Pastor Paul’s Thanksgiving Message

One of my favorite things that we do when it’s our turn to bring worship to Williamsburg and Sunshine Terrace is sing. Cathy Bullock will often come with the blessing of her fine piano playing. Sometimes Bess Dennison will add the beauty of her flute. As a last resort, I have banged on my guitar when needed. No matter what the instrumentation, we enjoy singing a lot of the old time tunes. What a friend we have in Jesus, How Great Thou Art, and In the Garden are among the favorites.

As I thought about this month’s message, another one of the favorites came to mind, Count Your Blessings. Can you hear the tune? Do you know the words?

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

Nice…but what do you do when you just don’t feel like counting? What do you do when you look around you and lift up your fingers to number off the blessings, and all you can count are challenges? You know, the song just loses something when you sing Count your troubles, name them one by one…

Sometimes it’s tough to feel very thankful. Sometimes the darkness in our lives just creeps up on us and hides our blessings from our eyes. It happens. We are human. The simple realities of current events and circumstances, of sickness, of relationships that are less than perfect, of our mortality are powerful, and often overpowering.
Fortunately, for those of us in faith, feeling the weight of the world and being stuck in darkness is not the end of the story. If we delve further into the hymn, we can gather in a little more of its wisdom.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
when you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
count your many blessings, name them one by one
and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

The hymn clues us into a little bit of faith wisdom: thanksgiving isn’t based on how we feel. It isn’t something we do just when things are going well (or once a year to go along with our pumpkin pie). Thanksgiving, the kind we celebrate in faith, is a way of life. We practice it when things are easier, and cling to it when things are rough. Thanksgiving isn’t for the good times; it brings us through challenging times. It places our feet on the solid ground of God’s love, God’s providence, and upon the certain hope that even as we speak God is working to free us, to lift us up, and lead us forward.
Try it. Give thanks. Make it a habit whatever the circumstance. If you find yourself in darkness, let God know it all. Let God really know (God can take it), and then give thanks.

If you are not able to give thanks, grab a brother or sister in faith, and have them give thanks for you (and with you). Let them point out a blessing or two you couldn’t see before. Let their faith carry yours for a bit. It works. Give thanks, and you will be lifted up. As the hymn proclaims:

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Happy Thanksgiving. Paul

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  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

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