Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Is Thanksgiving Religious?

"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever" (Psalm 107:1, NIV).

I was driving the other night and had my radio on to the seasonal Christmas station.  Yes, it's before Thanksgiving, and it's already started to broadcast this year!  Regardless, it was fun to listen and observe the first of the Christmas lights.  But what the radio announcer said that evening shocked and disappointed me.  She said something along these lines:  "Thanksgiving is right around the corner.  I love Thanksgiving.  It's just about giving thanks and being with family - it's not about the presents, the decorations, or any particular religion..."

At face value, her comment might seem true.  People do celebrate Thanksgiving regardless of their religious identities as inhabitants of America.  But that doesn't mean that her comment was correct.  First, let's not forget that the Pilgrims who founded the holiday were religious dissidents.  It was religious persecution that brought them to America, and they were willing to make the trek and take on serious risk for the freedom to live their Christian ideals. 

Not only were the Pilgrims Christian, but the very act of giving thanks on the holiday is a kind of prayer.  I was taught as a little girl that prayer has four parts, which are represented by the acronym ACTS:  Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.  Thanksgiving is not just a holiday; it's a verb too - it's what scripture encourages us to do as Christians.  We celebrate bounty, but we are never to forget from Whom that bounty is from.

So while we are gathered around our tables this week, may the most important part of our meal be the prayer before it.  May we model for our children a healthy understanding of true thanksgiving, which is an acknowledgement of our blessings that's grounded in humility.  Humility is the result of being aware of where those blessings have come from.  They've been crafted especially for us by our Maker, which makes them that much more awe-inspiring indeed.

My older son's Thanksgiving project.  Each feather is something he's thankful for!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Surprises in Breastfeeding

I began as a skeptic with low expectations.  My husband had not been breastfed and I had been largely formula fed as an infant.  I wasn’t sure if breastfeeding was in my DNA, plus I was planning to go back to work.  We attended a lactation presentation about a month before our first child was born.  My goal was to learn more about it and breastfeed during my maternity leave.  My husband supported me because - let’s face it - it meant saving a lot of money.  With several unknowns and baby expenses already piling up, it was appealing.  But it became more so for reasons that I could not have anticipated...

To read the rest of this article, please click here to find it on iBelieve.com.  I explore the marked benefits of breastfeeding, including a recent study covered by NBC News.  I also talk about breastfeeding from a theological perspective; I have never heard it discussed in that light, but it's fitting because there are many scripture verses that refer to it.  This article is perfect for an expectant mom, a mom who breastfed and wants to further reflect on it, or anyone who is interested in learning more in general!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Truth in Suffering

I heard in a sermon on Sunday that the American culture is the only one that does not view suffering as an expected part of life.  Instead, when we encounter suffering, we view it as a surprise, an unfair occurrence, and something to move beyond immediately.  It's not to say that we should welcome suffering and adopt a victim mentality.  No.  But the pastor believes that our existing expectations have perhaps preconditioned our culture to depression.  Trials hit us even harder.  And the depression rate in our country is climbing at about 20% per year

I began to reflect upon my studies as a World Religion major as a result of the pastor's point, and I found some resonance.  My degree required the study of Eastern and Western religions.  For my Eastern concentration, I chose Buddhism because of its raging appeal on campus.  I wanted to find out why.  And a primary belief of Buddhism is that life is suffering, or dukkha, which is certainly different from our pervasive cultural view.  I found a pithy explanation of the term on Wikipedia that reads: 

Dukkha is commonly explained according to three different categories:
  • The obvious physical and mental suffering associated with birth, growing old, illness and dying.
  • The anxiety or stress of trying to hold onto things that are constantly changing.
  • A basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all forms of existence, due to the fact that all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance. On this level, the term indicates a lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards.
The Buddhist tradition emphasizes the importance of developing insight into the nature of dukkha, the conditions that cause it, it how it can be overcome.

Rather than conveying a negative world view, Buddhism offers a pragmatic approach to life as it exists and how to rectify it.

With an understanding of suffering being integral to the Buddhist path, I reflected on our Christian faith.  I believe it is no mistake that the cross is at the heart of it.  We worship a suffering God, and there is strength in that.  [Tweet that.]  We have a Friend who understands our brokenness.  We have a Confidant who knows firsthand about injustice in our world.  Christ's cross reflects the reality of suffering.  It helps to explain why he had to go through it.  Maybe it wasn't so much for God's sake as a righteous judge but for ours. 

Buddhism offers a path, but Jesus offered his life.  By doing so he demonstrated where our real hope lies: his never-ending love.  His love acknowledges that even our worst sins cannot keep him away.  His love testifies to the future that awaits us beyond the grave.  We have resurrection power offered to us through faith in this life and the next on account of his victory.  That means no situation is too dark for Christ's light to break through.

What is your worldview of suffering?  Does it resonate with culture or your faith?

Let's not look anywhere else than to Christ, for it is he who expresses truth that will set us free.  Jesus said, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free" (Luke 4:18, NIV).  Jesus was actually quoting Isaiah when making this proclamation, so he's fulfilling a promise that's etched across scripture.  His words summarize his mission and reveal a keen understanding of the troubles of this world.  He knew what he was up against, and it didn't stop him.  And suffering shouldn't come as a surprise or become a barrier for us.

 {Photo by Jungle Boy at Flickr}

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Small, But Packs A Punch

Mustard Seeds

A bug recently went through our house.  Each of us took our turn with it, manifesting slightly different symptoms.  Early one morning, my sons saw me struggling with mine - awful congestion.  I reached for my 24-hour Claritin.  Before I could put it in my mouth, my preschooler asked to see it.  He then exclaimed, "Mommy, it's so tiny!  How can it help you?"  I had to step in and defend my wonder drug.  "Well, Honey, sometimes even small things can be very powerful."

Enter the theological moment.  Even small things can be very powerful - Jesus says that's true!  Remember his words, "...Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you" (Matt. 17:20, NIV).  Faith the size of a mustard seed is small indeed; the seed is only 1 to 2 mm in diameter.  Jesus is saying there is power in even little acts - like our everyday thoughts, words, and prayers.  There is power in our faith to the extent that we allow it to manifest.

Is there an area where you have stopped believing anything will change?  Will you allow yourself to believe that God has something great in store?  Jesus is challenging us to start taking small steps of faith.  He says a mountain can move at our command; consider what you've taken to be fixed and immovable in your life.  Remain close to him, and you will see something change.  It could be a healing, it could be vindication, or it could be a dream that will be fulfilled. 

But that wasn't the only time Jesus talked about a mustard seed.  He also said, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.  Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches” (Matt. 13:31-32, NIV).  In other words, what starts tiny can grow into something impressive. 

God can take what is pleasing to him multiply it beyond our imagining.  Both of these sayings remind me to make sure that my heart is fertile soil for Christ, because no effort of faithfulness is overlooked.  Even though growth takes time, when we tend to faith's seeds, something amazing is possible.  And by the way, mustard seeds were not the only small seeds in Jesus' day.  He intentionally chose a seed that adds great flavor to our dishes.  Maybe he wanted our faith to spice up our lives...Sounds like something amazing indeed.  

{Photo by La.Catholique at Flickr}

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