Posts Tagged ‘thanksgiving’

Deuteronomy 1:1-5

Introduction to Moses’ First Address

It is Thanksgiving Day in America today. It is a time of reflection. It is a time of looking back at the road that has led to this point in time. Sometimes you wonder why all the twists and turns have occurred. Why did you have to go through all the stuff to get where you are. Wouldn’t have been easier if we had just taken a straight line to where you are now. A lot of times, we say, “Man, if I only knew then what I know now, things would be so different!” When you think of the twists and turns of your life, man, it is right. If we knew then what we know now, we wouldn’t have made some of the choices that we made.


For example, with me, I think of some of the choices that I have made or the choices that were made for me. As many of you know, I grew up as a Methodist preacher’s kid. One of the most fateful decisions of my life was made for me as a result of being a Methodist preacher’s kid. The Methodist Church in South Carolina in its wisdom thought it was best to move my dad from his appointment as the Associate Pastor (the only time he was not the head pastor) at Trinity UMC in Anderson, SC to Travelers Rest & Jackson Grove United Methodist churches in Travelers Rest, SC back in 1976 when I was about to turn 14. What if? That one move of all the moves that we made when I was growing up affected the entire trajectory of my life. That was the most fateful move of the history of my life. That move. That move, everything hinges on it. I often wonder what if when it comes to that move. What if my dad had gotten moved somewhere else. I would have never met Lisa, who became my first wife, and would not have had to go through all the stuff that I went through with. With the marriage to her and her having a handicapped mother to care, we ended up staying in Greenville. There were opportunities to move away from the Greenville area that I had to turn down because of the whole situation with her mother. I would never had to suffer through her addictions and the pain and suffering that I had to go through because of that.


What if I had broken up with Lisa while were dating in high school? That would have changed everything. There was one girl, Mindy Walker, that I would have broken up with Lisa for but did not have quite the cuhanas to do it. I often wonder how that would have changed my life. Mindy wanted me to be her boyfriend but I was too, what amounts to being, scared of Lisa’s wrath to ever go through with it. Mindy was so much calmer and less volatile than Lisa. That was a missed opportunity that I wonder what would have happened to my life if I had taken that path – the Mindy project, the Mindy path. What would my life had been like. Where would I be right now?


What if I would have gone to Clemson University for college like I wanted to? Instead of staying home in Greenville and going to Furman University so that I could stay near Lisa. I know most likely if I had gone just an hour away from Greenville and went to Clemson that hour away would have changed everything. It most likely would have caused Lisa and me to drift apart. It would have become harder and harder to leave Tiger Town and come home every weekend because of the things I would have become involved in over at Clemson. Probably a fraternity. I would have met people that would have changed my life. Lisa and I would most likely have broken up over that hour away in Clemson. What would have my life have been like if I had gone to Clemson and met a Clemson girl? What would have my college experience been like? Where would I be now if I had met and married a Clemson girl? What would I be doing? Where would I be living?


What if I had never accepted that job at Dunlop Slazenger Corporation (DSC) where I met Trena. After all the drug addiction, drama, manipulativeness, and vindictiveness that I suffered through with Lisa, Trena was a breath of fresh air. A breath of sanity. A breath of normalness. I would have never met her if I had not accepted the job at DSC. I would have never fell madly in love with her and left Lisa. That marriage proved to be just as painful as the first. Trena hated anything to do with my past. I ended up cutting myself off from friends from my past and from my family. The whole my kids vs. your kids thing wound up destroying that marriage. What if I had more balls to stand up to her and say that I am going to do more than just what was legally necessary for my children. What if I had not been so addicted to access to female charms? What if? What if I had not met her? What if I had gone to work somewhere else and found someone else at a different place of employment. What would my life be like now? I would not have had to move away from Greenville finally after 28 years just to get away from my past and make more money because I was the only one funding my oldest daughther’s college experience at Clemson? Where would I be now?


The circuitous route of my life would be totally different if I had not moved to Travelers Rest. It would be totally different if I had gone to Clemson instead of Furman. The trajectory of my life would be totally different if I had not gone to work at Dunlop Slazenger Corporation. All the pain and suffering that I have gone through in my life may have not occurred if I had not met Lisa or met Trena. Things would be so different now. If I had only made different choices!


But then I think. If I had not met Lisa (even with all the pain that relationship caused), I would not have my wonderful daughters, Meghan and Taylor. Sure, I would have children but they would not be Meghan and Taylor. Those unique, quirky, wonderful daughters that they are. If I had not met Trena, I would not appreciate the relationship that I have with my children now (because I almost lost total touch with my own kids during my marriage to Trena). If I had not met Trena, I would not know about the fact that I was giving up my soul because of access to sex. If I had not met Trena, I would have never known the pain and suffering of withdrawing from making a person your god. I would not know of the fact that I could actually make it on my own without a woman in my life. If I had not met Lisa and Trena, I would not have learned to be more frugal with money. While married to these ladies, I sold my credit rating down the river just to make them happy. If I had not met and married these ladies and lived in the places that I lived and lived the lifestyles that I lived with them, I would not have moved to Rock Hill, SC after 30 years in the Greenville, SC area. If I had not known the life that I lived in Greenville, I would have never been ready to met my wife that I have now, Elena.


For having the past that I had with my previous wives, I would not have such a great appreciation that I have a great friend, my best friend, in her. I would not appreciate that we have friendship that extends beyond the bedroom into the living room. I would not appreciate how we have worked so incredibly hard to restore my credit to the point that I don’t have to make exceptions for my credit anymore. We have worked hard to save and work toward living with less and less debt. We have worked hard to be in a position to be generous. We have been blessed so much through our obedience to God that He has generously blessed us in so many ways. I wonder what my life would be like if I had not met Elena. I shutter at the thought. With being married to her, I have learned about unconditional love from her. With Elena, she is my accountability partner when it comes to my relationship with the Lord. With Elena, I know of comfort and security. I praise God for the lack of drama in our marriage. She is my resting place. She is my high ground above the floods that were my life.


Without my past, I would not know of the peace and serenity of my present. Without my past, I could not really appreciate the soundness of my present. Without the missed turns and twists in the road of my life, I would not know of the easy stream that I am floating down now. I know that I am blessed right now. I know that I have it good right now. It is not an expectation. It is an appreciation. If I did not have my past, I could not appreciate my present. A good wife. A good life. A generous life. A blessed life. A life where I appreciate the joy of a grandchild. All of the roses of my life now would not smell so sweet if it were not for my past.


The thanksgiving for where I am today is what I thought of when I read today’s passage. That thanksgiving comes from seeing where you are after all you have been through is what I thought of. Let’s read it together:


1 These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the wilderness east of the Jordan—that is, in the Arabah—opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab. 2 (It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.)


3 In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all that the Lord had commanded him concerning them. 4 This was after he had defeated Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, and at Edrei had defeated Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth.


5 East of the Jordan in the territory of Moab, Moses began to expound this law, saying


The Israelites spend 40 years on a journey that should have lasted 11 days at the time. It wasn’t distance that stood between them and the Promised Land. It was the condition of their hearts. God’s purpose went deeper than simply transporting a large group of people from one place to another. He was preparing them to live in obedience to Him once they arrived. What good was the Promised Land if the Israelites were just as wicked as the people living there? The journey was a painful but necessary part of their preparation. Through it, God taught the Israelites who He is – the living God, the Leader of their Nation. He also taught them who they were: people who were fallen, sinful, prone to rebellion, and doubt. He have His rebellious people the law to help them understand, how to relate to God and other people.


For you and me, our spiritual journey may be lengthy and we may face pain, discouragement, and difficulties. But remember, God is not simply keeping you alive to experience these things. He is preparing you to live for service and devotion to Him. The roads we travel are not wasted. God is preparing us for what He has next for us. Nothing is random. Nothing is purposeless.


On this Thanksgiving Day, I thank God for the twists and turns of my life. It makes me who I am today. It makes me appreciate the calm waters upon which I sail right now. Without the wilderness of my past life, I could not truly appreciate the Promised Land in which I live now. Thank you Lord. I enter Your gates with thanksgiving and Your courts with praise. Thank you Lord for the wilderness. It has made me see your hand in my life. I am thankful for you placing me on the high ground. It is not lost on me that I am blessed beyond all that I could imagine or hope for.


Amen and Amen.

Numbers 31:25-54 (Part 2 of 2)

Division of the Plunder

In less than two weeks, our church will hold its most major community outreach event of the year. We call it the Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway (the TMG). We hold it annually on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving Day. It is a major event in the life of our church. It is a major financial investment of our church and it is a major investment of probably half of the attendees of our church who rotate in and out during the course of the 4-5 hour event. It is a major logistical event. There are ten different functional teams that manage this event. We have representatives of at least 500 families that pass through our doors on that date. We give away all the fixings for a family meal at home for these 500 families and we also give away coats as well. Some churches invite people to their church to have a meal on-site which seems so impersonal. We say let’s give away the meals and let our guests having family time on a family day in their family home. Many of these guests would not have a Thanksgiving meal at home otherwise, because of the expense often associated with Thanksgiving meals.


I am profoundly touched by the fact that I often live my life with blinders on to the desperation that often goes on around me in my community. There are sure families that pass through the TMG that are just working the system and are lazy and could work but choose to suck off the teets of public assistance. However, so many of the people that come through our doors are genuinely in need. Many have been made destitute by their disabilities. Many have made stupid mistakes in their life that have caused their poverty and they are trying to work their way back. So many of these particular types get caught in the cycle of poverty and though they are trying to break free and they live so close to the edge that one thing can go wrong and send them spiraling back down to the ground. Then, there are the elderly folks who are just getting by on social security and medications eat up most of their money. Sure, maybe some of these elderly folks should have planned for retirement better but many have been in poverty all their lives and could not save. Maybe they should have taken school more seriously growing up but those are things of people’s pasts. They find themselves in poverty NOW. We cannot judge them for the mistakes of their pasts. We can only love them NOW. We can only show them hospitality NOW. We can only share the gospel with them NOW. We can only pray with them and for them NOW. We can only clothe them NOW. We can only feed them NOW.


I also walk away profoundly aware of how completely blessed that I am. God has given me the ability to earn a good living as an accountant. He has blessed with by working with a company for the past eight (8) years that has completely been so good to me. During my time at Fujikura America and the ways this company has blessed me, I have been able to right my ship financially to the point that the only major debt that we have is our mortgage. Through the grace of God and understanding of His Word, we have come to the place where we can be generous without having to think about whether we can do it or not. It is a matter of determining how much not if. We have changed our mindset about things and money. We have carved out space to be obedient to the Lord in our finances. It was a tough road that required discipline to get there but we are here for now. Something may come along and blow us out of the water financially but we will have been trying to prepare for that during this season of blessing. We truly do know that we are blessed. We truly do know that it is not because we figured something out that others don’t. It is because the Lord has guided us and chiseled us and matured us into a desire to please Him first above all others. We know that our season of blessing is directly from the Lord. It is because obedience to the Lord brings the blessing of a changed mindset about possessions and about the use of money. It brings tears to my eyes to think about how God has blessed Elena and me. When you think about how God lifted us both out of bad marriages with bad finances and where God was not present to this plateau of obedience and blessing, it is profoundly humbling. The twists, turns, and intersections of life that brought Elena and me together and the roads that He sent us down since we met are not coincidence. It is part of God’s plan for the place that we are at right now. And right now is preparation for what He has in store next. It is completely humbling.


It is not lost on either one of us that we are completely blessed. We are humbled by it. We know where we’ve been and know for a fact that God saw us through it and placed us on dry ground on this plateau we currently occupy. It is for that reason that we give back to our Lord and want to do so generously. He lifted us up out of the pit and placed us on dry ground. There is so much thanksgiving in our heart for what God has done in our lives. There are joyful tears. There is profound humility. We give back to the Lord as simply a thank you for what He has done. We wish we could do more. The annual TMG at our church is at least one reminder to us to never forget the blessings that the Lord has bestowed upon us and reinforces our hearts of thanksgiving.


I thought of thanksgiving today when I read through this passage and see how a portion of the spoils of victory were given to the Lord:


25 The Lord said to Moses, 26 “You and Eleazar the priest and the family heads of the community are to count all the people and animals that were captured. 27 Divide the spoils equally between the soldiers who took part in the battle and the rest of the community. 28 From the soldiers who fought in the battle, set apart as tribute for the Lord one out of every five hundred, whether people, cattle, donkeys or sheep. 29 Take this tribute from their half share and give it to Eleazar the priest as the Lord’s part. 30 From the Israelites’ half, select one out of every fifty, whether people, cattle, donkeys, sheep or other animals. Give them to the Levites, who are responsible for the care of the Lord’s tabernacle.” 31 So Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the Lord commanded Moses.


32 The plunder remaining from the spoils that the soldiers took was 675,000 sheep, 33 72,000 cattle, 34 61,000 donkeys 35 and 32,000 women who had never slept with a man.


36 The half share of those who fought in the battle was:


337,500 sheep, 37 of which the tribute for the Lord was 675;


38 36,000 cattle, of which the tribute for the Lord was 72;


39 30,500 donkeys, of which the tribute for the Lord was 61;


40 16,000 people, of whom the tribute for the Lord was 32.


41 Moses gave the tribute to Eleazar the priest as the Lord’s part, as the Lord commanded Moses.


42 The half belonging to the Israelites, which Moses set apart from that of the fighting men— 43 the community’s half—was 337,500 sheep, 44 36,000 cattle, 45 30,500 donkeys 46 and 16,000 people. 47 From the Israelites’ half, Moses selected one out of every fifty people and animals, as the Lord commanded him, and gave them to the Levites, who were responsible for the care of the Lord’s tabernacle.


48 Then the officers who were over the units of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—went to Moses 49 and said to him, “Your servants have counted the soldiers under our command, and not one is missing. 50 So we have brought as an offering to the Lord the gold articles each of us acquired—armlets, bracelets, signet rings, earrings and necklaces—to make atonement for ourselves before the Lord.”


51 Moses and Eleazar the priest accepted from them the gold—all the crafted articles. 52 All the gold from the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds that Moses and Eleazar presented as a gift to the Lord weighed 16,750 shekels.[a] 53 Each soldier had taken plunder for himself. 54 Moses and Eleazar the priest accepted the gold from the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds and brought it into the tent of meeting as a memorial for the Israelites before the Lord.


How often we put blinders on and do not see the world around us! How often do we think what we have is through our own effort. Here in this passage, we see the Israelites willing giving back to the Lord from the spoils of victory. The Israelites knew that their victory came from God. They only sent out 12,000 men to fight a much larger force so it was without begrudging that they gave a portion of the spoils back to the Lord.


Should we not be the same way. Do we live with blinders on and not see or explain away poverty of others just so we can justify that new car, that overpriced vacation, that new TV, you name. We mortgage our lives away and think how proud we are of the things we have and all the debt that goes with it. Let us learn to live simpler lives. Let us learn to live a life of thanksgiving to the Lord. Let us remember where our blessings come from. They come from the Lord. He gives us our abilities. Let us carve out room to take our blinder off and be generous as acts of thanksgiving to the Lord. He has placed us on this plateau to be a beacon to the world around us. Let us never forget it all comes from Him and we have humble responsibility to give Him thanks for it.


Amen and Amen.