Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thanksgiving...For What?

"I am thankful for _______." Well, I will let you fill in the blank. You can fill in the blank, can't you? I mean, there is at least one thing for which you can be thankful, isn't there? Yes, I know 2008 has not been exactly one of those stellar years. I have watched my retirement portfolio decline by nearly 40% this year. I have had to pay $4 for a gallon of gas and $3 for a gallon of milk. Marlys and I have watched as the price of our home has depreciated several thousands of dollars this past year.

And then there has been the world scene. It certainly does not give one cause for a lot of thanksgiving and gratitude. Iran and North Korea toy with our psyches as they experiment with nuclear capabilities. Roguish pirates patrol the waters off East Africa, capturing ships and threatening an environmental nightmare. Civil wars continue almost unabated in the heart of Africa with violence that is beyond the comprehension of a civilized society. And what can be said of famines and diseases like AIDS that leave a trail of desperation worldwide.

"I am thankful for ______." If I am dependent upon the things I can hold in my hand, then I might find it difficult expressing thanksgiving this year. BUT, if I am dependent upon the things I hold in my heart, then I should be filled with ceaseless praise. God has been good. And God continues to be good.

Two of my favorite Scripture texts during the Thanksgiving Season are: Psalm 103 and Ephesians 1:3-14. David cries out, "O my soul, please don't forget all of God's benefits!" What are some of those incredible benefits that both David and Paul bring to our remembrance?
1. That you and I have been chosen by get this, even before the foundations of the world were laid! Do you understand that? I can't entirely! Just think...before God created the world, He had already chosen you. "I am thankful for being chosen by God."
2. That you and I have been adopted by God. Adoption means that I once stood outside, but now I am on the inside. I was invited to be part of God's family...forever. "I am thankful for God's loving adoption of me."
3. That you and I have been forgiven by God. David says that "as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us." Praise God He has cleansed us of our sins and removed them so far away that they can never be found. "I am thankful for the awesomeness of God's forgiveness."
4. That you and I have been redeemed from the pit. That means that our souls have been rescued from the eternal damnation that awaited us. We have been born again. We have been saved. Whatever term you want to use, it is pretty special. "I am thankful for an amazing grace of God that saved my soul."

And we should never forget to give thanks for those special relationships God has brought into our lives: family and friends and with Him.

"I am thankful for ______." Okay, now I think you can find at least one reason for which to praise God. So, let's get started praising the Lord!

P.S. Shouldn't every day be a day of "thanksgiving?"

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thoughts from a Roller Coaster

Roller coasters never thrilled me. I was very content to just sit on the bench and watch everyone else scream and get their brains rattled. Give me the "lazy river" where I can sit in an inner-tube raft and drift down the stream with my eyes closed and my mind enjoying the quiet. Ah, that was excitement for me. On the other hand, my wonderful wife always enjoyed the heart-pounding, teeth-rattling, bone-jarring rides on the coasters. She preferred risks over serenity.

So you can guess how I am feeling now as we traverse the slow upswings and the precipitous drops in the economy. I want to get off. I want my quiet "lazy river" ride. But the coaster ride seems to just continue unabated. To get off now, as one friend told me recently, would be to commit financial suicide. I knew there was something else I didn't like about roller coasters...they can be life-threatening. And so, along with many others, I recheck my seatbelt and grip more firmly the crash-bar (I find that a very interesting name, by the way) and try to not scream as another drop appears on the horizon.

Hey, I thought this bailout of Wall Street investment firms and major banking centers was suppose to at least slow down the roller coaster. Maybe I am off base (I never purported to be an expert on the economy...I was glad for high school economics being a pass-fail class) but it seems to me that since the bailout the roller coaster has gotten faster and the drops occur more often and are steeper. Am I the only one who feels this way? We...that is you and I, the taxpayers...gave huge sums of money to both AIG and to GM. I cannot even comprehend what a billion dollars is like. Now both AIG and GM want even more. Let's see, who else is waiting in line for my tax dollar and for yours? There are local and state government. Then there are retail giants whose sales have slumped greatly. Then there are small business owners who are closing stores and shops by scores every day. Oh, and don't forget about schools and colleges and universities. Yesterday, one of my Board members said that he wrote a Christmas letter this year and sent a copy to Santa Claus and to Barack Obama. He hoped one of them would respond to his Christmas wish.

Perhaps I am getting a bit cynical. Please forgive me. But things seem to be getting out of control, at least from my perspective. But not from God's. In fact, this is all part of His plan. It is part of the preparation for the entrance of the King of kings and the Lord of lords onto the world's stage. Perhaps, through this severe economic time, God is inviting Christians to ask themselves: "Have you put more importance upon your 401(k)s and your retirement plans than you have upon Me? Do you have a greater passion for your things than you have for Me?" I recently reread from Matthew 6. There Jesus issues this challenge: "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (that is to earnestly endeavor to put God first and to have a relationship with Him), and all these things - clothes, food, drink, shelter, etc. - will be added unto you." These are sobering questions as I ride the coaster.

I have been assured by many that the roller coaster ride will slow down and even stop some day. That is good news for those of us who prefer something more serene. But, the great news is that God wants to teach us something while we are riding the ups and downs. And I want a teachable heart, a discerning mind, and an obedient spirit.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

An Election Post-Mortem

It seems that everyone has a comment today about the results of yesterday's election. The outcome was not totally unexpected. John McCain had faced an uphill battle since his first primary victory in the late winter months. He was not an eloquent speaker as was his opponent. He did not have the youthful energy that his opponent had. And the main stream media certainly never bought into his ideas of what change looked like. But he fought bravely on.

I am not certain that in the history of this great nation that we have ever elected a president with less executive experience than Barack Obama. We have elected military generals, but they all had experience leading men on the battlefield. We have elected governors who have ruled over the affairs of their states. We have elected men who have served in the United States Senate, but who served longer than the three years Obama has served. I think we can safely say that Barack Obama will have to learn executive leadership skills as part of the "on the job training" while in the Oval Office. Hopefully he will be a quick learner.

Now the question will be asked: Who are those individuals who will be asked to fill his cabinet and staff positions? As we know Obama has not always been careful about the people he has associated with. Perhaps those people might be accepted as part of one's personal life. But now he has to think of the greater good of the country. A William Ayers or a Jeremiah Wright certainly would not be acceptable by the majority of Americans. I believe that, if Obama truly wants to initiate real change, then he ought to reach across the aisle to claim men and women from both Republican and Democratic parties who are experts in fields of service and who are representative of all the people. If all he does is surround himself with those like the Harry Reids and the Nancy Pelosi's, then we will be in for four long years, I am afraid.

Obama has two important speeches in the coming months. First will be his inaugural address, followed quickly by this State of the Union address to the Congress. All ears will be listening for words that welcome ideas from both sides of the aisle. I will be listening for words of humility rather than political arrogance. I believe those two speeches will set the tone for those first weeks and months of an Obama presidency.

And, finally, because of my strong interest in the Middle East, particularly in the nation of Israel, I will want to know his plans for that region of the world. I read this morning that Israelis gave a cautious applause to Obama's election, while the Palestinians gave it a hearty endorsement, with one Hamas leader saying that "Now the Palestinians have a friend in the White House who will force the Israelis to make more concessions to us." Hopefully Obama will understand the historical significance of standing with Israel.

One final thought. Now that the election is over, I wonder how the television stations will fill all those advertising slots?