Sometimes words change faster than Bible translations. Some words morph faster than politicians change positions. Worse still, some words are taken captive and forced into the labor of deception. They end up communicating the very opposite of their truest meaning.
For example, the simple word hope has come to mean something unsure and doubtful. Everyone hopes for the best, but prepares for the worst. When we talk about hope in everyday language we are really talking about our insecurities: who knows how things will really work out?
It’s not always been that way. The word hope used to do some pretty heavy lifting. The Biblical notion of hope is the opposite of un-certainty. It’s a word filled with expectation: expectation of God’s powerful intervention. The word hope describes the in-breaking of joy capable of showing fear to the door. When the Spirit of God speaks of hope the word means “confident expectation,” or quite literally a life-line from heaven. It is an overflowing word, intended to be contagious, changing lives and cultures. Hope is the engine of a thankful heart.
Hope is an abiding thing. It hangs out in the company of faith and love. It will outlast this world.
We could spend the next decade plumbing the depths of Biblical hope. We could explore the pathways of hope until we draw our final breath, only to discover that the half has not been told. Godly hope is the rebirth of divine certainty in us, and it does not disappoint.
Hebrews describes hope as an anchor, thrown--not into the sea--but into the heavens. The preacher of that message suggests hope should spur us to diligence, not out of desperation but rather confidence.
Hosea discovered the "gateway of hope" in the "valley of Trouble."
The Psalms reveal that hope is the antidote for depression and turmoil. Not wishful thinking or a positive mental attitude, but instead drinking deep from springs of hope the way a deer searches for streams of water.
In Romans, the Apostle Paul promised us that hope does not disappoint. Hope is the conduit through which God’s love pours into our hearts.
I’m beginning to re-tool my vocabulary, and more importantly my heart. What has God said? What has he promised? I will lash myself to his revelation, because hope abides. Our ability to give thanks from the heart depends upon hope: the hope of God’s goodness and the hope of his constant presence. The greatest of these may be love, but faith and hope are love’s fellow travelers. I suspect there’s room for you in the traveling party.
Abraham was as a stranger in a foreign country. He lived in tents and sought a city whose builder and maker was God. Still, in an attempt to save the detestable cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, he bargained with God for their good.
Daniel took the words of Jeremiah to heart and sought the prosperity of his exile city, a city responsible for the desolation of Jerusalem. Daniel gave the best of his counsel and wisdom in order that a pagan capital would thrive.
The Son of Man wept over the very city that would rise up and kill him. He drank the cup of wrath that was due to the privileged—and unfaithful—people of Israel.
From these examples I have learned to love my country, not because it is the truest, best, or perfect, but because this love is part of living as God’s agent of mercy among his people. Love of one's country, its cities, people, and customs is work of God. It is the middle way between two more common approaches to any society.
The first approach is judgment, and today is an easy day to judge America. Today is Black Friday, the Bacchanalia of consumerism that strangely follows Thanksgiving Day. The Twitterverse and blogosphere brims over with distain for this American excess, and Christians lead the way in critical remarks. Believers chastise others for so quickly abandoning the grace and gratitude of giving thanks in favor of buying and getting more, more, more. Yet even the critics have quickly abandoned another kind of gratitude, that of loving your neighbor. How can we show mercy when today we heap judgment?
The second approach is less prevalent in America today but it still exists: “My country, right or wrong.” Just a generation ago large segments of Evangelical Christianity enjoyed confusing the American Ideal with the Kingdom Stone. We loved America blindly and described her as “the last, best hope for the world.” This, too, is excess, practiced in the post-war decades in a way that substituted our calling to be strangers in a strange land for the hope that America would establish God’s kingdom on earth. It was foolish, too.
For Americans, Black Friday is as good a day to love America as any other day, because this is where we are planted. I am thankful my country, freedoms and flaws together, like Nineveh, the Father has mercy on the lost.
The Pilgrims’ daily existence was a life-or-death battle to overcome constant hunger, sickness, and exposure to the elements. Crudely assembled houses made of mud daub were their only shelter from the icy New England weather. Because they were not yet knowledgeable about their new environment’s agriculture, planting gardens in the hostile conditions proved virtually fruitless. Every meal was portioned out meticulously. The death toll, a constant reminder of their fragility, rose steadily. At one point only five men were well enough to care for the sick.
Despite their tribulations, the Pilgrims thanked the Lord every day, petitioning Him for rehabilitation. One morning, during an ordinary Sunday worship service, the Lord sent tangible evidence that He had heard their prayers. Their church service was interrupted by an unexpected guest, an Algonquin Indian chief who assessed their hopeless situation and returned with a helper named Squanto. The Pilgrims, who had warred with Indians before and lived with a continuous fear of being attacked by them, were astonished by their new friends’ eagerness to provide much-needed assistance. Squanto, a Patuxet Indian who spoke perfect English, taught the Pilgrims how to hunt game, trap beavers, and plant Indian corn, a staple that would eventually save their lives.
When the harvest yielded more than the Pilgrims could eat, Governor William Bradford, their elected leader, declared a day of public thanksgiving. He invited the chief of a friendly neighboring Indian tribe to join in their tribute of Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims were excited to celebrate with their honored guest, but were completely shocked when he arrived with ninety other Indians.
Although God had provided abundantly, their food supply would not accommodate a group of this size, and they had no idea how to feed their visitors. Despite their quandary, all worries were soon dismissed. To their amazement and ever-increasing thankfulness, the Indians had brought with them five dressed deer and a dozen fat, wild turkeys. Over time they taught the women how to make pudding, maple syrup, and an Indian delicacy — roasted kernels of corn called popcorn.
But the Pilgrims’ trials were far from finished; their plentiful autumn was followed by a particularly treacherous winter. Unfortunately, the weather proved to be the least of their ailments. In November a ship called The Fortune dropped anchor in their harbor. Aboard the ship were thirty-five more colonists who had brought with them no provisions — no food, no extra clothing, no equipment for survival. Additionally, the oppression of the physical environment had become almost unbearable after a twelve-week drought dried up their crops and withered their spirits. The newcomers’ arrival had drained already inadequate food rations and there was no obvious resource for sustenance. At their lowest point, the Pilgrims were reduced to a daily ration of five kernels of corn apiece. In utter desperation they fell to their knees and prayed for eight hours without ceasing.
Again God heard their supplications; fourteen days of rain followed. A second Day of Thanksgiving was declared. The neighboring Indian chief was again their honored guest; he brought with him one hundred and twenty braves. The Pilgrims feasted on game and turkey as they had during their previous celebration, only this time one dish was different. The first course, served on an empty plate in front of each person, consisted of five kernels of corn, a gentle reminder of God’s faithful provision for them.
(Adapted from Peter Marshall and David Manuel's account in The Light and the Glory)
I can't help you with decorating for Thanksgiving -- and you really don't want me to help with the cooking! So, here are some of my favorite thanksgiving quotes. You can print them out and make a unique place card for each person seated around your table:
The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest. ~ William Blake
Be true to yourself, help others, make each day your masterpiece, make friendship a fine art, drink deeply from good books - especially the Bible, build a shelter against a rainy day, give thanks for your blessings and pray for guidance every day. ~ John Wooden
It must be an odd feeling to be thankful to nobody in particular . . . It's a little like being married "in general." ~ Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.
Thou who hast given so much to me, give me one more thing - a grateful heart! ~ George Herbert
It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness. ~ Charles Spurgeon
Gratitude is the least of the virtues, but ingratitude is the worst of vices. ~ Thomas Fuller
If you remember the dignity of the Giver, no gift will seem small or mean, for nothing can be valueless that is given by the most high God. ~ Thomas a Kempis
The best things are nearest: breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of God just before you. ~ Robert Louis Stevenson
We have received too much from God to allow ourselves opportunities for unbelief. We have received too many gifts and privileges to allow a grumbling, murmuring heart to disqualify us of our destiny. In contrast, the thankful heart sees the best part of every situation. It sees problems and weaknesses as opportunities, struggles as refining tools, and sinners as saints in progress. ~ Francis Frangipane
Gratitude . . . goes beyond the "mine" and "thine" and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy. ~ Henri Nouwen
We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good; if bad, because it works in us patience, humility, contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country. ~ C. S. Lewis
It’s not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, that is the true measure of our thanksgiving. ~ W.T. Purkiser
God has two dwellings; one in heaven, and the other in a meek and thankful heart. ~ Izaak Walton
We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~ Thornton Wilder
Do you have more guests than this? Good for you! here are 15 more savory quotes back on November 17th.
There’s an old story about a man and a beggar.
Each day the man took the subway to work and passed a beggar on the steps, and each morning the man tossed a dime to the beggar. Day after day he went to work, and through the numbing power of routine the man tossed the dime without giving a thought to his charity or the beggar who received it. It became automatic. The man never slowed down, and the beggar never said “thank you.” The ritual of the dime became part of each man’s day.
Then the man went away on vacation for two weeks. No more daily routine, subways, or beggars. When the man returned to the city he headed down the subway steps, tossed a dime to the beggar, and kept walking. But the beggar stood up and shouted, “Hey! Where have you been? You owe me a dollar-forty!”
This is the parable of gratitude turned stale, of thankfulness morphed to entitlement. What happens when life becomes so routine we forget that even small blessings are the gift of another?
There are some peculiar temptations to living among prosperity. Our experiences can cause us to miss the Lord’s most basic instructions. For example, Jesus taught his followers to pray, “give us this day our daily bread.” But those of us who live in a society of abundance do not even understand such a request. It’s as if we might think, “Daily bread? I’ve already got that covered, God—but if you could help with mortgages and student loans and retirement, I’d appreciate that.”
Gratitude in the midst of routine keeps us grounded to the daily mercies of God. It turns out he’s behind the everyday and the unremarkable events as well. His mercies are new every morning; many of them go un-noticed.
Ask Yourself: When is the last time I actually prayed that God would provide food for me, today?
Live Into It: Daily life is certainly routine, but there’s no reason we can’t build new routines into our day, ones that are designed to keep us mindful of his goodness—and his presence.