Thursday, November 23, 2023

Abundance of Hope

 But as for me, I will hope continually and will praise You yet more and more.

Psalm 71:14 NASB

In homes across America this week, preparations for Thanksgiving have been in full swing - traditions requiring planning and grocery shopping for the annual gathering of family. So many decisions abound - to stuff or not to stuff the turkey, how much sage to put in the dressing, what kind of cranberry sauce to serve, and which desserts to include. Yes, it does sound a bit more like a celebration of indulgence than simple thankfulness. So, when did Thanksgiving become more about abundance of food rather than abundance of hope?

The story of the first Thanksgiving reflects a people who endured great hardship on a long journey of hope. Leaving Plymouth, England in September of 1620, 102 people sail across the ocean for 2 months, some seeking religious freedom and some seeking prosperity in the New World, but all coming with hope. Only half of the original passengers would live to see Spring in New England. Within that first year, Native Americans would teach these pilgrims how to plant and harvest corn. While the Native Americans had a long tradition of celebrating the fall harvest, in 1621 they all gather together in celebrating the pilgrims' first successful corn harvest. This merging of nations and traditions with a feast of thankfulness writes America's first Thanksgiving story. The hope of new beginnings, the hope of survival, the the hope of religious freedom, the hope of prosperity join together creating new traditions with new people. 

Pilgrim means a person who journeys or a newcomer to a place. Some of the Mayflower pilgrims came to a new land looking for freedom to worship without mandates by the government. Some of these pilgrims came to make money. These settlers and many others to come would set the standard and endure the cost of these pursuits. There would be death and famines and wars. More than 150 years pass before the Declaration of Independence would be written and signed, officially forming a new nation. Thinking about those challenging times, I still see lots of similarities today. We continuously find ourselves enduring uncertainties and often hardships (physical, emotional, or financial). We don't always get along with our neighbors. Sometimes, we are the newcomer and are not welcomed, other times the roles reverse. We are constantly exposed to disease and hunger and violence. We all need hope to pull us through; we need each other. Instead of division, we need to gather together in feasts of thanksgiving.

We are still on a long journey but now live those very freedoms the hope the pilgrims of 1620 brought to the New World. None of us are perfect; we are flawed and yearn for more. At times money motivates and differences divide and fears fetter our hearts. For more than 200 years after the first harvest feast, America found ways to celebrate the hope of freedom, but it would not be until 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, that Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving an official holiday with this proclamation:
Lincoln asking Americans to "ask God to command to His tender care on all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife." He called for an annual day of Thanksgiving, the last day of November to "heal the wounds of a nation."
We are all pilgrims on a journey of hope - a hope for better, a hope for more. Let us strive to be a brighter light and a kinder neighbor for there is enough darkness around us. Let us seek to love better and judge less for there is more than enough suffering already. Let us shout praises of thanksgiving for the freedoms in America and freedom of our souls. Let us offer prayers of thanksgiving to God whose blessings of mercy and grace define our Hope. Let us gather together - with family or friends or whoever we meet on Thanksgiving day - and remember, we are pilgrims who are prone to wander...prone to leave a God who pursues us, loves us, rescues us. Jesus continues to seek the newcomers and the strangers and many who have simply lost their way. Let our Thanksgiving Hope rest in God's goodness! Let His goodness refine our HOPE! ~dho

**side note: In 1941 FDR signed a bill making Thanksgiving the 4th Thursday in November (rather than the 'last'); the purpose was to stimulate retail sales during the Great Depression. Hummm! 

Thursday, November 16, 2023

To God be the Glory

Then Moses said, "Now show me your Glory." And the LORD said, "I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim My name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." Exodus 33:18-19 NIV

Thomas, head through the sun roof! Simple joy!
Twelve years ago, as our family has prayed its way through the journey of brain cancer, surgery and radiation, we asked God to heal, to strengthen, to comfort Thomas, who was only 9 years old. Our prayers and the countless prayers of family and friends and friends of friends asked for encouragement and energy, for patience and peace, for calm and courage. Holy praises were offered to the Lord for joy in the simple things, for small victories, and for laughter. We did not ask God like Moses, "Now show us Your Glory", but He did! God's great goodness passed in front of us! His Glory is evidenced in moments and minutes and memories of His Presence during this long journey.

The question of why there is suffering and who is healed cannot be understood this side of Heaven. The fall of humanity from the beginning allowed sin to stand between mankind and God. It is only through Christ that we find a way back to God. In between that beginning and the coming end, the world’s complexities are full of uncertainty and chaos and questions; yet, before the beginning and after the end, there is everlasting Certainty, Peace, and Truth. On this earth, we only find these possibilities in God, the Creator himself, who has all authority. Not bound by time or distance or circumstance, God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. Trusting in the Sovereignty of God is the best hope for humanity.

Remembering this time more than a decade ago, God’s glory surrounded us in ways we could have never known outside this crisis. Neither knowing why, nor understanding His Ways, I can say for certain that we felt God's mercy and compassion, we witnessed God's mercy and compassion, and we will always tell of God's mercy and compassion. Then and now, every petition rises like incense to this Holy God, each one is full of thanksgiving for such undeserved, unmerited mercy and compassion. Truly the Goodness of God passed in front of us, too! 
To God be the Glory ~ dho

Thursday, November 09, 2023

The Last Days!

“One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD and to meditate in His temple.” Psalm 27:4 ESV 

Church at Kylemore Abby, Ireland
Just before Jesus ascends to heaven, He instructs the disciples to tell the story of Good News to all people. His final words of encouragement: And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. In the New Testament, the last days refers to the time between Christ’s return to heaven after the resurrection and His second return to earth. The last days are now! The promise remains true; Jehovah Shammah, the LORD is there, dwells with us. God’s presence with His people is certain.

Scripture tells us that in the last days the name of Jesus is mocked and questioned. Arrogance attempts to diminish the power of God, to discredit His role in creation, and to dismiss His promise of judgment. People choose other gods to worship. With humility, His faithful followers must earnestly continue to be about the work God calls us to do. 

LORD, Creator and Promise Keeper, Your grace falls gently in the middle of these harsh last days. Forgive those who deny You and give them a reason to hope. I long to dwell in Your Presence all the days of my life. Here I see the beauty of Extravagant Love and know the unexplainable joy of Living Hope. As I eagerly anticipate what You will do next, help me tell Your story of Grace! Count me alive in Christ. Moment by moment, Jehovah Shammah, You are here! - dho

* previously posted on this Blog as part of the Jeremiah series, 2021/DonnaOswalt

Thursday, November 02, 2023

Come and Worship!

Silence is praise to You, [Jerusalem-dwelling] God,
And also obedience. You hear the prayer in it all...
How blessed is the one whom You choose and bring near to You
to dwell in Your [holy of holies].
We will be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, Your holy temple.
By awesome deeds You answer us in righteousness, O God of our salvation,
Earth-Tamer, Ocean-Pourer,
Mountain-Maker, Hill-Dresser,
Muzzler of sea storm and wave crash...
Dawn and dusk take turns calling, "Come and worship."

Psalm 65:1, 4-8 (NASB, The Message)

You have created infinite opportunity for my soul to praise Your holiness and majesty. You teach me perspective and humility with the greatness of simplicity.
You renew my life with steams of righteousness, always leading to rivers of goodness, and oceans of more. You teach me the Source of power.
You let me stand in high places, knowing blessings beyond need. You teach me the wonder of holiness and glory.
You decorate the landscape with beauty that escapes description. You teach me the joy of details.
Muzzler of sea storm and wave crash,
You tame the turmoil inside my soul with ease. You teach me the peace of grace.
I, too, come and worship at dawn and dusk and moments in between. For such Perfect Love brings me to my knees where I offer wordless soul-songs of praise to You. Amen.
~ dho