THANKSGIVING 2020: “FOLKS, IT DOESN’T GET ANY BETTER THAN THIS!”

Yes, that is my headline for Thanksgiving this year and I’m sticking to it! We have a whole lot more to be grateful for this year than we can even imagine! Sure, it  may look dark and dismal right now, and it has been a gut-wrenching, even tragic, year in  our land. You may be sick and tired of being confined and masked for a good portion of your  day. You are probably fed up with the lack of political civility. And you should be concerned  about the state of our democracy and the struggle to extend the promises of our Founders  to all people in our land.  

But then consider what the Apostle Paul was going through when he wrote these words:  “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thes. 5:16- 18)  

Paul wrote those words while he was sitting in a dark, dank prison, chained in place and not  knowing if there was any hope for him to survive. His life’s calling, to plant churches of Jesus  followers throughout the known world, may be coming to an end, falling miserably short!  But still, he urges those he loves to rejoice, to pray, and to give thanks. As my friend Bruce  Condill likes to translate these words of Paul: “Brothers and sisters, it doesn’t get any better  than this!”

You see, Paul knew the secret between being a person thankful for just the good things in  life, and being a person grateful for life itself – including everything that goes with it. You  don’t have to be a person of faith to be thankful for the good stuff in your life. But, as Paul  says, to be “thankful in ALL circumstances,” that’s quite a different thing. That takes a  person of great faith.  

It seems to me that “gratefulness” is the spiritual condition of a heart given over to the Lord.  Otherwise, we end up being thankful for only the things that help us and that we prefer …  and that’s not a spiritual trait at all. That’s just plain old self-centeredness, which Jesus  warns us about over and over in His gospels.  

So, this year for Thanksgiving, I propose that we become “Grateful Pilgrims”; People of faith  who are thankful in ALL circumstances — even the circumstances we’re in today.  Gratefulness is the gift that gets us through the tough times, and that leaves us being better  people for having gone through the hardships.  

People of faith understand that enduring tough times is not only part of living life on life’s  terms, but it actually strengthens our faith and instills in us the hope that we can get  through anything … with God. Indeed, when we look at it that way, the tough times are the  things we should be most grateful for. Not thankful for … but grateful for.  

As you look back on the journey you have walked in your life, can you see that the tough  times were really the defining moments in your faith life, and that you wouldn’t be the  person you are today, or even have the life that you have today, if you hadn’t endured  through the hardships? And can you also see how that perseverance has molded and  solidified your relationship with God over the years? That shouldn’t make you thankful for  the hardships, but it should make you grateful for having gone through them.  

So, as you gather around the table, or around the Zoom screen, on this Thanksgiving, and  you ponder what possibly you could be thankful for this year – think about these tough  times as opportunities to grow closer to God, to strengthen your faith and trust in Jesus, and  to move from being a person who is thankful for only the good things in life, to one who is  grateful for life itself, with everything included; Or, as Paul puts it, “to be thankful in all  circumstances.” 

Friends and neighbors, take a look around. Think of the people who have come and gone  that mean everything to you. Think of all the great memories, and the ones you’re making  today. Think of the blessings of food and shelter … and of good friends. Think of the freedom  we enjoy and the beauty of all creation. And then look into your heart, and see your Lord  and savior always there with you … in ALL circumstances. So yes, I do think it’s fair to say: It  doesn’t get any better than this … so let’s make the most of it!  

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Grateful to be Your Pastor,  

Pastor Bob


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A TRIBUTE TO OUR FARMERS

It’s that time of the year again when we take time to honor the farmers in our midst. How grateful we are to them for keeping the agri-CULTURE way of life alive and well in and around our community. 

Vine Street Christian Church is especially blessed to have so many “farm families” as part of our “faith family.” The lessons we learn every day throughout the year from our farmers are treasures that keep us rooted in the natural harmony of God’s time. 

Our farmers are there each day when the sun comes up … and long after the sun goes down. The rhythm of their lives is in sync with the seasons that God bestowed upon us. The day’s weather is a dominant presence in their lives, ever dependent on the will of God to provide the proper amount of sun and rain to get through another year. 

The culture of agriculture is one of the greatest gifts we have in our American culture today. It teaches us that all things work for good … and all things work best in God’s time. It slows us down to a human pace and shows us the miracles that can occur – like a seed into a soybean – when we put our trust in God and partner with God for our life’s work. 

Those of us who aren’t farmers can learn a lot from a farmer. Most important, we can learn a lot about how God works and the blessings that fill our lives the more we live in harmony with God’s will. 

God bless our farmers! YOU are the salt of the earth and the light of the world! 

Here is a poem dedicated to our farmers, recommended by Lois Silvanik. 

Soybeans

by Thomas Alan Orr

The October air was warm and musky, blowing

Over brown fields, heavy with the fragrance

Of freshly combined beans, the breath of harvest.

He was pulling a truckload onto the scales

At the elevator near the rail siding north of town.

When a big Cadillac drove up. A man stepped out,

Wearing a three-piece suit and a gold pinky ring.

The man said he had just invested a hundred grand

In soybeans and wanted to see what they looked like.

The farmer stared at the man and was quiet, reaching

For the tobacco in the rear pocket of his jeans,

Where he wore his only ring, a threadbare circle rubbed

By working cans of dip and long hours on the backside

Of a hundred acre run. He scooped up a handful

Of small white beans, the pearls of the prairie, saying:

Soybeans look like a foot of water on the field in April

When you’re ready to plant and can’t get in;

Like three kids at the kitchen table

Eating macaroni and cheese five nights in a row;

Or like a broken part on the combine when

Your credit with the implement dealer is nearly tapped.

Soybeans look like prayers bouncing off the ceiling

When prices on the Chicago grain market start to drop;

Or like your old man’s tears when you tell him

How much the land might bring for subdivisions.

Soybeans look like the first good night of sleep in weeks.

When you unload at the elevator and the kids get Christmas.

He spat a little juice on the tire of the Cadillac,

Laughing despite himself and saying to the man:

Now maybe you can tell me what a hundred grand looks like.

Peace on a tractor … 

Pastor Bob <><


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WHOLEHEARTED OR HALF-HEARTED? IT MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE!

Do you ever stop to reflect on how much of your heart you’re putting into something, or giving to someone? Being “wholehearted” about something or with someone sure makes a big difference, but it can be very hard to measure or define what wholeheartedness is for any one person in any given situation. But you know it when you feel it! 

I’ve been doing a little journaling lately with a book called “the book of the soul: 52 Paths to Living What Matters,” by Mark Nepo. Nepo is a prolific writer on matters of spirituality and the inner life, and is often on the New York Times bestsellers list. His true gift is his ability to “see” the power and the practical applications of the spiritual life across all cultures, religions, and traditions. His work is just as accessible and meaningful to a Hindu, Shinto, Muslim or Christian … or even a “none.”

In his sixth entry in the book, Nepo considers the challenge of living wholeheartedly, claiming that this is the only way “to be lifted by the mystical web of life.” It seems that that the old saying, “you will get out of it what you put into it” is also true in your faith life, in your relationship with God, or in your walk with Jesus. 

So, have you stopped lately to reflect upon how much of your heart you’re giving to God these days? How committed you are to your walk with Jesus? How invested you are in your faith life … and in your church? Nepo says that the “work of being human is to be all-embracing.” When we hold back from investing in the important things in our life, then, he claims, the more random life will appear to be. And “randomness” in our lives makes us very uneasy, as if we’re not in control of things. 

Consider the areas in your life right now that seem to more random (out of control) than you would prefer. One question you may want to ask is: How much of my heart am I investing here? Am I trying to get a bargain, by expecting more out of some area of my life that I am willing to invest? This “wholeheartedness test” can work in almost any part of your life, from your marriage to your work to your family to your church.

But, and this is very important for Nepo, it can also work on yourself!  For instance, think about how “all-embracing” you are with your very own person … you! When you come to yourself wholeheartedly you become able to accept yourself just as you are … everything included. And there is a great freedom from within that comes from honestly accepting all your gifts as well as all your failings. 

When you bring your whole heart to your relationship with yourself, then you no longer deny your stubborn or difficult parts. Your heart becomes spacious enough to hold your full humanity. When this happens, Nepo says, we are able to 1) experience the full miracle of life; and 2) experience the full miracle of love. 

The main reason this happens is because wholeheartedness overcomes what Carl Jung calls our “shadow,” which is where we hide all of our character traits that we would prefer to deny or avoid. As we make less room in our heart for these specific traits, then they become exaggerated within us, and we end up projecting these exaggerated shadow parts of who we are onto others. For instance, it is much more convenient for me to highlight and criticize your self-centeredness than it is for me to deal with mine. 

Think about the traits you have that you would rather deny or avoid. When there is no room in your heart to accept these parts of yourself, then you end up exaggerating them in other people. This means you are not only failing to love yourself, just as you are, but you also end up judging others based on your own shadows. Jung says, “the more we deny any one aspect of who we are, the more powerful and distorted its place in our life.” Eventually, we end up being controlled, even dominated, by the very things about us that we would originally prefer to hide from. 

Wholeheartedness, then, becomes a way to accept, even honor, all the traits about yourself that make you who you are, not just the ones you like. You can never love yourself fully until you love all of yourself! The integrity of wholeheartedness is that it’s completely inclusive.  Not being willing to accept your whole self means that you cannot truly love your whole self. Which, of course, leaves your love fragmented and selective … and that’s not really love at all. 

When we cannot come to accept our selves just as we are, then we cannot come to fully accept and love others just as they are. Nepo puts it this way: “For we can only see as far into the world as we can see into ourselves.” The broader goal of wholeheartedness is to; 1) admit our failings, limitations, and darker impulses, and 2) embrace them into our own efforts at restoring kindness and harmony in our lives. Sounds great! How do we do that? We can begin by accepting our own full humanity, and then help each other repair the torn seams in our lives and in the world, as we discover just how far our love can stretch. 

Searching for my shadows … loving with my whole heart …                                                                                                                                  Pastor Bob <><

 


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