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Giving Thanks by Giving 

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. James 2:14-17

This past Sunday, I sat through two equally disturbing sermons given by the pastors of my church. The sermons were not troubling because of weak delivery of the messages, however. The sermons got under my skin because they revealed aspects of my being that I prefer not to acknowledge. The theme was judgment, as described by Jesus near the end of the 25th chapter of Matthew. In verses 31 to 45, Jesus describes the identification process by which those who enter eternal life will be separated from those who will enter eternal punishment. The factor distinguishing one group from the other is how they treat and care for the least privileged in society.

At least by biblical standards, I am a selfish person and a stingy passer-along of my blessings. I have been known to pat myself on the back for being a good person, which is to say I do not commit a lot of sins overtly. Sins of commission – those sins directly committed – are not where I fall so short by Judeo-Christian standards. Sins of omission – the good I am capable of doing, but fail to do – well, that is an entirely different matter.

Like many of you reading this Life Note, I will sit down at a table overflowing with an abundance of wonderful food today, and in the presence of family and friends, I will eat myself into a long, luxurious, Thanksgiving nap. Meanwhile, Pastor Tom told us that about 13 people in the world die of starvation every minute. Later today, I will consume more food in one meal than some people eat in a month. And in the time it takes me to eat my way to desert, another 400 or so of my neighbors will starve to death.

My purpose is not to ruin everyone’s Thanksgiving with an extra helping of guilt-casserole, however. The point is to remember the critical needs around us, even in this country, and even in our town. Yes, it is appropriate to celebrate and be thankful for the rich blessings we have been given. Is it sufficient, however, to simply give thanks, eat ourselves silly, and then go to sleep? Maybe this year we will commit to doing something more to show our gratitude, perhaps by sharing from our abundance for others who lack. Pick up an extra turkey and give it to a food kitchen. Help prepare and serve a meal at a homeless shelter. Visit a nursing home. Donate. Most of us have so much more food, clothing, money, time, and other resources than we need. There are many places where our excess is accepted and passed along to those less fortunate. That is giving thanks by giving away. This year, all year, let us not forget the giving part of Thanksgiving.

Enjoy a blessed Thanksgiving; and then give to a world that needs your leftovers.

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Life Notes—November 28, 2013 

  “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:14-15

Grandma Hildenbrand was a grateful person. She appreciated the good in everyone. I do not recall gossip, pessimism, or foul language ever crossing her lips. I actually felt guilty, because the person she saw in me was far superior to the person I believed myself to be. She unfailingly praised and encouraged me. She was grateful to God for me, her first grandchild. Being positive and grateful was a way of life for my grandmother.

Recently, I watched a TED Talk (www.Ted.com) by Shawn Achor titled, “The Happiness Advantage.” He is a proponent of Positive Psychology, which suggests how we view our world largely shapes our experience of reality. A focus of the talk was to encourage listeners to untie happiness from success. Our definitions of success are constantly changing and seldom reached. Therefore, if we believe we must be “successful” to be happy, we will never be happy. Even when we reach a long worked-for goal, our definition for success will likely shift before we reach the goal. The speaker had a formula for creating positive change in our lives. The first step was to identify three new things to be grateful for, every day, for twenty-one consecutive days. While success and happiness may not be related, gratitude and happiness certainly are.

Thanksgiving Day is a day of gratitude. It occurs in the late fall to recognize the blessings of the year. While it has become an exercise in over-indulgence, the foundation of the day is thankfulness. Most of us gather with family and friends, share a meal or two, and enjoy fellowship with each other. Life is good. In spite of the many tragedies and challenges sprinkled throughout her life, grandma was thankful. We should be, too.

Being intentionally thankful is a wise choice to make. A grateful heart is not only pleasing and helpful for others, expressing appreciation is a biblical charge, as in the passage from Colossians above. Perhaps most importantly, there is a selfish reason to be grateful—it is good for us! When we observe our life through a lens of gratitude, we find reason for hope and optimism. We become happier people. Until we begin identifying the many reasons we have for thankfulness, we cannot understand how truly blessed we are. I pray you find much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!

Come home to church this Sunday. Thankfulness, not success, is the key to happiness.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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