Tag Archive | Thanksgiving

A Season of Thanks

“‘Tis the season.”

When we hear that phrase, our minds are usually drawn to images of Christmas trees, Santa Claus, gifts, and nativity scenes. In all fairness, this is reasonable, considering that the phrase comes from the Christmas favorite, “Deck The Halls”…

Deck the halls with boughs of holly
Fa-la-la-la-la La la-la-la
‘Tis the season to be jolly
Fa-la-la-la-la La la-la-la

For most of us, the jump to Christmas seems to come about the time the last piece of candy is handed out on October 31st. We can’t wait to deck the halls, don our Christmas sweaters and mittens, and break out the egg nog and Bing Crosby records.

Yet, in the shuffle from the ghouls and goblins Halloween to the wonder and worship of Christmas, something tends to get overlooked in the process.

Thankfulness.

thanksgiving cornucopiaSure, we recognize Thanksgiving – the Day. We meet with family and friends, stuff ourselves with turkey and dressing, and watch football for hours on end, but do we really get a hold of the meaning of the season that we have relegated to a single day? A time of thanks for the blessings bestowed upon us by a loving and merciful God. A season of reflection and gratefulness for life in its various forms, trials, and triumphs. To me, the season of Thanksgiving is the perfect and logical precursor to the season of Christmas — of thankfulness and gratitude for the love of a Holy God that took the human form of a baby in a manger.

So with the mess the world is in, what have we to be thankful for? I can only speak for myself, but here are just a few…

  • I’m thankful for my family; for a faithful wife of many years, wonderful children, and for our beautiful and healthy grandchildren. I’m thankful for the heritage of my Godly parents, and my extended family, scattered around this country.
  • I’m thankful for my church family, who I have been blessed to shepherd these past 38 years. I’m thankful for the friendships I’ve made, for the things — good and bad — we have gone through together, for the team we have built for to share the Gospel all over the world, and for faithful friends who, through service and sacrifice, make it possible for us to do what we do.
  • I’m thankful for this season of life as I transition into a new role, and watch the next generation at Abba’s House (under the leadership of my son, Pastor Ronnie Phillips, Jr.) move into a promising future.
  • I’m thankful I live in a country where I am free to worship the God from Whom all blessings flow.
  • I’m thankful for you, the person reading this right now. I’m thankful for allowing me into your life and home by way of this blog, so that we can be an encouragement to each other, even though we may never meet face to face.
  • But most of all…

  • I’m thankful for an Abba Father who has saved me and blessed me in so many ways, and molded my life in such a fashion that I have the opportunity to be thankful for all of these things.

Maybe you are having a tough time thinking of things to be thankful for. Maybe your life hasn’t worked out quite the way you planned. Maybe, through no fault of your own, your circumstances have not offered you the promise you thought your life would bring.

Well friend, as long as you are taking another breath, there is hope for a better future. As long as your heart is beating, there is a God who is listening to the cry of your heart. I can’t say how things will work out for you, but I can say this with confidence…

As long as there is breath in your lungs, there is hope, and as long as there is hope, you have a reason to give thanks.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. ~ Phil. 1:3-6

From our family to yours… Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Pastor Ron

The Tragedy and Triumph of Thanksgiving

Consider these words…

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God…

lincolnWith these words, written on October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln began his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation that set aside the last Thursday* of November as a national “day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father Who dwelleth in the Heavens“.

President Lincoln then went on to say…

And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

Such words of gratitude, thankfulness, praise, humility, and repentance. But to understand how profound these words were (and still are), you must understand the context of the times (and year) in which they were written…

  • May 1-3, 1863: The Battle of Chancellorsville (30,500 casualties (killed, wounded, or missing))
  • May 18 – July 4, 1863: The Siege at Vicksburg (37,532 casualties)
  • July 1-3, 1863: The Battle of Gettysburg (over 46,000 casualties)
  • September 18 – 20, 1863: The Battle of Chickamauga (34,624 casualties)
  • September – November, 1863: The Chattanooga Campaign (14,508 casualties)

IMG_5195When President Lincoln penned these words, our nation was engulfed in the heart of the violence, bloodshed, and tragedy of the American Civil War. Yet, President Lincoln chose to find goodness. He chose to look forward with hope to a future of peace, prosperity, and promise. In spite of the hopelessness, despair, death, and destruction that consumed the nation between 1861 – 1865, President Lincoln looked back to better times, and had faith that such times would return.

Maybe this Thanksgiving, you are experiencing anguish, heartbreak, loss, anxiety, or feelings of hopelessness. I know that kind of pain is very real, and have experienced it myself. But, I also know of a Savior who bore all of our hurt, pain, anguish, and sin, and now lives victoriously, having conquered all of this and more. The prophet Isaiah put it this way…

Surely He took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered Him punished by God,
    stricken by Him, and afflicted.
But He was pierced for our transgressions,
    He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on Him,
    and by His wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on Him
    the iniquity of us all. ~ Isaiah 53:4-6 (NIV)

Life is as tough as nails. God never promised us an easy road, and He never promised us a fair shake. But, Jesus DID give us this promise…

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace.
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart!
I have overcome the world.” ~ John 16:33 (NIV)

Tday-TurkeyXSo this Thanksgiving, if your life is joyous, be thankful for that, and for all of God’s many blessings.

But if you are struggling and sorrowful this Thanksgiving, take heart. Know that the Father loves you, that He is “near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Call to Him now… “the God of all comfort” is just a breath away.

From our family to yours, may you have a blessed Thanksgiving.

* In December 1941, the date for Thanksgiving was officially changed to the fourth Thursday in November.

Thoughts for Thanksgiving

We are living in difficult and dangerous times – some of the more difficult of my lifetime. In spite of the events going on in our world, however, time marches on, and we once again find the holiday season upon us. As we enter into Thanksgiving this week, I want to take a moment to share with you some short stories of thankfulness.

Dachau StatueCorrie Ten Boom once related this story of thankfulness that happened – of all places – when she was a prisoner in the Ravensbrück concentration camp during World War II.  The barracks where they were locked up by the Germans were horribly infested by fleas. They were praying when she heard her sister Betsy say…

“Father, we want to thank you for these fleas.”

Corrie said, “No, no, no!  I don’t think God wants us to be thankful for these fleas!”

Betsy said, “The Bible says, ‘in all circumstances give thanks.’”  Well, for months their Bible studies had been interrupted and disrupted by their captors, but all of a sudden the German soldiers quit interrupting the Bible study. Subsequently, as a result of the Bible studies, everybody in their barracks was converted to Christ. Eventually, the Germans came and got rid of the fleas.

One day, one of the soldiers they had won to Christ was talking to Corrie, and she asked him, “Why didn’t you interrupt the Bible study?”  His response was, “Because we didn’t want to come in where those fleas were.”

The great poet Maya Angelou actually started out as a voice major in college. She went through a lot of stuff. Coming to the United States from England, she had to leave her child for a season, nearly driving her crazy. She was worried nearly to death about everything going on in her life. She went to a friend who was a counselor (and also a pastor), and said, “I think I’m going to die.”  He looked at her and said…

“What you need to be is thankful.”

Sunlight thru trees-editedShe said, “You’ve got to be kidding. I’m broke. My voice lessons aren’t going well. My child is overseas.  What do I have to be thankful for?”  He said, “Get a yellow pad and begin to write down what you’re thankful for.”  She said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”  He said, “Why don’t you put down first that you’re able to hear what I’m saying to you when thousands can’t hear.  Write it down.  Write down that you can see, because there are thousands that can’t see. Write down that you can think clearly, because there are thousands who are struggling with mental illness. Write down that you can use your hand and write it down, because there are thousands who cannot use their hand today. Write down that you can walk in this room, that your feet are working. Then begin to look around and see that you are able to breathe, that you are alive, that you have another day to live, that there are some things that you have to hope for, that there are people who love you. Though your daughter is separated from you, you will see her again, and many have lost their loved ones. Write it down.”  Maya Angelou said when that happened, her life was absolutely transformed. When she finished the page, she said laughter, joy and tears were hitting the paper of that yellow pad. If you have ever seen her, you can’t get a frown on her face. There is an attitude of gratitude in her for everything.

NE ChurchThe Christophers are the evangelistic arm of the Catholic Church. The priest that founded this group tells the story of performing a funeral for an American G.I. at the end of World War II. During the funeral, he noticed another G.I. standing across the room. He found out that that G.I. had survived because of the death of the one being buried. The man looked rough, shy, and stood off by himself. The priest watched him and finally walked away. When he walked away, he looked from a distance, and the man walked over to the cross, took out a piece of paper, and wrote a note. He folded the note up, stuck it to the cross, and walked away. Later, the curious priest went back to see the note. Here’s what the note said…

“Dear Joe, Thank you for dying for me. I’m alive because of you.”

So…

What are you thankful for today?

Is it the family and friends you are sharing your meal and life with? Is it your home? Your job? Is it the life you live in a free nation? Is it the church in which you worship?

Hopefully, it is all of the above. It is for me.

But it should also be the unpleasant things of life: Those annoying things we don’t understand that God uses to work His supernatural purposes in our lives, and the lives of those around us.

It should be the circumstances in life that test us, refine us, and mold us – not into the person we wish we were – but into the person that God intended us to be.

But most of all, it should be for a Savior who gave His all so that we could live, and upon whose cross we can post our own declaration…

“Dear Jesus. Thank you for dying for me. I’m alive because of you.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tday-TurkeyX

Finding Your Song

This is a wonderful sentiment by the late Maya Angelou…

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”

imageOne has but to walk outdoors on a sunny day and listen to the sound of a chorus of birds to understand this thought. Even in the captivity of a small cage, a bird still has the ability to find its song. A friend once told me about taking a walk one day, and feeling the Spirit of God encouraging him to sing… to lift up a new song to Him as he strolled in God’s cathedral, the Great Outdoors. As he walked and began to sing, he noticed something interesting began to happen. He noticed the sound of creation getting louder and louder. As he found his song, creation itself joined in the chorus, and the birds in the numerous trees about him began to lift up their voices as well. After a time, he said he stopped singing, and something uncanny happened…

Many of the birds stopped singing as well, and the sound of creation slowly died away.

In Luke 19, we find this story…

Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: 

“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”

We are all given a song. For some, that song is sung in the midst of gratitude and thanksgiving; a song of grateful worship to God for His goodness and favor.

But for others, that song may be sung from a place of hardship and pain.

How do you sing for joy when you are watching a loved one slowly slip away because of Alzheimer’s Disease or ALS?

How do you sing with gladness when the diagnosis is cancer?

How do you worship when you are a parent standing over the grave of a child gone too early?

We sing, not because we have the answer, but because we have a song. We worship, not because we are good, but because He is Holy. We seek out His presence, not as an escape from the world we are in, but as a place of safety and refuge for our souls while we are on the journey through this life.

 An interesting thing about dementia patients is, even as they are losing their ability to remember friends and family members — as well as their ability to even talk — many still have the ability to recognize songs and sing or hum a tune.

There is something about the language of music that speaks to all of us on a spiritual level. We are all made for worship. God has put His song into our DNA, and pursuing an intimate relationship with Him in worship is the first step to finding your song. The Psalmist wrote…

I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. ~ Psalm 104:33

He was determined to worship as long as he had breath in his lungs; no qualifier, no expectation.

Maybe when we get to the point of unconditional worship — when we are singing our song, not because we have an answer, but because we have a God-given song — we’ll find that, in that obedience, we will find the answers we are looking for in His presence.

It could also be that, by spending time in His presence, we’ll discover that knowing the answers will become less important than knowing Him.

Contentment and Thanksgiving

Tday-TurkeyX

As we enter this week of Thanksgiving, consider these words…

 The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

With these words, Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November to be the National Day of Thanksgiving. The interesting fact is that these words were penned in 1863 — right in the middle of the Civil War.

So how could President Lincoln be thankful in the middle of such a bloody conflict?

He found the secret in what the apostle Paul once said…

I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content. ~ Philippians 4:11

From our family to yours, may you have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving!

‘Tis The Season…

Currier and IvesOnce again, the season of thanksgiving and joy are upon us. A week from today we will celebrate Thanksgiving, then begin the final stretch leading up to Christmas. As we think toward turkey feasts, holiday lights, Christmas trees, and seasonal music, our thoughts are filled with the love, joy, and goodness the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons bring. The memories of Christmas past, Currier and Ives, and “sleigh-bells in the snow” are a vivid contrast to the images we see in the news today…

The riots in Ferguson, MO.

The brutal beheadings at the hands of ISIS soldiers.

The recent synagogue attack and massacre in Jerusalem.

The continuing news about the ebola virus.

Stories like these are difficult to hear, not matter when they happen. However, they seem to be even more heartbreaking when they happen during the season of “peace on Earth, and good will to men”. And whether it is personal loss and tragedy, or something that is playing out on the national and/or world stage, the main question is the same…

“Why did God allow this to happen?”

Maybe you have experienced loss or tragedy during this time of year, or know someone who has… I know I sure have. So, what do we do when these times come? How do we respond during difficult times? Here are a few things that may help…

Bad things happen because we live in a fallen world. Since the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, there has been a curse upon the earth (see Genesis 3-5). Bad things happen, and while sometimes there are things and people we can point our fingers at, sometimes there’s just not. It may sound trite, but sometimes the non-explanation is the only explanation.

Salvation from sin and death does not mean we “dodge the bullet” here on earth. Being a Christian does not make us immune to tough times. The Bible says that “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). As believers in Christ, our eternal home and reward are in Heaven — this world is just a stopping point along the way. “Keeping your eye on the (eternal) prize” can make a huge difference in your earthly perspective.

It’s ok to not have all of the answers. For all of the many ways that God reveals Himself to us through His word, there are things in the mind and heart of God that remain a mystery. Job said…

Can you search out the deep things of God?
Can you find out the limits of the Almighty? ~ Job 11:7

Faith is such an integral part of the life of the believer, for “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (see Hebrews 11:6). That which we can see, touch, and understand implicitly requires zero faith. One of the very things that gives Him joy is the fact that, even though we don’t have all the answers, we can have faith that He does.

You’re not alone. He knows how you feel, for He has known immeasurable, crushing loss as well. Maybe you are saying, “Where was God when…?” I’ll tell you the same thing I would tell anyone: He is in the same place He was when He watched His own Son suffer at the hands of His creation, and die a cruel and miserable death on a cross — for me, and for you. Our sins put Jesus on the cross, and if anyone deserved to be rescued from that horrific death, it was the sinless Lamb of God. Yet God loved us so much that He refused to intervene (see John 3:16). He knew that those events had to play out in order to make a way for our redemption.

thanksgiving cornucopiaSo, whether you have always experienced the picture perfect holiday season, or your Thanksgiving and Christmas experiences have been, in some way, tainted by tragedy, I pray that this season, you will find peace, joy, and FAITH that the One we give thanks to and celebrate has not taken His hands off the wheel, and has your best interests at heart.

Happy Thanksgiving to you… His favorite!

Pastor Ron

The Mercy of the Lionheart

Through the Looking Glass

The story is told that, while walking around the perimeter of a castle wall one evening, King Richard the Lionheart was struck in the shoulder and neck by an archer’s arrow. Days later, as he lay close to death, he asked that the captured archer be brought before him. As the would-be assassin stood before the dying King, expecting to hear the order of execution, he heard these words instead:

1227101031aLive on, and by my bounty behold the light of day”.

King Richard then ordered the young man to be freed, and given 100 shillings.

The Bible says that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”. It was our sins that nailed Jesus to the cross.

But…

It was HIS mercy that cried out, “Father, forgive them.”

It was HIS grace that put all of the riches and resources of Heaven at our disposal.

As we enter into a week of Thanksgiving for all of God’s goodness toward us, let us all remember to put His mercy and grace at the top of the list.