The Author of that kind of peace and contentment is Jesus. There is none other than Jesus who can meet our every need and satisfy our every longing. Only Jesus makes our wishes come true.

The great mystery is that Jesus, the anticipated King, has come and is coming again. We see the in-breakings of his kingdom all about us. However, the sparkle and glitter of holiday season produces such a glare that it’s almost impossible to squint through the blinding light. But, stare through the glitter we must if we are to know the peace that comes from knowing Christ as king. We can’t order peace from some 800-number or a website, but we can find it if we dare to be still and ponder the mystery of God in Christ.

A Good Thanksgiving

What a great Thanksgiving and beginning of Advent! We went to Rock Hill to see our two grandchildren and have Thanksgiving Dinner with our son-in-law’s parents and grandmother. Caleb went with us, but Josh and Karen were in Greensboro with her folks. It was a good day, and after a few hours we came back to Columbia. Of course we miss Ganny since her sudden death in August. This was our first Thanksgiving with all of our parents gone, but in the Communion of Saints they were still with us is so many ways.

For instance, on Friday Cindy and I went to the movies to see “Blind Side.” It is a great movie! It reminded me so much of my mother who became the legal guardian for an African-American man who was mentally challenged. The authorities had threatened to send him to a state institution. He hung out and helped people with their groceries for years at my grandfather’s country store, but his mental condition deteriorated, and his family had basically abandoned him. His name was Frank Arthur. He lived with us, had his meals with us. My Dad shaved him and cut his hair. Any way, the movie “Blind Side” brought buckets of tears to my eyes thinking about my mother’s big heart and bravery in doing what she did for Frank in the 1950’s when race was a worse issue than it remains today.
So around the Thanksgiving table and all weekend I sensed the presence of so many: Ganny, SaSa, Papa Mac, Gandaddy, Papa, Grandmother, Uncle Lee, and many more. On Saturday the Gamecocks beat archrival Clemson and that would have made most of my deceased relatives very happy. Sunday was an even better day! We celebrated Evy’s first birthday and her baptism at St. John’s, Fort Mill. Everything was simply wonderful. Narcie’s sermon was outstanding and Mike’s music and the Praise Band were superb. Cindy and I both were filled with tears of gratitude in how God is using our children. Josh and Karen are doing great in ministry and Nursing School. The Rock Hill Herald newspaper had a wonderful article about Josh’s ministry with the homeless yesterday. Check it out http://heraldonline.com/front/story/1775436.html. God has blessed us and we’re thankful.