Pastor’s Perspective – November 2013
We have experienced some incredible blessings in the past few months. From the beauty of our mild autumn weather to the success of our Trunk or Treat program, First Baptist Church has seen blessings beyond compare. As we enter the month of November and the beginning of the holiday season, it is important for us to count our blessings and prepare our hearts for the work that God in Jesus Christ is accomplishing through the people of First Baptist Church of Greater Toledo.
As the nation prepares to celebrate our annual day of Thanksgiving, it is important that the Church lead the way in showing the world the spirit of Thanksgiving through the grace of God in Jesus Christ. The scriptures show us that we were intended to be a thankful people. When God saved Noah from the flood he responded with thanksgiving and praise. When God freed the Israeli from bondage in Egypt, the people of God responded to the mercy and saving grace of God with acts of remembrance and thanksgiving. Noah’s story continues to call us to remember God’s mercy every time we look at a rainbow in the sky; and the Exodus narrative presented the Israelite people with a new festival (Passover) in honor of God’s saving power.
Each time that God’s saving power was experienced by the people of God, they responded by changing the way in which they viewed the world and the way in which they transformed their schedules and lifestyles. Upon the world’s Creation, the Sabbath (Saturday) was set aside as a day of rest. When Jesus rose from the dead the Church transformed the day of remembrance from the last day of the week to the first day (Sunday), the day of Resurrection. God’s salvation and grace causes us to remember anniversaries of baptisms, births, and marital unions. Each experience changes our calendar and changes our lives.
When the people of God experienced God’s presence they marked it in their hearts and they reflected it in their calendars. Many of these days have become, in America, holidays celebrated by all of the society (Christian or not). This is why we celebrate days like Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas, and even Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras) and All Saints Day (Halloween) as pseudonational holidays.
As time passed the United States of America began to slowly move away from the religious symbolism of its national days of prayer and celebration. Halloween slowly became more important than All Saints, and eventually eclipsed even Easter in terms of appeal and money spent in celebration. In recent years Mardi Gras beads have replaced the imposition of ashes as the headline grabbers on the morning and evening news.
As these changes took place many within the Church bemoaned the loss of America’s faith. We pined for the days in which the Church and the State had cultural places of convergence, and at times grew angry at the disrespect offered to American Cultural Christianity. Our first inclination was (and always is) to blame those in places of power and governmental authority. It is always easier to place blame than it is to take responsibility.
The problem with blame, however, is that it always places the power to correct the flaw in the hands of someone else. To us a sports analogy, teams that blame the officials for the loss will never take responsibility for their failures in a way that will lead them toward success. They will never truly be winners, since they will always labor under the false assumption that someone else controls their destiny. True champions take responsibility, if only to take authority in their lives, work, and future. A Church that blames the state for the loss of the holiday season will also sit and wait for the government to take the lead in transforming our spiritual destiny. This would be a mistake of tragic proportions.
Each holiday season brings another round of the take back the holy days argument. Politicians and pundits will use the controversy to sell books. The mainstream media will use the controversy to sell newspapers or ads for the local news. Well meaning Christians will use the argument as a way to blow off steam or to find a way to tear the lid off the teenager who wishes them a Happy Holiday at the checkout of the local Wal-Mart.
None of them will change the world or make it a better place. Few of them will even move beyond the stance of complaint. There is a way, however, to reestablish the old way, without the grinding of axes or the imposition of state-based power. Simply mark the day and remember.
This process can begin on Thanksgiving day, but you don’t have to wait until then to do it. All I am asking you to do is mark days of celebration, praise and thanksgiving in your calendars and in your lives. Write them on your hearts and memorialize them in your life. You probably already do these things in small ways today. For instance I am sure that most of you celebrate family birthdays with party, gifts or cards. The birthday is not state sanctioned or reinforced by the manager at the local Kroger, but that never stopped you from sending a card or email, did it?
You celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other important dates with family and friends, but have you considered that you can turn your whole life into a celebration of what God has done? Do you remember the first day that you entered your local Church? Celebrate it. Do you remember the day in which you were baptized? Mark it on your calendar. How about the day in which your son or grand -daughter received the grace of Jesus Christ in salvation? Isn’t that day worthy of celebration?
You can add historical dates and moments to the calendar as well. Memorializing the day that your
great grandparents entered the United States as immigrants, or remembering the day in which the cornerstone was laid at your local Church. Before you know it your entire calendar might be filled with things to remember, moments to consider, and blessings to praise God for.
In today’s world it is sometimes hard to be thankful people. It seems that the news is relentlessly negative and so many things seem to be beyond our control. We surround ourselves with bad news and listen to prophets of doom on television and radio, and before you know it, like Chicken Little you spend your whole life expecting the sky to fall.
Now before you pen that letter to the editor complaining about the sorry state of news coverage, let me restate my point. It is not their fault. You cannot change your life by demanding that someone else change their perspective. All you can do is take control of your own outlook and attitude.
The spirit of thanksgiving is embodied in this wonderful phrase from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Join me this month (and every month) in celebrating the work of God, one day at a time.