Friday, November 29, 2013

A Modern Day Parable - The Thanksgiving "Special" Bouquet

Sandra felt as low as the heels of her Birkenstocks as she pushed against a November gust and the florist shop door. Her life had been easy, like spring breeze. Then in the fourth month of her second pregnancy, a minor automobile accident stole her ease.
During this Thanksgiving week she would have delivered a son. She grieved over her loss. As if that weren’t enough, her husband’s company threatened a transfer. Then her sister, whose holiday visit she coveted, called saying she could not come. What’s worse, Sandra’s friend infuriated her by suggesting her grief was a God-given path to maturity that would allow her to empathize with others who suffer. “She has no idea what I’m feeling,” thought Sandra with a shudder.
Thanksgiving? Thankful for what? She wondered. For a careless driver whose truck was hardly scratched when he rear-ended? For an air bag that saved her life but took that of her child?
“Good afternoon, may I help you?” The shop clerk’s approach started her.
“I… I need an arrangement,” stammered Sandra.
“For Thanksgiving? Do you want beautiful but ordinary, or would you like to challenge the day with a customer favorite I call the Thanksgiving “Special?” asked the shop clerk. “I’m convinced that flowers tell stories,” she continued. “Are you looking for something that conveys ‘gratitude’ this Thanksgiving?”
“Not exactly!” Sandra blurted out. “In the last five months, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.”
Sandra regretted her outburst, and was surprised when the shop clerk said, “I have the perfect arrangement for you.”
Then the door’s small bell rang, and the shop clerk said, “Hi, Barbara… let me get your order.”
She politely excused herself and walked toward a small workroom, then quickly reappeared, carrying an arrangement of greenery, bows, and long-stemmed thorny roses; except the ends of the rose stems were neatly nipped: there were no flowers. “Want this in a box?” asked the clerk.
Sandra watched for the customer’s response. Was this a joke? Who would want rose stems with no flowers! She waited for laughter, but neither woman laughed.
“Yes, please,” Barbara, replied with an appreciative smile. “You’d think after three years of getting the special, I wouldn’t be so moved by its significance, but I can feel it right here, all over again,” she said as she gently tapped her chest.
“Uh,” stammered Sandra, “that lady just left with, uh… she just left with no flowers!”
“Right,” said the clerk, “I cut off the flowers. That’s the ‘Special”. I call it the Thanksgiving Thorns Bouquet.”
“Oh, come on, you can’t tell me someone is willing to pay for that!” exclaimed Sandra.
“Barbara came into the shop three years ago feeling much like you feel today,” explained the clerk. “She thought she had very little to be thankful for. She had lost her father to cancer, the family business was failing, her son was into drugs, and she was facing major surgery.”
“That same year I had lost my husband,” continued the clerk, “and for the first time in my life, had just spent the holidays alone. I had no children, no husband, no family nearby, and too great a debt to allow any travel.”
“So what did you do?” asked Sandra.
“I learned to be thankful for thorns,” answered the clerk quietly. “I’ve always thanked God for good things in life and never to ask Him why those good things happened to me, but when bad stuff hit, did I ever ask! It took time for me to learn that dark times are important. I have always enjoyed the ‘flowers’ of life, but it took thorns to show me the beauty of God’s comfort. You know, the Bible says that God comforts us when we’re afflicted, and from His consolation we learn to comfort others.” Sandra sucked in her breath as she thought about the very thing her friend had tried to tell her. “I guess the truth is I don’t want comfort. I’ve lost a baby and I’m angry with God.”
Just then someone else walked into the shop.
“Hey, Phil!” shouted the clerk to the balding, rotund man.
“My wife sent me in to get our usual Thanksgiving arrangement… twelve thorny, long-stemmed stems,” laughed Phil as the clerk handed him a tissue-wrapped arrangement from the refrigerator.
“Those are for your wife?” asked Sandra incredulously. “Do you mind me asking why she wants something that looks like that?”
“No… I’m glad you asked,” Phil replied. “Four years ago my wife and I nearly divorced. After forty years, we were in a real mess, but the Lord’s grace and guidance, we slogged through problem after problem. He rescued our marriage. Jenny here (the clerk) told me she kept a vase of rose stems to remind her of what she learned from ‘thorny’ times, and that was good enough for me. I took home some of those stems. My wife and I decided to label each one for a specific ‘problem’ and give thanks for what that problem taught us.”
As Phil paid the clerk, he said to Sandra, “I highly recommend the ‘Special.’”
I don’t know if I can be thankful for the thorns in my life,” Sandra said to the clerk. “It’s all too… fresh.”
“Well,” the clerk replied carefully, “my experience has shown me that thorns make roses more precious. We treasure God’s providential care more during trouble than at any other time. Remember, it was a crown of thorns that Jesus wore so we might know His love. Don’t resent the thorns.”
Tears rolled down Sandra’s cheeks. For the first time since the accident, she loosened her grip on resentment.
“I’ll take those twelve long-stemmed thorns, please.” She managed to choke out.
“I hoped you would,” said the clerk gently. “I’ll have them ready in a minute.”
“Thank you. What do I owe you?” Sarah asked.
“Nothing; nothing but a promise to allow God to heal your heart. The first year’s arrangement is always on me.” The clerk smiled and handed a card to Sandra. “I’ll attached this care to your arrangement, but maybe you would like to read it first.”
It read: “My God, I have never thanked You for my thorns. I have thanked You a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorns. Teach me the glory of the life I bear; teach me the value of my thorns. Show me that I have climbed closer to You along the path of pain. Show me that, through my tears, the colors of Your rainbow look much more brilliant.”
Praise Him for your roses, thank Him for your thorns. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Happy, Happy, Happy, Thanksgiving by Adon Taft

Adon Taft was the religion editor for the Miami Herald for 37 years. Those of us who were privileged to grow up in Miami and got to read the Miami Herald (at that time one of the best newspapers in the country) treated his column as part of our religious experience. He was considered one of the top religion editors in the country. Adon, now retired, is a member at First, United Methodist Church of Brooksville.
A Happy, Happy, Happy, Thanksgiving By ADON TAFT

If anybody in America celebrates this Thanksgiving anywhere close to the way the Pilgrims did that first Thanksgiving way back in 1621, it probably will be the Duck Dynasty family of Phil and Kay Robertson.

No matter what bird - turkey, duck, chicken, quail- -  is on the table, it is likely to be accompanied by deer, squirrel, raccoon, frog legs, crawfish or anything else one of the family shot or caught on or near their Louisiana acreage. Home-grown tomatoes, cabbage, potatoes, corn and berries probably will be on the menu as well.

Those who know the Duck Commander's story (told in his book, "Happy, Happy, Happy" with Mark Schlabach) are aware that in his early life even the bare necessities were scarce and self reliance was a requirement. Phil and two of his four sons also had to overcome drug and alcohol problems associated with "honky-tonk life."

Yet their circumstances likely were not as harsh as the conditions faced by the Pilgrims in a strange land. They faced a winter of cruel weather following a difficult four-month crossing of the Atlantic Ocean during which the 102 passengers - including 34 children - squeezed aboard the "Mayflower" lost four of their number. An additional 17 of the Massachusetts colonists died within the first three months of their late November landing and supplies were scarce.

Spurred on by their desire for religious freedom, the newcomers struggled to build houses, plant crops, and explore the territory despite continuing hardships. But there was no activity on Sundays, scrupulously observed as days of worship and rest. These were the men who had signed the Mayflower Compact declaring that what they were undertaking was "for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith" (seldom mentioned in schools that seem adverse to any hint of religion anymore, in Phil's view).

Things began to change for members of the redneck Robertson clan as they built a hand-crafted duck caller business into a multi-million dollar conglomerate for which they declare their thankfulness. Hidden by the bib overalls or hunter's camouflage garb of the bearded men is the fact that several of those in the Duck Dynasty have advanced degrees. (Phil, a former teacher, has a master's degree in education.)

The biggest change came when at age 28 Phil, followed by the boys, came to know "Jesus Christ, son of the Almighty God, who washed away my sins, taught me a better way to live, and guaranteed my eternal inheritance." (Some of the women were way ahead of them.)

For their part, the Pilgrims were thankful for the seemingly miraculous appearance of Samoset, an Indian chief from Maine, and Squanto, a Patuxent brave. Both spoke some English, possibly picked up as slaves taken to Spain and England. The pair guided the planting of a bumper crop of vegetables and introduced the Pilgrims to the local Indian chief, Massasoit, who showed them where and how to hunt the animals of the area.

So with 90 Indians as their guests, the Pilgrims, not as straight-laced as often portrayed, partied for three or four days, eating heartily, drinking ale, dancing, and playing games - one akin to cricket or stick ball. Of course there was worship featuring prayers of thanksgiving.

Viewers of the Dynasty reality show on TV know the Robertsons like to party. Most are athletic and into sports. Phil was the starting quarterback on the Louisiana Tech football team when former Pittsburg Steelers Hall-of-Famer Terry Bradshaw was his backup.

They also know not just a holiday banquet but daily family dinners begin with prayers of thanksgiving (over the objection of producers) as a regular feature of the series. All the Robertsons are avid Bible students. Three are ordained preachers, one a pastor.

According to his book, Phil believes not just the way they celebrate Thanksgiving but the faith shared by his family is akin to that of the early settlers and founding fathers.

"I'm right there with our founding fathers," he writes. "I'm a patriot and a Christian, and I'm moving forth with what they started...I may be the only man reading and quoting Scripture, carrying his Bible and blowing duck calls to crowds, but, hey, it has to start somewhere. It's what makes me happy, happy, happy."

There will not be post for tomorrow - Thanksgiving Day - I pray that you will have a most blessed day with family and friends. Pastor Jim

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Getting everything that we have coming to us? Really? A little twist on Thanksgiving thinking! (Matthew 21:27)

SCRIPTURE: Matthew 21:27d (TM)
You'll get everything you have coming to you, a personal gift.

One morning R.C. Chapman, a devout Christian, was asked how he was feeling. "I'm burdened this morning!" was his reply. But his happy countenance contradicted his words. So the questioner exclaimed in surprise, "Are you really burdened, Mr. Chapman?" "Yes, but it's a wonderful burden--it's an overabundance of blessings for which I cannot find enough time or words to express my gratitude!" Seeing the puzzled look on the face of his friend, Chapman added with a smile, "I am referring to Psalm 68:19, which fully describes my condition. In that verse the Father in heaven reminds us that He 'daily loads us with benefits.'"

The larger context of the Matthew scripture has Jesus rebuking Peter about Peter’s negative response to the soon to be unfolding circumstances of Jesus’ final days on earth. I’ve always been captivated by the paraphrase of The Message: “You’ll get everything you have coming to you…” to which I normally respond: “God, I hope not!” Even further is the fact that God was going to make it a “personal gift”… really? Boy would I be in trouble. How about you?

If we got what we deserved we would all be in trouble… big trouble… take our breath away kind of trouble… stop-the-world-I-want-to-get-off trouble.

Praise be to God that God doesn’t deliver what we deserve, but what he decides to give. We just need to stop this maddening Protestant work ethics thinking. We cannot earn anything from God no matter how hard we work. We don’t deserve anything. We haven’t earned diddly squat no matter how good we think we have been.

God’s personal gift to us is grace, pure and simple... undeserved, unwarranted, and unexpected. God chooses to bless us simply because he chooses to bless us… end of story. Or, is it the beginning of the story… his story and our spiritual walk with him. God loves us into being what he has designed us to be. Oh, we can fight it, but why would we? We would only be like Don Quixote with drawn sword fighting the windmills of our existence.

Isn’t it better just to give in and allow God to take over? Life sure works better when we follow the operating instructions for living. When we do we discover what R.C. Chapman discovered… that God “daily loads us with benefits.” For that we are thankful, the old turkey day celebration takes on a how lot of meaning and purpose.


Well, God the day of Thanksgiving, or should it be Thanks-living, is fast approaching – much quicker that we would like, but here it comes ready or not. Disturb us out of our comfort zones. Bring us to a new understanding of what this “blessings from Heaven” stuff is all about. Help us understand there truly is a reason for the daily loading of your benefits… and it is more than just to make us feel good… or special… or get us into heaven… help us to take it to the next level!

Monday, November 25, 2013

God is still Awesome even if we get too busy to acknowledge it (Psalm 47:1-2)

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 47:1-2 (TM)
Clap your hands, all you people! Shout joyfully to God with a joyous shout! Because the LORD Most High is awesome, he is the great king of the whole world.

In 1715 King Louis XIV of France died after a reign of 72 years. He had called himself "the Great," and was the monarch who made the famous statement, "I am the state!" His court was the most magnificent in Europe, and his funeral was equally spectacular. As his body lay in state in a golden coffin, orders were given that the cathedral should be very dimly lit with only a special candle set above his coffin, to dramatize his greatness. At the memorial, thousands waited in hushed silence. Then Bishop Massilon began to speak; slowly reaching down, he snuffed out the candle and said, "Only God is great."

If anyone has worshipped in a church in the last 5 years or so I’m very confident that during that experience the congregation sang: Our God is an awesome God he reigns… From heaven above… With wisdom, power and love… our God is an awesome. I can bet that the tune is starting to run in your head right now, as it is mine.

Truly God is awesome, but do we live a life that bares testimony to that reality?

Let’s just admit a basic reality: We get caught up with the stuff of life as in, working out the Thanksgiving day menu and then running off to do the necessary shopping all the while we are pulling out the Christmas decorations. If God is lucky we might give him our attention for a moment or two. We might even bow our heads and tell him thanks. Yeah, I get it – we are busy folk. When all the festivities are over and the last football game has been played – God will still be awesome. He knows we love him regardless of how much attention we give to him and what he has done.

While God desires our full attention he is willing to take our leftovers… after all, as our thinking goes, the leftovers from the big Thanksgiving dinner are very close, if not even better than the actual meal it self. Leftovers aren’t that bad.

He still loves us no matter how screwy our priorities get during the Halloween to New Years stretch. He patiently waits for us to turn back to him. So, as we make that turn back to God may we join the endless line of splendor and start clapping our hands, raising our voices in a great joy filled shout to our awesome and patient God!


Yes, God, it is “that” season again. The season of being busy… the season of trying to keep our priorities straight, but getting all of our priorities out of whack… the season of trying to get too much accomplished in too little time. We have one word that expresses our real need – HELP! Please Lord, don’t get lost in all of our merry making!  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Is opportunity knocking? (Colossians 4:5)

Please note that I will be taking a week off from writing this blog.

SCRIPTURE: Colossians 4:5 (TM)
Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders. Don't miss a trick. Make the most of every opportunity.

The Irish Potato Famine (1846-1851) resulted in a 30 percent drop in the population of the west of Ireland. The prolonged suffering of the Irish peasantry had broken the survivors in body and spirit.
John Bloomfield, the owner of Castle Caldwell in County Fermanagh, was working on the recovery of his estate when he noticed that the exteriors of his tenant farmers' small cottages had a vivid white finish. He was informed that there was a clay deposit on his property of unusually fine quality. To generate revenue and provide employment on his estate, he built a pottery at the village of Belleek in 1857. The unusually fine clay yielded a porcelain china that was translucent with a glass-like finish. It was worked into traditional Irish designs and was an immediate success.
Today, Belleek's delicate strength and its iridescent pearlized glaze is enthusiastically purchased the world over. This multimillion-dollar industry arose from innovative thinking during some very anxious times. 

Opportunity only knocks once.

How often have we said: “Boy, I wish I had thought of that!” The problem is that we probably did, but didn’t follow through with the thought. It only knocks once.

This can be true in witnessing to the truth that is in us. Opportunities abound constantly around us to witness to that inner truth, but for one reason or another we just let them pass… and the opportunity never knocks again. Darn.

This, “oh, well, just leave it to another day” attitude is sad.  I’m glad that John Bloomfield didn’t ignore what he had noticed for my wife and I am privileged to have a couple of pieces of Belleek china in our home. Truly, they are exquisite and they are very beautiful.

Creating and collecting china is one thing, but when we miss the opportunity to share Christ … well, that is a different matter totally. Paul in his letter was encouraging his readers to take advantage of every opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Those opportunities might knock more than once, but why chance it.

The key in this is to listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Those passing thoughts such as, “I should call so-and-so” or “I should pick up the phone call so-and-so” or “I really should write so-and-so” or “I should go out to lunch with so-and-so” or a thousand and one other little Holy Spirit promptings that come to us over the course of a week, should not be ignored.

Those thoughts are opportunity knocking. Pay attention. The Holy Spirit is trying to tell us something. A need might go unfulfilled and an opportunity to share the faith that claims us might be missed. We should “make the most of every opportunity.”

Here’s a thought: How often does someone say to us “have a good day” and all we say is “thank you”? Maybe we should think about a short response that would give God the glory. I don’t know what would work for you, but what I have been responding with is: “Every day that I’m alive and Jesus is still on his throne is a good day!” You would be surprised the kind of response I get back.

In other words, find some way to respond to the numerous opportunities that come our way every day… opportunity is knocking!


May we take hold of every opportunity that comes our way. If we ignore any of those opportunities make us uncomfortable until we do.