Thanksgiving Tradition Up in Smoke

I Thessalonians 5:18

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
 

I guess every family has some sort of Thanksgiving tradition even if it is the tradition of refusal to have Thanksgiving. When Shirley and I were first married my family did not have any real tradition at that time, but her family tradition was to gather at her maternal grandparents home and have a feast. Different members of the family were assigned or volunteered for certain food items to bring. The extended family would travel from Maryland, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida, or wherever work had transferred them to that particular year. It was a feast and a reunion. After gorging ourselves with all that delicious food we would sit and talk over the noise of the ball game, catch up on everyones lives. It was a wonderful time.

After Shirley’s grandmother (Mattie McGehee) passed away the mantle passed for a couple of years to Shirley’s aunt Lena. When she decided not to go through the big time work of preparing and hosting the Thanksgiving meal, Shirley’s mother (Margie Bruce) took over the reigns. After several years Shirley’s mother was not able to continue and Shirley took over.

We tried different things in different years. My dad remarried after my mother’s death and his new wife’s family tradition was to go to an old restaurant in  Sophia. It was one of those one big room restaurants that Richard Petty use to frequent. That lasted one year and the place closed. (Don’t think we had anything to do with that?). I must admit after this it was with a much smaller crowd; more people in the family were sick, old, had died, or lived in Texas and around Memphis. Then we started going to the beach over the Thanksgiving holiday. There were many changes in how we did that. Some times (once I think) Shirley and Joy (our daughter-in-law) cooked in the condo. Other times we ordered pre-cooked meals from K & W at North Myrtle Beach. One time we did eat Thanksgiving dinner at the K & W at North Myrtle Beach… and ran into a former preacher’s wife doing the same thing.

I remember what was said by Shirley and some others when we first made the move away from cooking and gathering in our homes: “It just doesn’t seem like Thanksgiving.” It was as if we were letting down the family that had held this tradition sacred for all these years.

I remember one Thanksgiving when we lived on S. McCrary St. in Asheboro. I always thought Shirley put in too much time and energy for a twenty minute meal. I was an advocate of ordering the bird and fixin’s from places who excelled at that sort of thing. Shirley thought that was an outrage… everything is better homemade. I agree, but I wanted to save her time.

This particular year Duke was playing some other basketball team at Cameron Indoor on Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. Shirley’s mother and I agreed to cook and peal the potatoes for the potato salad, and the sweet potatoes for the sweet potato casserole (a real dessert). We talked her into it and she and our son Stephen headed for Durham.

Margie and I got busy with the task at hand… boiling the potatoes in water. I am not sure what happened that night but I believe it was some kind of “My Cousin Vinny” deal where something cooks quicker on our stove than it does on the stoves of the whole potato eating world. We were diligent. We were vigilant.  Even so… all of a sudden the potatoes… both pots… at very same time burned. Big black stinking places were all over both the sweet and regular potatoes. We didn’t have any more potatoes, and I didn’t think about going to get more until right now as I am writing this. We sat there and pealed all the black off the potatoes… way down into the potatoes, diced them and got them ready for the potato salad to be prepared. We threw away all the left over evidence, aired out the house, and waited to see if Shirley would notice when she came home.

Well, nothing was said that night. Perhaps we had made it through. The next day during the meal someone said: “This potato salad tastes a little different this year. Did you change the recipe?” I looked and Margie and she looked at me… and we both busted out giggling “What do you mean it tastes different?” No one could quite tell what the new ingredient was. Margie and I finally had to tell them that the new ingredient was called “BURNT!” We all had a good laugh as we shared the story. I don’t understand why Margie nor I were ever asked to help with the potatoes ever again???

Traditions were just the way we did things and not the why. After all these years and with all the changes that have taken place in our families and traditions, I am not so sure that where we celebrated and who fixed the food really mattered all that much. What really mattered was that we celebrated thankfulness. We thanked God for all the blessing of this life He had given us, for His constant providential care, His grace that covered us from

The Greek noun εὐχαριστία (eucharistia), means "thanksgiving"
The Greek noun εὐχαριστία (eucharistia), means “thanksgiving”

birth to death and beyond, His love that caused Him to walk with us in every step of our
earthly journey, and most of all His grace that made a way for us to be restored to the Father’s house in heaven. We also thanked God for each other and the relationships we hold dear. Every time we gathered around that table we gave thanks. It kinda reminded us of another table around which we gather to receive the elements of our Lord. It too is called Thanksgiving.

Dear Lord, thank you for the traditions of Thanksgiving and all that people have done to prepare their best for that day. But more than that, Lord thank you for the why of Thanksgiving and all that you have done that warrants our heartfelt thankfulness presented through our daily living all year round. In and through Jesus help us to live thankful lives. Amen.

Lessons My Children Need to Learn from Ferguson

Steve Martin
Steve Martin

My grand nephew, a United Methodist pastor and a Army Chaplain, shared this post this morning with these words: “I wish every person in America could read this.” It is thought out and very well written. I want to help share a message like this – a message of understanding and peace. I invite all to read and re-post. I don’t pretend to be an expert on this or even understand it. However, I do ask for more understanding and positive movement toward a place where we all can get along in peace.

THOUGHTS ON FERGUSON by Rev. Voddie Baucham,             a black Baptist preacher from Spring, Texas

In early August my wife and I, along with seven of our nine children, left for a month-long ministry tour in Africa (Kenya, Zambia, and South Africa). It was a couple of days before we got settled and had any access to media. As such, I was taken aback when I began to receive Google alerts, emails, and Facebook and Twitter messages either demanding that I comment on “Ferguson,” or condemning me for failing to do so. The only problem was, I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. Who, what, or where was Ferguson? Why was it such a big deal? Why was I being condemned (along with other “high-profile” evangelicals) for “failing to speak out on such an important issue”?

I eventually got up to speed. Or at least I found out what all the fuss was about. Over the next several weeks I viewed this issue from a unique perspective. I was an American in Africa watching an issue ignite ethnic tensions in my homeland. It was almost surreal.

Who Am I to Speak?Voddie_Baucham

My first response to Ferguson was to say nothing. I was on the outside looking in. I didn’t know what happened. I didn’t know the communities or the issues surrounding the tensions. Second, I chose to remain silent because people were demanding that I speak—even condemning me for my silence. In this age of “I sure would love to hear your thoughts on” I get tired of the sense of entitlement with which people approach those whom they deem to be popular or high-profile Christians. No one is “entitled” to my opinion. Nor is my faithfulness to God determined by how quickly I respond to “relevant” issues.

As a pastor, I have a responsibility to my flock. If those for whose souls I care (Heb. 13:17) want help thinking through these issues, I am obligated to them. I have a duty to walk them through issues like these to the best of my ability, and with sensitivity to their particular needs. What worries me is that Christians in the age of social media care more what “popular” preachers have to say on issues like this (and whether or not they agree with other “popular” preachers) than they are about taking advantage of an opportunity to work through challenges in the context of Christian community. More importantly, it worries me that so many Christians view themselves primarily as members of this or that ethnic community more than they see themselves as members of the body of Christ.

The Plight of Black Men

Rest assured, I do believe there are systemic issues plaguing black men. These issues are violence, criminality, and immorality, to name a few. And all of these issues are rooted in and connected to the epidemic of fatherlessness. Any truly gospel-centered response to the plight of black men must address these issues first and foremost. It does no good to change the way white police officers respond to black men if we don’t first address the fact that these men’s fathers have not responded to them appropriately.

There is indeed an epidemic of violence against black men. However, that violence, more often than not, occurs at the hands of other black men. In fact, black men are several times more likely to be murdered at the hands of another black man than they are to be killed by the police. For instance, in the FBI homicide stats from 2012, there were 2,648 blacks murdered. Of those, 2,412 were murdered by members of their own ethnic group. Thus, if I am going to speak out about anything, it will be black-on-black crime; not blue-on-black. I want to apply the gospel and its implications in a way that addresses the real issue. If a few black men being killed by cops requires a national “dialogue,” what in the world does the overwhelming number of black-on-black murders require? If the police do not see black men through the proper gospel-centered, image-of-God lens, what does the black-on-black murder rate say about the way we see ourselves?

In addition to violence, black men are plagued with criminality. Low-income black communities like Ferguson know all too well that black criminals preying on their neighbors makes life almost unlivable. Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, I know all too well what it’s like to have bars on the windows and doors for fear that thugs will break in to steal or kill. I remember being robbed at gunpoint on my way home from the store one day. It was one of the most frightening and disheartening events of my life. The fear, helplessness, and anger I felt stayed with me for years. And it taught me an unfortunate lesson: the greatest threat to me was other black men.

The underlying malady that gives rise to all the rest of these epidemics is immorality and fatherlessness. We know that fatherlessness is the number one indicator of future violence, dropout rates, out-of-wedlock births, and future incarceration. And in the black community, more than 70 percent of all children are born out of wedlock! Fatherlessness is the bane of the black community.

Nor is this plague forced on us. It is as common as morning dew, and as overlooked as dust under a refrigerator. Where are the marches against this travesty? Where are the protestors who demand better? Where are the black “leaders” who . . . oh, that’s right, they have just as many illegitimate children as anyone else. Again, it is common knowledge that this is the most immediate root cause of the ills plaguing black Americans.

But What About Racism?

I have been pulled over by police for no apparent reason. In fact, it has happened on more than one occasion. I was stopped in Westwood while walking with a friend of mine who was a student at UCLA. We found ourselves lying face down on the sidewalk while officers questioned us. On another occasion, I was stopped while with my uncle. I remember his visceral response as he looked at me and my cousin (his son). The look in his eye was one of humiliation and anger. He looked at the officer and said, “My brother and I didn’t fight in Vietnam so you could treat me like this in front of my son and my nephew.”

Again, this experience stayed with me for years. And for many of those years, I blamed “the system” or “the man.” However, I have come to realize that it was no more “the system” when white cops pulled me over than it was “the system” when a black thug robbed me at gunpoint. It was sin! The men who robbed me were sinners. The cops who stopped me were sinners. They were not taking their cues from some script designed to “keep me down.” They were simply men who didn’t understand what it meant to treat others with the dignity and respect they deserve as image bearers of God.

It does me absolutely no good to assume that my mistreatment was systemic in nature. No more than it is good for me to assume that what happened in Ferguson was systemic. I have a life to live, and I refuse to live it fighting ghosts. I will not waste my energy trying to prove the Gramscian, neo-Marxist concept of “white privilege” or prejudice in policing practices.

I don’t care what advantages my white neighbor may or may not have. If he does have advantages, God bless him! I no more fault him than I fault my own children who have tremendous advantages due to the fact that they were raised by two educated, Christian parents who loved, disciplined, and taught them. Ironically, when I think about THAT advantage, I am filled with joy and gratitude to God for his faithfulness. People are supposed to bequeath an advantage to their children and grandchildren (Prov. 13:22). Why, then, would I be angry with my white neighbor for any advantage he is purported to have? And what good would it do? How does that advance the gospel? Especially in light of the fact that growing up with the gospel is the ultimate privilege/advantage! It is the advantage that has granted us all “American privilege”! Are we guilty for being citizens of the wealthiest republic in the history of the world? I think not!

As a father of seven black men, I tell them to be aware of the fact that there may be times when they may get a closer look, an unwelcome stop, or worse. However, I do not tell them that this means they need to live with a chip on their shoulder, or that the world is out to get them. I certainly don’t tell them that they need to go out and riot (especially when that involves destroying black-owned businesses). I tell them that there are people in the world who need to get to know black people as opposed to just knowing “about” us. I tell them that they will do far more good interacting with those people and shining the light of Christ than they will carrying picket signs. I tell them, “Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’” (Rom. 12:19). And I tell them that there are worse things than suffering injustice. That is why we must heed Peter’s words:

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Pet. 3:15–17)

In the end, the best lesson my children can learn from Ferguson is not that they need to be on the lookout for white cops. It is far more important that I use this teachable moment to remind them that “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). Moments before his death, Michael Brown had violently robbed a man in a store. A man doing the best he could to make a living. Minutes later, Brown reaped what he sowed, and was gunned down in the street. That is the sad truth.

My sons have far more to fear from making bad choices than they have to fear from the police. The overwhelming majority of police officers are decent people just trying to make a living. They are much more likely to help you than to harm you. A life of thuggery, however, is NEVER your friend. In the end, it will cost you . . . sometimes, it costs you everything.

Voddie Baucham is the pastor of preaching at Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas.

Ferguson, Act II

Psalm 122:6-8

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
…6Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you. 7″May peace be within your walls, And prosperity within your palaces.” 8For the sake of my brothers and my friends, I will now say, “May peace be within you.”…
 

Monday the word came dribbling out that the findings of the grand jury would be announced soon. As CNN always says it was “Breaking News” that would be announced at any moment. Any moment finally turned into 9:00 last night. I can’t understand the reason why such a potentially explosive announcement would be postponed until 9:00 pm? Would it have been better for crowd control to have made this announcement at 3:00 in the afternoon rather than waiting until the cover of darkness can allow so much more violence to take place? Someone wasn’t wearing their thinking cap on this one decision. 

Listening to the District Attorney last night present the process and his explanation of the testimony and evidence I came away with the belief that this officer could not be charged. I don’t know why Michael Brown was shot so many times. I don’t know why he charged the officer. I don’t know why he robbed the store of $50.00 worth of cigars and then pushed the clerk back when confronted with the theft. It seems like he started the day with some kind of attitude, and I am afraid that attitude did not serve him well later on that day. There was no explanation of what frame of mind officer Darren Wilson brought to this incident.

This morning some of the so-called news programs are trying to interview people who testified before the grand jury seeking to get them to come up with their judgment of the lack of a true bill by the grad jury. The DA said last night that if you took only one testimony we could prove almost anything. Some testimony fit the evidence some did not. Some people changed their testimony others held fast to their belief. But through it all they were able to come up with some conclusion about what took place.

So, instead of seeking truth and trying to bring calm to a dangerous and volatile situation, it seems that many of the news agencies are trying to ramp it up and create even more controversy.

Perhaps we need to be like the students at A&T who quietly, respectfully protest their displeasure with a system that is biased toward targeting blacks. Perhaps we can be like the people of Ferguson last night who protested with respect for property and life, even asking the outside agitators to stop throwing bottles, rocks, and looting.

James Howell, pastor of Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, NC responded with a Facebook post last night: “Lord, have mercy on all of us.”

Lord, do have mercy upon us, cause we don’t have it all together. In fact, sometimes it seems we don’t have any of it together and only trying to get together that which agrees with our own personal agenda. Open our hearts and minds to be able to see life from many other perspectives, and thereby become more open and understanding of all your people. In and through Jesus. Amen.

Gears, Lights, Pills and Basketball

Matthew 6:25-27

Steve Martin
Steve Martin

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?

Today… Today… Today?

This morning was cardiologist appointment at 8:15. Get up early and get ready. Head to the car and find that the gear shift will move but the car will not go into gear. Here I sit moving the gear lever back and forth. Finally after a few moments it goes into reverse. I gently back out of the driveway and sit in the middle of the street trying to get the gear into drive. Again, finally it goes into gear.

When I arrive at the Doctor’s office I check to see if I turn the car off and back on will it go into gear. Nope, doesn’t go into gear. I get out and go in to make my appointment with my cardiologist.

I register at the desk and then… and then… and then the lights start flashing, a beeping noise starts sounding. The receptionist tells everyone to leave because this is a fire drill. Imagine the logic of this in the office seeing heart patients. All these patients have to leave by way of stairs and walk out into the parking lot. (I go out into the hallway but refuse to make the whole trip to the parking lot.) After this short drill out of breath patients begin to return to the waiting room. One elderly man even needs a wheel chair to get back to the waiting room.

I get back to see the doctor. He is pleased that my cholesterol has better numbers… closer to where they are supposed to be. But… but… but… he has done a new blood test and found that my cholesterol “particles” are too small. That is what they do when a heart patient finally gets cholesterol under control, they find a new wrinkle in the story. Now I have to be put on meds to make my particles bigger. Really, small particles???

My car did go into gear and I got home. And then… and then… and then… well the day isn’t over yet.

We have all had days that started out with a glitch and added more glitches along the way. Some times the glitches were on the same level and the accumulation of all of them made the day really bad. Other days the glitches seemed more severe with each new appearance. But all had the same affect… they left us with a “Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” or something very similar.

Even though my day started with a few glitches, I am a blessed person. I cannot complain. I know that God is with me and holds me close every moment of the day. For me to complain would be to slap God in the face. Every time I fall low enough to complain, I am reminded of all the times I look back and see God’s finger prints on my life:

Premature baby weighing 3 pounds – rushed to Baptist Hospital to survive.
Doctors told my mother to abort me. She refused.
Survived two car wrecks
Knocked out in baseball, football and wrecks and probably no really bad affects
Survived Vietnam with only small wounds – perhaps little or no PTSD
Have a wife who has loved and cared for me for 49 years (miracle)
Have good and healthy son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren.
Survived (19 years ) heart attack and by-pass surgery
Health is not the best but it could be a lot worse

I read the newspaper and watch the evening news and celebrate the people like the young Mt. St. Joseph college freshman basketball player, Lauren Hill with the terminal brain tumor who got to play (now) in two games and scores in both. Both colleges moved the game up and supported her to make sure she lived long enough to play. I see ladies of courage like her whose days are very bad compared to mine, and I am ashamed that I have ever complained. How can we complain when we see a person with great courage in the face of such devastating possibilities.

Dear Lord, help me not to complain and celebrate my own little pity party. Rather, help me to know that you are with me in all my trials and tribulations… holding me ever so close. Help me to celebrate the really courageous people who seem to be so strong, so positive, so very close to you and accepting of what may be coming their way. These people are truly inspirational to us all. Be with us all the day long, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Prayers for the people of Ferguson as they receive the findings of the grand jury later on today.

The Reluctant Confirmand

Matthew 28:18-20

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
…18And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19″Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
 

Imagine a church with such beautiful architecture that you can look up and see the clouds gently painting their pictures of angels and saints we use to know. The sunlight streams in at just the right angles that you can almost touch heaven. There seems to be a gentle breeze that brings a refreshing lift to your spirit. The music was majestically sweet and soul warming. The sainted preacher stands in the grand pulpit to deliver a sermon with the voice of thunder and the power of God strong enough to reach even the darkest soul. We sit in our pews stilled and awed by this powerful personification of God’s Word.

As the sermon reaches its climatic conclusion a young confirmand is brought forward for baptism. The sacrament is so real that it leaves blood dripping from the preacher’s hand. What a powerful day! What a beautiful church!

Ever been to a church like that? Ever been in a service like that? I have. As Paul Harvey would say: “Now the rest of the story.”

The church was the side yard of our parsonage in Bryson City, NC. Of course the great architecture was God’s nature all around us on that Spring morning. The grand pulpit was the old tree stump and the old sainted preacher was my 6 year old brother. I (4 years old) was the song leader, the entire congregation and the one who helped to bring that young confirmand to the Baptismal Font: that is bring the scrawny neighborhood cat to the mud puddle in front of the tree stump. The blood came about because that cat must have been of some other faith since I am pretty sure he didn’t like the idea of baptism and fought tooth and claw not to receive this Wesleyan Sacrament. My brother preached with some sort of book in his left hand so he could used his right hand to point at the sins of the congregation. I would shout out amen at the appropriate times (I think he instructed me when to do that).

My brother and I grew up to be United Methodist pastors. We never saw that cat again. I guess he went as a missionary to China?

Isn’t it strange the games children play. I wonder, do surgeon’s children carve up the neighborhood cat with a “butter” knife and talk with the family afterwards? I do know that some teacher’s children play school. Do we do what we see others do, especially if they are people who are role models for us? When I was in college as a student pastor (serving a church and going to college at the same time) I would try to spend time with my son, Stephen. He liked baseball, so we would get out in the front yard and I would throw the waffle for him to hit. He had watched enough baseball to know what to do. He would rub dirt on his hands, take a few practice swings, and spit on the ground before I pitched each ball. I think he was in the first grade then. Later in life he turned out to be quite a short stop in slow pitch softball.

Once, when I was three or four, my dad noticed that I was watching him and doing everything he did. Later he told my mom that he prayed that he did only that which would lead his children to be good Christian men. I do thank my mom and dad for doing just that. This little story and many just like it are played out all over the world every day. Children are doing what they see adults of influence doing. Here is the question: If we continue to do what we are doing now, and our children continue to watch, what will we have contributed to the kind of people they will become? I believe, one way or another, we make a difference in the lives of others, especially our children.

Dear Lord, we are proud of our son, his wife, and our grandchildren. They are people of great character and solid faith. They are faithful to the church and devoted to you. If Shirley and I had some small part in that, we give you all the thanks and praise. We sought to love and be real, but your love taught the real lessons of life. Help us to continue to always live lives of courage and faith. In and through Jesus. Amen.