Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Prayer for the Day I Begin My Christmas Shopping

Thanksgiving Dinner is over – our family scavenger hunt through downtown Charleston complete and now the planning for our Black Friday (or is it now Black Thursday) attack strategy is underway.

As we head into the busiest shopping day of the year I am grateful for the Advent Conspiracy – which we will be introducing to Mountaintop this Christmas and for a prayer that’s become something of an annual tradition for me as I begin my Christmas shopping.  The prayer was written by Kenneth Piffer and appeared in a book he published of Uncommon Prayers.  I pray it might help you have ears to here the real things of Christmas and remember that it is possible for Christmas to still change the world.

A Prayer for the Day I Begin My Christmas Shopping

O God, I do like real things like money and houses, fast automobiles and diamond rings.
Forgive me that when I think of Christmas, I often think of real things like that.
I teach my children to think of bicycles and dolls, of toy trains and airplanes, of sugar and spice and everything nice.
Forgive me for my foolishness.
These things I spend so much time playing around with are not bad, I can even use them creatively.
They make up much of my world and occupy a great deal of my time.
But You know what my problem is?
I get so involved in accumulating them that I forget who I am.
I get so surrounded by them that I end up tangelfooted, stumbling along from thing to thing, falling down at times, bruising my shins upon them.

Can You clear away some of the clutter of my life this year, O Lord?
Can You help me pick my way through the crowded stores?
Can You make me quiet long enough to hear angels?
Can Your Word about life break through the blare of tawdry commercials,
The commercials that insist life can be bought if I will only go deeply into debt?

Lord, do You understand me?
Can You help me to understand myself?
Do I really substitute gifts for self-giving too often?
Would I do better to say “I love you” as I pass out the presents?
Would I come closer to someone by spending as much time listening as I do shopping?

These thoughts bother me at times.
It may be that in my busyness I am losing touch with the things that are most real
It may be I am losing touch with You and with the Child whom You sent to grow up to be a Man, whose word was Your Word and whose love was Your Love.

I like real things, and I know if I will listen, I may hear of the most real things of all, things like hope and love and faith, that can change lives, even mine, and renew them in the image of Christ my Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Give thanks in all circumstances; 
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:18

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tomorrow our nation will pause to give thanks.  It’s a tradition dating back more than 400 years when Governor Bradford, of the Plymouth Colony gave these instructions to the citizens:

"Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscious.

"Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three and the third year since ye pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings."

170 years later, George Washington made a public proclamation establishing:

 ….a day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God. . .

In 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln appointed a national day of Thanksgiving to be observed on the last Thursday in November.

A Proclamation.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth. - President: Abraham Lincoln

Every president after Lincoln, has issued an annual proclamation, to set aside a day of national Thanksgiving. In 1941a joint congressional resolution officially set the date as the fourth Thursday in November.

Yesterday President Obama continued that tradition:

On Thanksgiving Day, Americans everywhere gather with family and friends to recount the joys and blessings of the past year. This day is a time to take stock of the fortune we have known and the kindnesses we have shared, grateful for the God-given bounty that enriches our lives. As many pause to lend a hand to those in need, we are also reminded of the indelible spirit of compassion and mutual responsibility that has distinguished our Nation since its earliest days.
Many Thanksgivings have offered opportunities to celebrate community during times of hardship. When the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony gave thanks for a bountiful harvest nearly four centuries ago, they enjoyed the fruits of their labor with the Wampanoag tribe – a people who had shared vital knowledge of the land in the difficult months before. When President George Washington marked our democracy's first Thanksgiving, he prayed to our Creator for peace, union, and plenty through the trials that would surely come. And when our Nation was torn by bitterness and civil war,  President Abraham Lincoln reminded us that we were, at heart, one Nation, sharing a bond as Americans that could bend but would not break. Those expressions of unity still echo today, whether in the contributions that generations of Native Americans have made to our country, the Union our forebears fought so hard to preserve, or the providence that draws our families together this season.
As we reflect on our proud heritage, let us also give thanks to those who honor it by giving back. This Thanksgiving, thousands of our men and women in uniform will sit down for a meal far from their loved ones and the comforts of home. We honor their service and sacrifice. We also show our appreciation to Americans who are serving in their communities, ensuring their neighbors have a hot meal and a place to stay. Their actions reflect our age-old belief that we are our brothers' and sisters' keepers, and they affirm once more that we are a people who draw our deepest strength not from might or wealth, but from our bonds to each other.
On Thanksgiving Day, individuals from all walks of life come together to celebrate this most American tradition, grateful for the blessings of family, community, and country. Let us spend this day by lifting up those we love, mindful of the grace bestowed upon us by God and by all who have made our lives richer with their presence.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 22, 2012, as a National Day of Thanksgiving. I encourage the people of the United States to join together – whether in our homes, places of worship, community centers, or any place of fellowship for friends and neighbors – and give thanks for all we have received in the past year, express appreciation to those whose lives enrich our own, and share our bounty with others.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twentieth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh. – Barack Obama

We are still thankful for the blessings of Almighty God and mindful of the Grace He has bestowed upon us..

I pray that all of you are enjoying the gifts of family, friends and home this Thanksgiving.  Give thanks!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Difference between Clemson and Scar

It's that week again.  A friend sent me the following which was originally posted on TigerNet.  This is informative reading for all my Gamecock friends - and I have to give it to you, that Waffle House stat is impressive.  I know you've also won three in a row and have a very good team heading up to Clemson on Saturday.  Once you pull a little closer to closing the 65-40-4 gap let's talk... until  then here are the differences between Clemson and Scar:

We are the Clemson Family. You are the Gamecock Nation

Our Stadium is named after the Clemson Students who gave their lives in the service of our country. Your stadium is named after a female booster.

It is 5 football fields from Tillman Hall to the 50 Yard Line of Frank Howard Field. It is one and a half miles from the Horseshoe to the 50 yard line at Williams-Brice.

To get to our Stadium, you walk through a park dedicated to all the Clemson Students who gave their lives in the Armed Forces. To get to your stadium, you pass an empty fairground, railroad tracks, warehouses, liquor stores and parking lots.

Our Coach embraces the history and tradition of Clemson Football. Your Coach disavows everything that came before him (East Carolina game quotes 9/8/12); after moving to #3 in the AP poll "That is a school record"- he was then informed that the 1984 SCar team rose to #2 before losing to Navy (Greenville News 10/8/2012)

We lost a bowl game by 37 points and it is considered one of the lowest points in the history of our program. You lost the SEC Championship game by 39 points and that appearance is one of the highlights of your program.

Our Coach honored the scholarship of a high school student who suffered a stroke after he verbally committed to Clemson and will likely never walk again. (Jake Nicolopulos). Your Coach pulled a scholarship offer on the day before signing day to a player who had been committed for months who was an orphan and spent the majority of his childhood as a ward of the state. (Lorenzo Mauldin).

Our Coach proposed a plan to generate revenue for schools by playing an exhibition game against regional universities that was lauded by his peers. Your coach proposed paying amateur student athletes in revenue sports only.

Our Coach goes on national television after a huge win and says "I can't think of a better place …than Death Valley, South Carolina!". Your coach, after arguably the biggest win in school history, presents himself with the game ball.

Our Coach uses his bonus money from winning the ACC Championship to provide additional pay for his assistant coaches. Your coach became a member of Augusta National after signing his contract.

Our program helped a scholarship athlete gain custody and care for his 11 year old little brother, then created an endowment to ensure his higher education. Your program frequently refuses to renew scholarships to players who aren't deemed good enough to play. (Grayson Mullins, Bryce Sherman, Tramell Williams, Andrew Clifford, Seaver Brown, Kevin Young, ect…)

Our coach leads the nation in APR (academic progress rate), your coach doesn't even realize that 18 year-olds can vote (Greenville News 11/6/2012)

After the games, our kids play football and soccer with scores of other kids while we continue to tailgate for hours. After your games, there are four armed robberies and a shooting (Clemson 2011), two mob assaults and another shooting (Mizzu 2012), felony DUI with a flipped car and 41 other arrests (Georgia 2012).

We suspended our best player for two games, including one of the biggest games of the season for a misdemeanor arrest for which he underwent PTI and had the arrest removed from his record. Your best player was arrested in 2/2007 for public intoxication (age 19) and again in March of that year for keying a professor's car. In March of 2008 he was arrested for underage drinking and that same night had the police come to his dorm for pulling a fire alarm and discharging a fire extinguisher. He was suspended from practice for violating team rules during a bowl trip in December of 2010. And he was suspended again in April of 2011 for causing a disturbance at a SEC-mandated meeting, where he was reportedly intoxicated. Despite all this, he never missed a game until he was finally kicked off the team in October of 2011 for failing a substance abuse screening.
We won Southern Living's "The South's Best Tailgate" competition in 2012. South Carolina had a fan arrested for mooning the crowd at the LSU game in Baton Rouge 11/13/2012

Clemson Memorial Stadium was named as the top venue in college football by Bleacher, Williams-Brice Stadium was noted by the Wall Street Journal as having the shortest distance from the stadium to a Waffle House in the SEC (10/3/2012). 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Better Way to Date

How beautiful you are, my darling!

Oh, how beautiful!

Your eyes are doves.

How handsome you are, my lover!

Oh, how charming!

And our bed is verdant.
Song of Solomon 1: 15 and 16

People have been expressing their love to one another and falling in love with one another for as long as there have been people – but that doesn’t mean we’ve gotten the entire dating thing figured out.

Last year there was a fascinating story in the news of a young woman in New York* who was struggling to make ends meet (NYC is an expensive place to live).  Then she discovered online dating.  For months she accepted dates as a way to feed herself – never dating any one guy more than five times (she says she didn’t want to lead anyone on).  She’s either crazy or brilliant (or a little bit of both) but she definitely doesn’t have a grasp on dating.

This Sunday as we continue our Check Yes of No message series we will be looking at A Better Way to Date.  If you are dating, planning on dating someday or know anyone who is dating or potentially dating (I think that coves all of you) this is a message you don’t want to miss.  We will be looking at the story of one of the worse daters in history (hint: the story is in Judges 14) and learning from his mistakes.

And then Sunday evening join us for a Fall Marriage Event.  Boy Meets Grill begins as Doug “extra crispy” Ferguson (that’s me) and Willie “nothing but charcoal“ Dillard (our exceptional director of facilities) engage in a cookout grudge match (think Iron Chef meets Mountaintop).  Learn some grilling tips while watching Bobby Flay’s personal heroes grill in a no holds barred, BBQ to the finish, grilling competition.  After the competition, Doug (winner or loser) will lead an engaging marriage discussion and then at 6:30 encourage everyone to leave their children in the capable hands of our childcare staff and go out on a date.  All children must be picked up by 9:00pm.

The competitors will be grilling all afternoon, but the official event starts at 4:30 until 6:30 in the portico and the atrium.  This will be a fun evening for married couples, dating couples or anyone who likes grilling.  Ticket for $5.00 a couple may be purchased in advance after and between services.

It’s going to be a great Sunday that you won’t want to miss and a great Sunday to invite your friends as we continue to introduce people to Jesus and a better way of living – and this week a better way of dating.

*As I was typing “New York” I was reminded of the struggles that our brothers and sister in the northeast are facing in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and as winter is coming early.  I’ve been in contact with a pastor friend just outside of NYC to discover ways people might provide assistance.  Watch your bulletin this Sunday for information or contact our Compassion Pastor, Mari Beth Poor for details.