Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving

A few years ago I did a solo climb of Kit Carson Peak.  This is a remote peak in the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) mountains of Colorado.  It was a tough trek, made more difficult by a chest cold I had been fighting.  After being up above 13,000 feet for a few hours, my body and my mind were saying: “Let’s climb this one another day!!”  They weren’t just suggesting it, they were shouting it.  I do confess that I was ready to call it quits when I decided to stop and take time to pray, giving thanks for the awesome beauty all around me.  Soon after that prayer, I began to regain my strength and determination to reach the summit.  Before I knew it, I reached the summit at 14,165 feet.  It was glorious (as every summit is)!

There were awesome views to take in and food to munch, but the one thing that stands out above all the rest is when I took time to give thanks to God.  There was surely much to give thanks for at that moment…including my physical well-being.  I also pulled out my pocket-sized Bible and read Psalm 8.  That psalm begins and ends with these words: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”   Looking out from the top of Kit Carson Peak brought that psalm to life!  There were several 14,000 foot peaks nearby that brought back memories of other climbs I had made…Crestone Needle (my very first 14’er), Crestone Peak (flying a kite off the top), Challenger Peak (another solo climb), and Humbolt Peak (my two daughters first 14er)…there far below was the mystery of the Great Sand Dunes National Monument that I had rolled down with my family…and stretching out to the horizons were 1,000’s of miles of awesome beauty.  The wonderful memories and the incredible beauty caused my heart to soar with thanksgiving to God.  It was indeed a “thankful” and worshipful moment.

Times like that seem natural for giving thanks to God.  Times of deliverance from some great fear or experiencing some great excitement can bring out the thanksgiving in us.  Yet, truth be known, God desires and delights in our giving of thanks at all times.  Ephesians 5:20 tells us to “always give thanks to God the Father for everything.”

Hopefully, you will be reading this before Thanksgiving Day.  It’s wonderful to have a day set aside for all of us to give thanks.  One of our traditions at home is to go around the dinner table and have each person give one thing they for which they are thankful.  Surprisingly, it can be a very moving time.  I remember a few years ago when my parents told their grandchildren how thankful they were to have another year of life to just be with them…that moved everyone’s heart!

It is good to have a Thanksgiving Day, but it’s even better to give thanks each and every day.  Today is a good day to begin (or continue) to make the giving of thanks a regular part of our daily lives.  Even in the midst of what seems to be the absolute worst of times in our lives, pausing to give thanks to our Lord can truly help us.  It can bring a perspective that we may not have been thinking about.

Another suggestion to assist you in getting started with giving thanks is to use Psalm 136.  This is a psalm of thanksgiving for: 1) who God is; 2) His creation; 3) His deliverance; 4) His leading in your life; 5) His promises and care; and 6) once again, for who God is.  As you read this psalm, take time to personally thank God for some specific things in your life.  It is by the Grace of God that each of us still has the breath of life in us.  As you begin to thank God for whatever comes to your mind, you’ll find more and more things to be thankful for in this life.  May God bless you this Thanksgiving Day and always.  Here’s Psalm 136 for your enjoyment (Whenever God repeats Himself, I take it that He wants us really hear it in our hearts…so take note of the 26 repetitions in this Psalm):

Psalm 136

1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever.

2 Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever.

3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever.

4 to him who alone does great wonders, His love endures forever.

5 who by his understanding made the heavens, His love endures forever.

6 who spread out the earth upon the waters, His love endures forever.

7 who made the great lights— His love endures forever.

8 the sun to govern the day, His love endures forever.

9 the moon and stars to govern the night; His love endures forever.

10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt His love endures forever.

11 and brought Israel out from among them His love endures forever.

12 with a mighty hand and outstretched arm; His love endures forever.

13 to him who divided the Red Sea asunder His love endures forever.

14 and brought Israel through the midst of it, His love endures forever.

15 but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea; His love endures forever.

16 to him who led his people through the desert, His love endures forever.

17 who struck down great kings, His love endures forever.

18 and killed mighty kings— His love endures forever.

19 Sihon king of the Amorites His love endures forever.

20 and Og king of Bashan— His love endures forever.

21 and gave their land as an inheritance, His love endures forever.

22 an inheritance to his servant Israel; His love endures forever.

23 to the One who remembered us in our low estate His love endures forever.

24 and freed us from our enemies, His love endures forever.

25 and who gives food to every creature. His love endures forever.

26 Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever.

 

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The Journey: A Reflection for the Nativity Fast

The Journey

During the Nativity fast, Orthodox Christians are on a journey that culminates with the  celebration of the Birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  This journey continually brings us face to face with the issue of giving: The Father gave His Son…The Magi gave gifts…Saint Nicholas gave in secret…and even we give gifts to the people we love in our lives.  But the call of God concerning giving goes far beyond Christmas presents.

My travels often take me to downtown areas in big cities.  Walking around the streets brings me face to face with many poor and homeless folks.  I suspect that each one of us has experienced that awkward moment as we tried to look the other way…making self-talk to justify why we shouldn’t give them any money:  “I am not a rich person.” “They will likely spend it on drugs and alcohol.” “They could get a job if they really wanted one.” “Everyone is asking me for money.” And so on, and so on…

I will share more of my own struggle with this issue later in this article.  But first, here are a couple of thoughts to ponder. As the Nativity Fast gets under way, Orthodox Christians will be hearing this passage from the Holy Gospel (9th Sunday of Luke):

The Gospel of Luke 12:16-21 – The Lord said this parable: “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” As he said these things, he cried out: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

At the suggestion of a dear friend and brother in Christ, I purchased a copy of St. Basil’s book, On Social Justice. Here’s a quote from a section of that book entitled:

“I Will Tear Down My Barns”…

How many precepts you ignore, since your ears are plugged with avarice! How much gratitude you ought to have shown to your Benefactor!

How joyful and radiant you ought to have been that you are not one of those who crowd in at others doors, but rather others are knocking at your door!

But now you lower your eyes and quicken your step, muttering hasty responses, lest anyone pry some small coin from your grasp.  You know how to say only one thing:

“I do not have, I cannot give, I myself am poor.”

You are poor indeed and bereft of all goodness: poor in love, poor in kindness, poor in faith towards God, poor in eternal hope.

Make your brothers and sisters sharers of your grain; give to the needy today what rots away tomorrow. Truly, this is the worst kind of avarice: not even to share perishable goods with those in need.   (Saint Basil, “On Social Justice”, p.68-69)

St. Basil’s description of someone lowering their eyes and making excuses has been accurate of me far too many times in those situations. Finally one day, another dear friend and brother in Christ taught me an incredible lesson.  He showed me how to put 20 one dollar bills in my pocket when leaving the hotel…just for those encounters.

It is easy to justify not giving to someone in need…I have failed more than I have succeeded.   It is a struggle…a warfare…that must be fought by each of us if we have any hope of overcoming our own selfishness and greed.  I can assure you that when I succeed in putting a dollar or two in the hands of someone in need, there is such a victory being proclaimed over my self-centered heart.

The Lord calls us to loosen the grip on our wealth and give to those in need.  He asks this of us, not to punish us, but to truly help us.  Like the rich man in the Gospel reading, we can easily be consumed by our self-centered greed and it becomes like chains around our souls…binding us and consuming us. The Lord wants to set us free from this bondage.

As we make our this journey, may we lift up our eyes and see those in need: those poor, those hungry, those in prison, those homeless, those suffering…and in seeing, may we all give from the abundance that God has already given us. For those of you who live and work in a city where you encounter the poor and needy every day, perhaps there is a local mission or downtown Church that would use your gifts to feed, clothe, and offer shelter to those very folks. OCPM (Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry) stands ready to assist with helping those in prison. Wherever and however we see the need…may the Lord strengthen us to share from what the Lord has provided us.

God bless you on your journey!!