Monday, November 23, 2009

One Day for Thanksgiving

Thursday, of course, is Thanksgiving Day. Historians trace the holiday to 1621 at Plymouth Plantation, where the Pilgrims initially observed “a day of thanksgiving.” But it was President Abraham Lincoln, in 1863, who proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day should be observed annually on the final Thursday of November.

So, many of us will gather this week with family and friends for bountiful meals and a time to reflect on things for which we are thankful. This is a wonderful tradition, but there’s no reason to wait until the end of November to express our thankfulness. It’s something we can be doing on a daily basis.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, the apostle Paul exhorts his readers, “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” This comes immediately after he writes, “Be joyful always, pray continually.” So the act of thanksgiving should not restricted to a special time or occasion, but rather practiced 24:7 – and regardless of our circumstances.

It’s easy to feel thankful when things in our lives go well, but what about when things don’t go well?

Years ago I helped a friend of mine, Albert Diepeveen, put together a booklet about his life entitled, “Saying ‘Thank You’ Even When You Don’t Feel Thankful.” In it Albert recounts the numerous hardships he has encountered throughout his life, including bouts with tuberculosis and cancer, along with business challenges. Yet he has remained unswervingly positive and hopeful – because of his unshakable trust in God’s love and mercy.

“Remember that God is in control of all things,” he writes. “When you accept Christ, your life is going to be really changed. One of those changes is you realize everything is going to be all right, no matter what.”

And that’s reason to be thankful – every day!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fitness – No Shortcuts

Our local newspaper ran a series of articles about weight loss and physical fitness. With obesity in America a greater concern than swine flu will ever be, it’s worthy of attention.

Suggested solutions for our nation’s growing girth, of course, are myriad: Weight loss and fitness centers; diets, liquid and solid, for every taste; pills guaranteed to burn off pounds when we sleep; fitness and weight-loss videos and CDs. We even have “The Biggest Loser” and other reality shows inspiring us to greater heights – and lower weights.

And yet, as a society, we’re getting fatter, not fitter.

Experts offer many explanations and excuses, but I think the reason is simple. We spend our lifetimes developing the problem – eating too much and exercising too little – but expect to solve the problem in an instant, with a pill or some too-good-to-be-true (because it is) fad diet.

Eat “whatever your heart desires,” we’re told. But if our hearts could talk, they’d inform us they don’t desire those greasy foods and tempting treats that clog vital arteries with cardiothoracic consequences. If we truly ate to our “heart’s delight,” we’d choose grilled over fried; fruits, vegetables and nuts over pastries, starchy sides and creamy sauces; and refuse the “super-size” option.

There are no shortcuts. Approaching the third anniversary of my quadruple bypass, I have learned there is no substitute for dedication, determination and discipline. It’s hard saying no to yummy desserts. It takes effort to read food labels and see what you’d be consuming. And engaging in rigorous exercise several times a week never gets easy. But the results – fewer pounds and inches, greater strength and stamina – are worth it.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Good advice for our bodies, as well as our minds!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Critical Thinking Running Amok?

Acid tongues. Vented spleens. Poison pens. Caustic keyboards. Is it just me, or are we experiencing an unprecedented explosion of relentless, mean-spirited criticism toward anyone and anything?

Maybe it’s because we have more options than ever for expressing our “critical thinking”: Message boards, talk radio, e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, even blogs like this one. Not to mention traditional venues, such as letters to the editor and public forums. Whatever the cause, it seems many people have adopted the philosophy, “If you can’t say something bad about someone, don’t say anything at all.”

Having been a journalist for my entire professional career, I’m fully in favor of freedom of speech. But like any freedom, it should be cherished, not abused. Football coaches, for example, are lambasted by armchair quarterbacks who can barely distinguish between a jockstrap and a chinstrap. Government officials are chastised by citizens who have never set foot in any legislative chambers. Celebrities adept at acting or singing feel compelled to voice their “expertise” on national and world issues.

I’m not saying we don’t each have a right to express our opinions, but what’s wrong with making certain our views are informed by research and reason, not simply formed out of ignorance? Balance and rationality, rather than unrestrained bias and emotion, should temper the expression of our views.

When we point a finger at someone, our other fingers are pointing back at us. If we were as critical of our own lives, our own work, our own conduct as we tend to be of others, I wonder how well we would fare. As Jesus admonished, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2).

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Rooting Against Goliath

Much to the chagrin of millions, the New York Yankees won the World Series again – for the 27th time. To Yankee haters, the men in pinstripes are Goliath; convinced the Yanks have enjoyed more than their share of success, they root for anyone but them.

Admittedly, I’m not among them. Raised in New Jersey, I’ve been a Yankee fan since 1957 – more than half a century! So I was thrilled to see Jeter, Pettitte, Rivera, Posada, Rodriguez & Co. beat the Phillies in six.

But I can empathize with those who despise the Yankees. It’s the same reason I have disliked USC, Florida and Notre Dame in college football, the NBA’s Celtics and Lakers, and the late Dale Earnhardt in NASCAR. Who wants to see the same teams win again and again – unless they happen to be your team?

Maybe that’s why the story of David and Goliath is so compelling: The outsized, underequipped shepherd boy overcoming the greatest of odds to vanquish the fearsome giant. It resonates in all of us, because at one time or another we also have felt overwhelmed, overpowered and outmatched.

So we tend to root against the giants, the Goliaths that dominate, whether in sports, business, politics, even entertainment. We want to see underdogs succeed, because they give us hope.

Battling giants is hardly a new phenomenon. In the Old Testament the Israelites had to face giants, called the “Rephaim.” Understandably, they lived in fear. How could they prevail? That is why their leader, Joshua, repeatedly reminded them, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

What “giants” are you facing today – financial, health, relational, vocational? Do not fear, because God is greater than any Goliath.